Individual Reinforcement Systems (page 3)
We discuss reinforcements systems that are designed with the unique strengths and interests of individual students in mind, along with the possible unique functions of each student's problem behavior(s). Included are target behavior sheets, point and level systems, token boards, contracts, punch cards, and positive attention trackers.
Target Behavior Sheets
We start this chapter on individualized reinforcement systems with target behavior sheets for two reasons: they are the most common tool we recommend to help manage the problem behavior of individual students, and they are often used as a tool within other interventions such as level systems and contracts, which are discussed later in this chapter. Target behavior sheets come in many different formats, and identify behaviors to be targeted and a schedule for how often these behaviors are monitored (see Tables 11.1 and 11.2).
Putting the behaviors and monitoring schedule in writing raises the student's level of awareness of the behaviors to work on. Target behavior sheets are also a good source of functional behavioral assessment data that can be used to identify setting events and triggering antecedents, such as patterns surrounding time of day, academic subjects, and the presence of particular adults or peers. In addition, these sheets can provide time interval data used to monitor progress or lack of progress over time, a topic we discuss more fully in Chapter Fourteen.
Use Positive Language
The target skills listed on the target behavior sheet should be the desired replacement or target behavior, so it needs to be stated in terms of what you want the student to do rather than what you don't want him to do. For example, instead of "no yelling," state the target behavior as, "Use an inside voice." The target behavior sheet should remind the student of positive rather than negative choices.
Limit the Number of Skills
Often when we ask teachers to identify a target behavior for a particular student, they say, "Everything! The student behaves terribly!" and proceed to give a lengthy list of behaviors that the student needs to improve.
It is simply not realistic for any individual to work on changing more than one or two behaviors at a time. Other behaviors that are fairly well developed but are being maintained may be added, but we recommend putting no more than four or five behaviors on a target behavior sheet. Prioritize the behaviors that are safety issues or interfere with the student's learning or the learning of others the most. Once the more serious behaviors improve, the focus can shift to the less intrusive behaviors. To decide which behaviors to prioritize, follow these guidelines:
- Examine the behavioral data. Which behaviors are the most frequent? Which behaviors have resulted in suspensions or other school disciplinary actions?
- Think about what bugs you the most. Chances are, this is the behavior that is the most problematic.
- Ask students and their parents what behaviors should be worked on. Many times parents have suggestions about the behaviors they would like their child to improve, and students themselves may have ideas about what they want to change. This also gives an idea if the student has any self-awareness about what problem behaviors she has or if she is even aware that she has any problem behaviors at all. Usually we ask the student, "How do you think you are doing at school?" "What behaviors do you think are causing you the most problems?" or "What are you doing that is getting you in the most trouble at school?" Even primary-aged children can be brutally honest about their behaviors, assuming a sense of partnership with the teacher has been established.
Individualize the Target Skills
Targeted skills should be taken directly from the student's individual education plan or student assistance plan if applicable. If you are working in a classroom or school where all students have behavior challenges, make sure target behavior sheets are individualized based on specific student needs. Too many times we see programs where every target behavior sheet looks exactly the same. Not all students have the same goals or need to work on the same skills. The "individualized" in "individualized education plan" is important to remember.
Students and educators marking the target behavior sheet should be completely clear about exactly what behavior earns or does not earn a point. Operationalize the behavior so that it passes the "stranger test": any stranger walking into a room would be able to reliably determine if the student is or is not demonstrating the target behavior.1 For example, "Follow adult directions the first time" is more specific than "Let the adult be in charge," and, "Use a polite voice tone" is more specific than "Treat others with respect." If there is a need to be more general in describing behaviors, make sure that a more specific definition is provided somewhere (we suggest the back of the card) for reference. When the sheet is specific, every adult in every environment (lunch, music, recess aides, and so on) can be consistent when marking the target behavior sheet, which reduces arguments and misunderstandings between the adults and the student.
Along these same lines, we also recommend providing specific directions regarding how to mark everything on the target behavior sheet for paraprofessionals and other teachers who may be involved. An example is provided in Figure 11.1.
Embed Visual Supports and Special Interests
The target behavior sheet may be more effective if you embed visual supports in it. In this way, the sheet acts as a visual reminder of the target behaviors and serves as a visual schedule for the student. Students can personalize the target behavior sheet by adding pictures of things they are interested in such as a picture of a favorite cartoon or movie character, which has the benefit of making the sheet more motivating and reinforcing for the student.
Partner with the Student to Help Develop
Target behavior sheets should be created with the student's input to increase their buy-in and make using it more motivating. Often students have specific ideas about how they want their target behavior sheet to look, what skills they want to work on, and what special interests and visuals they want embedded in it.
Set Realistic Criteria
It may not be appropriate to set criteria for all target behaviors at 80 to 90 percent, which is what we often see. If the student is currently performing the behavior 45 percent of the time, a 30 to 45 percent increase would not be a realistic expectation. We want students to experience success with the target behavior sheet from the start so that they will buy in to the monitoring process and partner with us in changing their behavior. When they rarely or never experience success, they often give up and refuse to participate.
One effective way to determine realistic criteria is to create a baseline target behavior sheet and fill it out based on what you observe in the classroom for a couple of weeks without the student's knowledge. This will provide an accurate picture of the student's behavior prior to intervention. Once baseline percentages are established, realistic goals and criteria for reinforcements can be determined. We recommend setting success criteria at ten to fifteen percentage points over baseline.
Let Students Keep Their Sheet with Them (If They Wish)
Students should have the option of carrying the target behavior sheet with them throughout the day. They can put it in a folder or three-ring binder, or copy the sheet onto sturdy paper or cardstock. We have found that middle and high school students usually do not want to carry their sheet with them because it calls attention to the fact that they have behavior challenges. In these cases, we have used electronic target behavior sheets that were are put on a shared drive that could be accessed by every teacher the student had throughout the day. It is assumed all points are earned unless a teacher made a specific comment. Students meet with their case manager in the morning, halfway through the day and at the end of the day to review their target behavior sheet, practice replacement behavior, and problem-solve if needed.
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