Monday, March 7, 2016

Function-Based Classroom Intervention Ideas

By Sean Mulcrone

Function-Based Classroom Intervention Ideas

In order to determine the most appropriate intervention for a target behavior, we must first determine what the behavior’s function, or purpose, is.  Broadly stated, the function of a behavior is usually to gain or avoid something.  The most common function for students who look to gain something are gaining attention or gaining a tangible reward.  The most common function for students who look to avoid something is work avoidance.  Another behavioral function that doesn’t fall into either category is sensory stimulation.  Examples of such include a desire to feel pressure on one part of the body, a desire to be active and/or a desire to engage in repetitive physical activities (hand flapping, vocalizations, etc).  While most commonly seen in students who are on the Autism Spectrum, they can be seen in students with ADHD or Emotional Disorders as well.

Class-wide Behavioral Interventions
(To be used when the Target Behavior is being exhibited by >20% of your students)

Independent Group Contingency Plans

An Independent Group Contingency is a plan where each student is responsible for his or her behavior, and can earn a reward if they meet a selected criteria. The only thing that makes this group-oriented is that everyone participating has access to the reinforcers on the same terms. The teacher could choose to have all of the students in the class participate or just the students that need assistance with improving their behavior.  No student should be penalized for the behavior of anyone else.
How to Set-Up:
1.)  Pinpoint behaviors to be changed (Be sure to define and teach the alternative, desired behavior).

2.)  Decide which behaviors will have to be exhibited, and how often, in order for the student(s) to earn reinforcement.

3.)  Select reinforcers (can use a reinforcement menu w/students which is attached).  This can also be done by asking the class what they would like to earn, allowing greater student ownership over the intervention.

4.)  Prepare class for the intervention by first discussing the problem, how the problem impacts all of them, how the intervention may be beneficial, and how it will be implemented in the classroom.

Works Well For:
                        -Most all classrooms.
-Best if a majority of students in the classroom are motivated to earn the reward.


Dependent Group Contingency Plans

A Dependent Group Contingency is a plan where one student, or small group of students, may earn a reward for the entire class.  A agreement would be drawn up that defines what behaviors will have to be exhibited in order for the student(s) to earn a reward for the class.
How to Set Up:
1.)  Identify a student, or group of students who are appropriate for this intervention (most appropriate for students who have the skills to engage in the desired behavior, but do not consistently perform it.  Also works best for students who are social and can withstand some backlash if the class doesn’t receive the award).

2.)  Identify the desired behavior that you would like the student(s) to
engage in (must be clearly defined and at least initially, be something the student can accomplish with little difficulty).
-Identify the criteria (how often the desired behavior will have to be exhibited by the student) in order for the class to be eligible for the reward.

3.)  Prepare class for the intervention by first discussing the problem, how the problem impacts all of them, and how the intervention will be helpful, and how it will be implemented in the classroom.
Works Best For:
                        -Students who have the skills to engage in the desired behavior.
-Students who are social and can withstand some backlash if the class
doesn’t receive the reward.
-DO NOT attempt with students who have anxiety or who may be bullied by the class if they don’t earn the reward.

Interdependent Group Contingency Plans

An Interdependent Group Contingency Plan is one in which all the students in a defined group must meet the set criteria in order for any of the group members to earn a reward.  This can be set up where all the students in the entire class must meet a set criteria, a select group of students must meet that criteria, or one can even divide the class into teams and the teams that meet the criteria are eligible for the reward.

            How to Set Up:
1.)  Identify behaviors that you would like to see change in your classroom.
2.)  Determine if all the students in the class should have to meet that criteria or if only a select few should have to.
3.)  Determine what rewards should be used (Asking the students themselves or using a Reward Menu may be most helpful).
4.)  Set the behavioral criteria required to earn the reward, it should be objectively defined and easy for students to understand.
5.)  Prepare class for the intervention by first discussing the problem, how the problem impacts all of them, and how the intervention will be implemented in the classroom.

            Works Best For:

-Most classrooms
-Classrooms where a majority of students will be interested in earning the reward.
-If there is students sabotage the intervention in order to get negative attention, you may consider taking those students out of that group to avoid conflict.

Individualized Behavioral Interventions
(To be used when the Target Behavior is being exhibited by <20% of your students.)

Suggested Interventions when Gaining Attention is the Function

Praise Schedule

The main goal of this intervention is to provide them more praise/recognition/attention for engaging in desired behaviors, as opposed to inadvertently providing them with this attention when they engage in the target behavior.  More formal versions of this intervention may look like a teacher keeping a private tally of positive recognitions, putting objects in a jar/box/container each time positive recognition is given, or having a student record the number of times they have heard a positive recognition.

            How to Set-Up:
1.)  The ideal ratio for praise to redirection comments is 3:1, which for some of our students may seem extremely difficult.
2.)  With this being said, first identify how you would like to keep track of praise statements (tallies, paper clips, stickers, etc).  Make sure this method is easy to do and one that you will have access to throughout the day.
3.)  Once you have a tracking method set up, you should set a soft goal on how many positive praise/recognition statements you’d like to give.  This number should be as close to the 3:1 ratio mentioned earlier, or, at least a 25% increase from the number of positive praise/recognition statements the student currently receives.

            Works Best For
                        -All students, especially those who seek attention from adults.


Self-Monitoring is one of the most well researched and effective interventions for changing behavior.  The goal of the intervention is to increase the student’s self-awareness with respect to their behavior, as they keep track of how often they engage in a behavior.  Most commonly, these behaviors are tracked in relation to a mutually agreed upon goal.  If the student(s) are motivated to change a behavior (do better on tests, learn more, etc) then the increase in self-awareness alone should go a long way towards changing a target behavior.  If the student(s) are not initially motivated, then providing a reward upon the successful completion of the self-monitoring form and/or providing a reward after a certain criteria have been met, may be helpful in changing the target behavior.  Examples may include a student rating themselves on how much of the material they understand; a student tracking how often they engage in a particular desired behavior; and/or a student who tracks how often their mind wanders in class.

            How to Set-Up:
1.)  Together with the student(s), come up with a mutually agreed upon goal.  It is important that the student be motivated to complete
the goal, so having their input is crucial.
2.)  Develop a way that progress towards that goal can be measured.  Is it daily points for effort?  A checklist where tasks can be crossed off?  A calendar where one can mark down their daily progress (with weight, grades, a particular behavior, etc).
3.)  Agree upon a time and procedure to record one’s progress.  Most
commonly, this is done at the end of the period.  If the student(s) motivation to reach their goal is low and they need assistance, having a teacher review their rating and/or recognize their progress towards their goal may be very helpful.
4.)  Reviewing progress towards that goal frequently can be very helpful.  Most commonly, this is done at the end of each week, but it can be longer or shorter depending on the student’s level on interest/motivation.
            Works Well For:
-Almost all students in many different situations.  The more motivated the student is to succeed, the better it will go.  If the student is unmotivated, it may be very important to show them they can be successful at first, through either positive recognition or tangible rewards early on.

Talk Ticket
This is an intervention for students who too frequently seek attention from others, especially teachers.  In this intervention, students and staff member agree on how many times they can seek attention from a specific person or persons.  This number is then represented by a physical object, most commonly a ticket, punch-card or tally.  Each time the student seeks attention from that specific person or persons, they hand over one of their items and, in effect, use up one of their limited chances at gaining their attention.   

            How to Set-Up:
1.)  Get a baseline of how often the student requests attention from a specific person or persons (works best if the student is trying to gain the attention from a teacher/staff member).

2.)  Once the baseline is determined, reduce that number by 20-25% and that will be the number of times a student can request attention from that specific person(s).
3.)  Decide how one would like to keep track of that number, whether it through physical “tickets”, tallies, signatures, etc.
4.)  Discuss the importance of being independent and/or making limited requests for attention with the student and introduce the intervention.
5.)  Go over the steps of the intervention, mainly that the student will be given so many “talk tickets” (or however you are keeping track of the requests for attention), and each time they make a request for attention from that person, they lose one “talk ticket” and only have so many left.

Suggested Interventions when Gaining Tangible Item is the Function.

Token Economy

When the function of a behavior is to obtain a tangible object, the basic rule of thumb is to allow them to earn that object, but only after they’ve met some mutually agreed upon goals or accomplished specific tasks.  One way this is done is through a “Token Economy”.  In this intervention, each time the student engages in a desired behavior they earn a “token”, which can be physical objects (like coins, stamps, stickers, etc) or points.  As the student accumulates points, they can choose to “spend” the “tokens” on certain rewards.  Ideally, the student and staff member would agree on a few potential rewards before the intervention, with some rewards being worth more tokens and some being less.  This variety in price allows for both easily accessible short term rewards and more gratifying long term rewards.  Examples of this intervention include: a student who earns time listening to music after they’ve earned a certain number of participation points, a student who earns a positive phone call home after earning so many gold cards, or a student who gets points each time they engage in a particular desired behavior and chooses their reward from a list at the end of each week.
            How to Set-Up:
1.)  Understand what rewards/reinforcements the student may want to work towards.  This can be done using a “Reward Menu” so the students can choose from a list of potential rewards.
2.)  Once they have identified a reward, or several potential rewards, you must decide how “valuable” they are, meaning, how many “tokens” the student must earn to receive that reward.
3.)  Tokens can be any physical object that represents “value” that can be put towards the “purchase” of a reward.  Pieces of paper, gold cards, wooden tokens or points can all be used as tokens.
4.)  Once a potential reward(s) have been chosen, tokens decided     
upon, the next step is to determine how tokens will be earned. 
5.)  With the student(s), decide which behaviors will be worthy of earning tokens.  Weight can also be modified to reflect the importance of the desired behavior(s).  For instance, finishing one’s in class assignment may be worth 1 token, but helping someone else finish theirs may be worth 2.
6.)  Lastly, decide on who will hold onto the tokens (student or teacher) and how the accumulation of tokens will be tracked.

*DO NOT take away tokens that the student has earned.  If the student does not engage in the desired behavior, they will not earn more tokens.

            May be Best For:
-Many students may benefit from this intervention.  Works best for students who have difficulty delaying gratification or who have difficulty sustaining their motivation.                       

Suggested Interventions when Avoiding/Escaping Work is the Function.

Schedule Breaks

If the function of the behavior is to avoid/escape work, one of the most common interventions is to allow the student to take a temporary break from the work, but only after they’ve completed a predetermined amount of work first.  How much work they will be expected to do before they earn a break is wholly dependent on how much work they’re currently completing.  Ideally, students should be asked to do 15-25% more work then their current rate in order to be granted a break.  Over time, the amount of work required before a break is granted should be gradually increased.

                        How to Set-Up:
1.)  Get a baseline of how much work a student typically completes.
2.)  Meet with the student to discuss the importance of work (practice leads to mastery, convey what you’ve learned, passing the class, etc), then make an agreement whereby if they complete 10-20% more work than the baseline, they are awarded with a small break.
3.)  This can be set-up as a class-wide contingency, whereby all the students in class are awarded a break if all complete a certain amount of work.

Works Best For:
-Students who are not interested in completing academic tasks and those with ADHD.

Pre-Rating Difficulty

This is a preventative approach that asks students to rate the difficulty of a task that they are about to complete.  Many times, this can be from a 0-10 point scale, with 0 being very easy and 10 being very hard.  By doing this, students are already engaging themselves in the task, understanding which problems maybe easier to start with, and letting the staff members know which problems they find difficult.           

            How to Set-Up:
1.)  Instruct student(s) that you would like them to rate the difficulty of the task.

2.)  This can be done in some different ways, but the most common are a likert scale (with 1 being very easy and 10 being very difficult) or with a percentage (0% being not understanding anything and 100% being understanding everything).
3.)  Decide how the students will display their rating, this is most commonly done on the top left or right hand corner of the paper.  It can also be done on the I-Pad or verbally.

            Works Best For:
                        -A preventative approach that can help all students.

Building Behavioral Momentum

For students who have difficulty starting their work, they may benefit from an initial reduction in the amount of work they are presented with.  This may take the form of only doing even or odd numbered problems or being presented with only 1 task to do at a time.  The basic premise is that if students are presented with fewer tasks, they’ll be less “overwhelmed”, and will be more likely to start on a task.  Once they start on a task, it will build momentum to keep working.

            How to Set-Up:
1.)  Analyze the student’s work habits.  Do they take a long-time to get started?  Do they give up after a few problems?  Do they rush through their work?  Are they perfectionistic? 
2.)  The option for gradually increasing the difficulty of work will largely depend on the student(s) work habits.
3.)  If they take a long time to get started, have the students work on very simple problems/steps first, to build momentum.
4.)  If they give up after a few problems, have the student(s) circle problems they think they can solve easily, then underline the problems they are a little less confident in.  At first, consider allowing the student to complete just the circled items, but over time, gradually have them complete more and more of the circled items.
5.)  If the students rush through their work, then setting a rule, whereby they only be done if they complete a certain number of problems correctly may be helpful.  Either this, or having them re-do the tasks they rush through each time (if feasible).
6.)  There are probably other habits of work that do not fall into any of these categories.  If so, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Sean Mulcrone or anyone within Student Services.

Works Best For:
-Students who have the academic skills to complete academic tasks, but underperform and complete less work than they are capable of doing.

Suggested Interventions when Sensory Stimulation is the Function

Sensory Breaks

When the function of the target behavior is to satisfy a sensory need, then the most common approach is to allow them to meet that need more appropriately, whether that’s through more appropriate behavior or at a more appropriate time.  In these cases, taking preventative approaches in most ideal.  Some examples of preventative approaches are allowing a student with ADHD pass out papers or become a classroom helper in order to meet the physical desire for hyperactivity.  Another preventative approach might be to grant a student a stress ball should they need to feel the sense of pressure in their hands.  If a preventative approach cannot be taken, allowing the student to excuse themselves while they engage the target behavior may be necessary, with a follow-up conversation on what other alternatives may have been more appropriate.

How to Set-Up:
1.)  Ensure that sensory stimulation is the primary function of the behavior.  Evidence of this may be that it often occurs randomly (unless it’s stress related, in which case there will be a pattern), will not change regardless of what happens after the behavior (if rewards or punishments are implemented) and it appears as thought the student has no control over when they engage in the behavior.

2.)  Together with the student, agree upon a signal (can be verbal or non-verbal) that the student will give to you when they notice that they have the urge to engage in the target behavior.  Some common signals may include raising ones hand, requesting to go to the bathroom, handing the teacher a card, etc.

3.)  Once the signal has been agreed upon, then the student will be allowed to engage in the replacement behavior, or more socially appropriate alternative behavior.  Depending on the alternative behavior, this may be done inside the or outside of the classroom.  Examples of some alternative behaviors done outside of the classroom include clearing ones throat loud for those students who need vocal cord stimulation or walking around for hyperactive student.  Some examples of alternative behaviors done inside the classroom include utilizing a stress-ball for students who need tactile stimulation or a rubber band on the skin for students who have self-injury urges.

4.)  Over time, as the student(s) becomes more self-aware, they may engage in the target behavior without the signal or prompt, especially if it’s something they can do within the classroom setting.

            Works Best For:

                        -Students who have sensory needs that require stimulation.  

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