Using ABA to manage behaviour in the classroom
THE PRINCIPLES of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) are used to change and improve socially significant behaviours as well as communication, social and learning skills. Most people consider ABA to be a treatment method for managing the symptoms of autism, typically conducted in the home or clinical setting. However, it is more than a reputable and empirically supported treatment for autism. ABA seeks to understand how behaviour is affected by the environment and how learning occurs, making its application ideal for classrooms.
The use of ABA should not be limited to special education or managing behaviours of students with behavioural disorders. ABA should be for all students who need to improve, manage, or reduce behaviours. Mainstream classrooms often have students who exhibit challenging behaviours, such as tantrums, impatience, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and aggression. ABA strategies can be applied to learning academic content, social interventions, and classroom management.
For students who learn better in small increments, ABA strategies can help them to understand concepts without becoming overwhelmed by the complexity of the skill. Discrete trial training (DTT) is one method that can be used to teach complex material by simplifying components. With DTT, teachers and students can work through components of a task individually. DTT uses a cue-and-response strategy: the student receives a prompt; the student responds to the prompt and receives reinforcement. The reinforcement can be social praise, a break, or a sticker.
Along with academics, social skills can be taught using ABA strategies, particularly during play and lunchtime. Social skills are an important aspect of school life ranging from participating in group work, interacting with peers, and following teacher directions. Some students may have difficulty navigating their social environment, and social expectations continuously change with age. Naturalist teaching are types of ABA strategies that can be used in the classroom to help students learn important social skills. These strategies are incorporated throughout the day, rather than at specific time periods. With naturalist teaching, a child’s natural interests, needs and abilities are highlighted. Through these strategies, teachers would offer feedback for specific behaviours as they occur.
For example, incidental teaching can be used to increase communication skills. With incidental teaching, the environment is designed to promote the use of language. Toys may be placed on high shelves, forcing students to request teacher assistance in obtaining them. Another example is pivotal response treatment (PRT). This strategy focuses on a child’s overall development rather than specific behaviours. The areas of focus are motivation, social initiation, compliance, and self-management. PRT includes task variation, child choice, and rewards -- used primarily to decrease disruptive behaviour, teach language and improve social interactions.
The principles of ABA can also directly help teachers with classroom management. Teachers should have a general understanding that behaviour has a purpose. Learning how to determine the function of a behaviour can greatly assist teachers in managing their classrooms. Many behaviours may appear to occur for one reason, but the actual function may be different. For example, a student who is constantly shouting out in class can be seen as seeking attention. However, each time he shouts in class he is removed from the classroom, which results in a decrease in task demand. The student is not shouting to obtain attention, but to avoid a task.
A common measure used to determine the function of a behaviour is antecedent-behaviour-consequence data (ABC data). This records what happens immediately before a behaviour, what the behaviour was, and what happens immediately after a behaviour. This data can be used to identify behaviour patterns and develop a behaviour support plan. In the above-mentioned example, the plan could include teaching the student to raise his hand and appropriately request help with difficult tasks. Raising his hand would then be reinforced, and shouting out in class would be ignored or redirected.
Understanding reinforcement and consequences and how to effectively deliver them can be vital for classroom management. We all receive reinforcement and consequences throughout the day as we interact with our environment. We seek things that result in pleasurable outcomes and avoid those that don’t. By applying this knowledge to the classroom, we focus our attention on behaviours we want to strengthen, such as sitting, listening, and completing assignments. We then redirect, ignore, or provide a consequence for a behaviour we want to reduce, such as hitting peers or yelling at the teacher.
ABA is essentially a way to teach, and including these strategies in the classroom can help to reduce a teacher’s stress levels, improve the student-teacher relationship, and help to maintain classroom control. Not every behaviour requires intervention, but teachers who use ABA strategies in the classroom on a persistent and consistent basis can see amazing results. These teachers will not only see improvement in student behaviour, but also in learning outcomes.
Jaymie Hodara is a board certified behaviour therapist. Send feedback to email@example.com.