No-Fail Steps for Setting up a Behavior Modification Program

As I said before behavior modification has hundreds of applications, both in the classroom and at home. You have enough information in this section to tailor a program specific to any student’s needs, your time schedule and way of doing things.

For example, say you want to help Dan stay in his seat for longer periods of time. We’ll call it, “Dan’s Staying Put Program.” Below are five easy steps you can follow to get your program off the ground.

1. Find out how many times Dan normally gets out of his seat over a specific period of time, say 15 minutes. Try to get a cross-section of measures to see if the numbers vary: for instance, math class as opposed to reading, and first thing in the morning, compared to just before recess. After recording Dan’s behavior for about a week, you’ll be ready to set your program goals.

2. Set Dan’s program goals. Say Dan gets out of his seat an average of five times every 15 minutes. What should you set his starting goal at?–five, six, or whatever you feel sure he’ll get. It’s important children get off on the right foot. As Dan gets better at sitting in his seat, you can make it harder for him by increasing the length of time or decreasing the number of times he’s allowed to get out of his seat. You can also add little perks–perhaps a bonus reward when Dan gets out of his seat three times or less, or a super-duper reward if he doesn’t get out of his seat at all.

3. Figure out Dan’s reward schedule. How often you reward Dan depends on this trio of factors: (a) his ability to wait without losing interest; (b) your time; (c) the degree of structure in your classroom. Every fifteen minutes is a good opener.

If Dan’s reward time falls in the middle of an exam or some other uninterruptible situation, warn him ahead of time that you won’t be able to give him his reward as usual, but at such-and-such a time you’ll give him his reward.

At the beginning it’s better if you take the responsibility for dispensing rewards to Dan. As he gets familiar with the program, you can make it easier on yourself by asking Dan to come to your desk. This way it’s up to Dan to make sure he gets his rewards. If Dan forgets, he either has to wait or he misses out completely. You can help Dan remember by letting him use an alarm clock or timer.

4. Decide on a reward that Dan likes. The immediate 15-minute rewards should be easy to handle–hockey cards, stickers and tokens are three examples. Tokens can also be thought of as Money in the Bank, which children can trade in for a prize at the end of the day. As well, you can heighten children’s motivation even more by incorporating daily or weekly prizes. Your class might like fishing for their prizes in a fishpond.

5. Keep track of Dan’s progress every day. In addition to your own records, put up a chart where Dan can see how he’s doing. The chart can be as imaginative as you like–how about a drawing of Dan divided into horizontal stripes, which he colors in as he progresses, or a gigantic jigsaw puzzle which Dan gradually pieces together and earns whatever it pictures? Make sure Dan’s chart isn’t cluttered with too much information, is easy to read, and emphasizes his positive behaviors.

Charts also help you be consistent in monitoring Dan’s progress. Accurate record-keeping is important. When discussing Dan’s progress it sounds better if you say, “Dan has gone from getting out of his seat an average of five times every 15 minutes to three times every half hour,” rather than, “Dan seems to be staying in his seat longer.”

In addition, charts give you an ongoing objective picture of how much progress Dan has made. Children, at some point, go through doldrums, when they do not get any better or even get worse, making it harder for you and them to stay enthusiastic. A look back to where they started helps to put the bigger picture into sharper focus. Lastly, it gives you a tool for evaluating your program’s success, and seeing whether you need to make any changes.