We have spent a good deal of our Thursday conversations talking about where behaviors come from, the purpose they serve, how our experiences play a role in our choices, and last week we talked about the relevancy of antecedent events. This week we need to spend a little bit of time talking about the difference between organic and acquired behavioral problems.
Over the past several weeks we have been discussing what a behavior is and where behaviors come from. We have even talked a little about the difficulties of recording and measuring and reporting behavioral incidents. Now let’s start talking about the elements that will help us change behaviors. To begin this discussion we have to start with the focal point of behavior change – the function the behavior serves.
Everybody likes something. Sounds kinda simple, doesn’t it? But the fact that “everybody likes something” means that there is something out there for everybody that they find pleasurable and therefore reinforcing. Think about the things that make you happy. I love a good steak. I also really enjoy spending time with my wife and kids. These are the types of things that make me smile and make me want to work toward being able pay for a good steak and to spend time with my wife and kids. I have learned that these are things in my life that require work on my part to sustain.
In our conversation last week we talked about how reinforcements are often misunderstood in behavior programming. For example, a teacher becoming weary of being interrupted offers her class an extra 10 minutes of recess if they are all quiet for the remainder of the lesson. This might be effective and it is a fine method to gain much needed silence but it is not a change agent. This is a short term delay of a behavior that is not targeted for change and will likely continue once the reinforcement has been gained. In other words, it is a short term bribe and the gain is solely in the short term. The kids will be talking and interrupting again right after recess.
The one consequence that actually creates the biggest issue is the DRI – the Differential Reinforcement of Inappropriate behaviors. The DRI is a fancy way of saying the response to an inappropriate behavior, typically a punishment.
For some reason when people talk about behaviors and behavior programming at school, there is an automatic default to exceptional and alternative education. It is as if the word behavior is a pejorative that means “anywhere but the classroom”. But what is really interesting is that, while behavior solutions, behavior programming and behavior modification are getting relegated to the specialties within the educational array, we are seeing a mainstreaming of social and emotional learning (SEL).
Kids who get in trouble do so again and again. Why is it that the same kids seem to always be in trouble no matter what is tried? Schools have ISS, alternative schools, codes of conduct contracts, and so on. When I went to school we had Coach Velasquez and his paddle. That didn’t work either.
Over the last several weeks we have spent a lot of time describing and defining behaviors. After all, our words and...