“Describe and critically evaluate the application of behaviour analysis to effective teaching, using practice examples.”
The purpose of this essay is to discuss the workings of applied behaviour analysis within education. Before researching ABA, I had no real understanding or knowledge of the use and practice of this. Unfortunately, there are misconceptions and a degree of ignorance with ABA which in my opinion contributes to many myths about the treatment. I hope from this essay; the reader should develop or deepen their understanding of applied behaviour analysis and how it can be used within education.
It is commonly known that Behaviour analysis is a discipline based on the Science first developed by B.F. Skinner. It is a scientific method that focuses on the relationship between a person’s environment and behaviour. According to Autism Speaks “’Behaviour’ refers to all kinds of actions and skills (not just misbehaviour), and ‘environment’ includes all sorts of physical and social events that might change or be changed by one’s behaviour.”
The science of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) can help a student in the classroom, from assisting with behaviour to it being used as a teaching tool and maintaining general skills previously learnt. According to the Applied Behaviour Analysis Programs Guide, ‘ABA teaching methods revolve around using Scientific data to improve instructional and interactive techniques’. Implementing ABA interventions requires the selection of observable, measurable and meaningful objectives, it is critical that this is done with appropriately trained professionals.
The Special Education Guide have stated that ‘many teaching strategies currently used in our classrooms today come from the principals of Applied Behaviour Analysis’. Some of the educational concepts students have to absorb are complex not only for students to understand but also for teachers to teach appropriately.
When using ABA there is an emphasis on different strategies that should take place when implementing this technique. First thing is the importance of building a relationship with a child, within ABA programmes this is known as Pairing. In education I believe this is something that is vital to get students working at their optimum level, an educator needs to know what motivates and stimulates their student’s creativity especially those with additional needs. When doing this it allows the facilitator to establish themselves as the reinforcer. The reinforcer is when something is presented after a behaviour occurs that increases the behaviour. The Special Learning Inc. suggests that ‘the first component to good teaching is that the individual must associate the teacher with good things happening’ this is when pairing takes place. They also advise that pairing never ends and that the relationship between facilitator and child is the foundation to ABA succeeding in a classroom. As well as pairing being part of the programme, prompts are used within the programme. ‘Prompts are cues that support the learner in responding correctly or most appropriately for the situation so that they may experience success’ (Keller, n.d.)
Prompts can be verbal, visual, gestural, environmental or physical, ideally these would be temporary to allow the child to then experience independence with a skill, this is when communication and consistency with staff members is imperative. Vargas (2013) believes ‘teaching is designing circumstances that change the way other individuals feel and behave’, prompts are a way of giving the child the opportunity to behave in an appropriate manner in a certain situation that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. These can start with small simple tasks such as communicating a request about a favourite toy by pointing to a visual cue and lead up to important life skills such as using environmental cues such as road signs to cross a road. To get to this stage, the relationship between reinforcer and child is crucial as fading out prompts and knowing when it is appropriate to do so is significant.
Another element of ABA which is used within Education is reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is used with every child in every classroom regardless of needs or abilities. In a typical school day, many behaviours are witnessed, some more desirable than others. ‘Whatever teachers do affects students’ lives often in significant ways’ (Vargas, 2013), in my opinion this is even more relevant for students who have additional needs therefore it is vital that educators are trained appropriately to make sure they’re affecting students’ lives both positively and productively. ‘To locate the relevant contingencies over the ‘problem’ behaviour, behaviour analysts do a functional assessment’ (Vargas, 2013) This means a plan can be put in place that entails reinforcing one set of behaviours and withholding reinforcement for another which in turn should be that the less desirable behaviour will decrease with the more desirable behaviour increasing. It is important to point out that these different strategies work alongside one another and gathering and interpreting data should be done before, during and after a programme. By doing this it will be clear if the objectives and plans set are in fact working and if they aren’t what changes need to be made. To ensure an accurate representation of a behaviour is being recorded it is important the measurement of the behaviour is consistent. ‘To judge if a behaviour is changing, you need to make sure that you are measuring the same way from one time to another’ (Vargas 2013) this is where consistency is key.
‘A direct measure of the actual behaviour of interest will always possess more validity than an indirect measure, because a direct measure does not require an inference about its relation to the behaviour of interest, whereas an indirect measure always requires such an inference’ (Cooper 2014).
What makes the classroom environment inclusive? When thinking about inclusion in the classroom, it is about all children and how we can create a space that is suitable for all, stimulating for all and a safe learning environment for all. Some argue that inclusion can’t work at all, some argue it can’t work all of the time for every child and some argue it can work for every child. According to The Inclusion Lab it can work and is in fact about the shift in mind set, it’s down to the teacher to believe that all students have something important to offer in the classroom and that children really are better off learning together. ‘The debate of inclusion in mainstream education in the UK partly centres on the development of appropriate pedagogies and classroom relationships, and the ways in which these contribute to an inclusive learning environment’ (Efthymiou and Kington, 2017). Studies have shown that students with special educational needs and disabilities and those without can have a positive or negative experience from both the educational and social elements of school. Inclusion gives the opportunity for children to benefit emotionally, socially and academically. Emotionally and socially, children build friendships and become more aware of the differences that other children can face, removing the social ignorance and stigma that is sometimes attached to a child with SEN, allowing confidence to grow and isolation to reduce. With greater confidence in themselves a domino style effect can appear within other aspects of a child’s life. Academically, it is reported by many studies that academic gains are made by those children with special educational needs and/or disabilities when educated in an inclusive mainstream school. Like with many things in education, this isn’t the case for everyone and there are cases where mainstream schooling isn’t the best choice for a child.
I believe ABA is a way of allowing effective inclusion to take place. With education evolving and access to support and resources becoming much more accessible, it is vital that now we make the changes to create an inclusive education system for as many children as we can. It may be that ABA strategies are introduced to a child and the end goal is to have that child attending a mainstream school where they will have the same opportunities and experiences as a child who has not needed intervention. Or it may be a child already in a mainstream setting but during their education it becomes apparent they have additional needs, ABA can be used to give the child skills and give staff understanding so that the child can cope in their setting. Applied behaviour analysts seek to break down and examine the fundamental human behaviours that most people take for granted. It is well known for the benefits it bestows upon teachers and students.
The Applied Behaviour analysis programme guide dissects ABA into 5 teaching strategies, I found this the most relatable to the Education system I’ve experienced.
I’ve included these with a brief outline:
- Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) – breaking a big task into more manageable parts. DTT employs a cue-and-response structure to work through the component tasks of a behaviour or skill.
- Naturalistic Teaching- Naturalistic teaching focuses on letting the student set the pace of learning in the context of their regular daily routines.
- Pivotal Response Therapy- builds on naturalistic teaching, yet it provides a bit more structure. While still student-directed, this method focuses specifically on improving core skills
- Token Economy- motivates learners and selectively promote or discourage specific behaviour
- Contingent Observation- Contingent observation is a method of controlling disruptive behaviour.
These are complex strategies which I have taken from (Applied Behaviour Analysis Programs Guide, 2018) and simplified to give a brief summary of what I think is most relatable to ABA in education. I believe it is more than likely already being used in classrooms with children who do not have additional needs and those who do. Take token economy as an example these are used as motivators for children in all classrooms, ABA just breaks this down further and explains how it can work for a more complex child. Teachers are using ABA strategies as classroom management techniques, such as contingent observation, this is using peer examples to showcase the desired behaviour, again this is just a more in depth look at what strategies teachers are already using in their classrooms. Therefore, with implementing strategies like these allows for a greater chance of successful inclusion taking place in our schools.
To conclude, I believe ABA strategies are being used every day in classrooms without teachers being aware of the history of where they’ve evolved from. With inclusion being a hot topic of discussion and the number of mainstream classrooms with children with additional needs rising, I feel it is a programme that teachers should be aware of and trained in using. It is an effective method to use but the key is the person implementing is should be someone who is trained properly. Many of the strategies used are based on the principles of “operant conditioning”, a form of learning first researched by B Skinner. Its foundation relies on manipulating consequences to change the rate at which behaviours occur in the future.
If a programme like ABA is implemented correctly to allow for inclusion in a mainstream classroom it has the potential to benefit many children. I firmly trust these strategies could be employed to give all children an enriched and inclusive education, this is where teachers participation is key. It isn’t going to work for every teacher and student but for effective teaching and learning to take place a teacher needs to be open-minded and willing to employ different strategies to allow for inclusion and best practice to take place.
- Alberto, P.A. & Troutman, A.C. (1995). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (4th Edition). Englewood, NJ: Simon & Schuster Company.
- Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide. 5 Applied Behavior Analysis Teaching Strategies – Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide. [online] Available at: https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com/lists/5-applied-behavior-analysis-teaching-strategies [Accessed 18th Dec. 2018].
- Autism speaks. Autism speaks, it’s time to listen. [online] Available at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/index.php [Accessed 16th Dec.2018]
- Bacb.com. (n.d.). PROFESSIONAL AND ETHICAL COMPLIANCE CODE – Behavior Analyst Certification Board. [online] Available at: https://www.bacb.com/ethics/ethics-code/ [Accessed 16 Dec. 2018].
- Cooper, J. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Pearson
- Efthymiou, E. and Kington, A. (2017). The development of inclusive learning relationships in mainstream settings: A multimodal perspective. Cogent Education, 4(1).
- Keller, T. (n.d.). How to Use Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis in a Special Ed Classroom. [online] Special Education Guide. Available at: https://www.specialeducationguide.com/blog/how-to-use-principles-of-applied-behavior-analysis-in-a-special-education-classroom/ [Accessed 18th Dec. 2018]
- Newman, B. & Reneicke, D. R. (2007). Behavioral detectives: A staff training exercise book in applied behavior analysis. Dove and Orca.
- Vargas, J. (2013). Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.