• Teaching Replacement Behaviors

    Posted by Katie Justice on 9/29/2021 11:55:00 PM



    I learned something new from a couple of our students-- that even some of the toughest of arguments can be resolved over conversations and marshmallows. Two of our students had been playing and when entering back into the classroom, one had felt that the other had not held true to his deal and, long story short, there ended up being a physical altercation.  We separated the students, got the full story from both sides, and found that there seemed to be provocation from each end.  At that time, we had a choice in our response. Typically, there would be an automatic consequence for physical aggression, and a similar consequence for the antagonizing that led to the physical aggression. Instead, we decided to facilitate a conversation and to work through the conflict together at that very moment.  It went a little like this: Student 1, “Hey man, I’m really sorry”.  Student 2: “Yeah, I’m really sorry, too, I just thought we had a deal”.  Student 1 finds mini marshmallows and splits them between the two as the conversation continues.  They talked through where the miscommunication was, what they should have done differently, and how they might handle miscommunication with each other the next time it comes up.  Then Student 1 says, “here, let me top you off” and they finish another round of marshmallows. Though our natural response may have originally been that a consequence was necessary to match the behavior, a true learning opportunity would have been missed in the meantime.  Each of them took personal responsibility with one another through true communication, not just as a result of a punitive response. Each of them were able to walk back into the classroom together and continue to work on interacting together daily, even when it isn’t always easy.

     It was a reminder to me of the importance of truly understanding what drives the student’s behavior and in turn how that should drive our interventions.  As there continues to be a rise in deficits due to outside stressors such as trauma, mental health, environmental factors, etc, we have come to understand that just focusing on rewards and punishments alone is not meeting the needs related to teaching these skills of self awareness and self regulation.  In The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, the authors discuss how difficult it is for us as educators to respond to crisis situations and be expected to control the situation and have the right response.  She discusses that in those moments, it is so easy to make an incorrect assumption about these challenging students and the function of their behavior, which leads to inadequate responses, which can then lead to repetition of the behavior (p. 8). They shared,  “For example, one day, Jimmy, a second-grade student, pushed Devan off the computer.  When the teacher saw this, she assumed Jimmy pushed Devan to get a turn on the computer faster.  Her logical response, based on this assessment, was to ban Jimmy from using the computer for the remainder of the day.  Although it wasn’t obvious at that moment, after she looked at the patterns of Jimmy’s behavior over time (his pattern of aggressiveness towards Devan during social time and picking him as his partner during science and physical education time), the teacher realized that rather than pushing Devan to get a turn on the computer as she had assumed, Jimmy was trying to engage Devan socially.  Banning Jimmy from the computer was not a response that encouraged Jimmy to learn more appropriate ways of interacting with peers.  Instead, it punished him for his failed attempt to interact with the other students.  The teacher’s response and the reason for Jimmy’s behavior were mismatched, and therefore the intervention was ineffective” (Minahan, p.9).

     Continued use of proper data collection and review, behavior modification and a focus on pre-teaching, direct teaching, and modeling of appropriate responses is key to helping guide our students who are lagging in these areas.  With a focus on replacement behaviors and opportunities for positive practice, our learners will have an opportunity to experience success, and with repetition becomes a habit.  As we know, behavior is a means of communication, and just as we teach new communicators gradually, such is true when we are teaching challenging students how to appropriately communicate.  Replacement strategies can begin small and continue to build through continual use of direct and indirect practice and instruction.  If all else fails, marshmallows really seem to help as well.

     The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport, Harvard Education Press, 2013. 


    Katie Justice

    Katie Justice, BCBA


    Comments (0)


By Month