The practice of shaping (also known as "successive approximation") is not, in and of itself, a method for managing inappropriate behavior.  Instead, it is a method that assists you in setting goals for the behavior of a certain student.  Shaping will provide guidance and direction for your behavior change program, and will help you assess its effectiveness.  It can assist you in changing an aberrant behavior or creating an appropriate behavior that is not yet in the student's repertoire.

    Shaping is used when you want the student to engage in a certain desirable behavior that is, at present, infrequently or never displayed by him/her.  If you were to wait for the student to show this behavior so that you could reward him/her, you might wait a very long time.  Shaping allows you to build this desired behavior in steps and reward those behaviors that come progressively closer to the one you have selected as the final goal.  As the student masters each substep, you require that s/he move to the next increment in order to receive an award or reinforcement.

 For example, John never does his math homework. You would like to have him complete his homework on a daily basis.  You realize that if you wait for him to complete his homework before you reinforce him in some way, you may never (or infrequently) have the opportunity to administer a positive consequence. Therefore, you decide to break down the desired behavior into substeps that are progressively more demanding.  These steps might be:

1. John will write his name at the top of the worksheet.
2. John will complete one problem of his choice.
3. John will complete five problems of his choice.
4. John will complete either all the odd numbered problems or all the
        even numbered problems.
5. John will complete all problems except one.
6. John will complete all problems.

As John masters each step, you will tell him that he must now move on to the next objective to receive a reward.  If the jump between two steps is too difficult, then you must break down the steps even further into smaller increments.

How to Use Shaping

1. Identify a desired behavior for this student.  Determine the final goal.
2. Identify the student's present level of performance in displaying the desired
3. List the steps that will eventually take the student from his/her present level of
        performance to the final desired behavior.  These levels of skill should be
        progressively more demanding.
4. Tell the student that s/he must accomplish step 1 to receive the reward.
5. Once the student has mastered a specified behavior, require that s/he demonstrate
        the next stage of behavior in order to receive a reward.

Click Below for examples of shaping
Building class participation with a girl with limited English Proficiency
Using shaping to reduce a student's aggression due to frustration

Activities and Discussion Questions

1. Avion has difficulty kicking the kickball while playing with the class during recess and physical education class.  The steps in her shaping program were on separate index cards, but you dropped them and now they are in the wrong order.  Place them in the correct order.
a. Avion will run to an approaching ball rolled slowly by the teacher and kick it
b. Avion will stand in place and kick a stationary ball.
c. Avion will run to a quickly approaching ball that has "English" (spin) on it and
        kick it firmly.
d. Avion will stand in place and firmly kick a slowly approaching ball rolled by the
e. Avion will run to an approaching ball rolled quickly by another student and kick it

2. Willy has done well in his shaping program which is helping him lose his fear of dogs.  However, he is unable to make the jump from step d  to step e. Devise at least two more intermediary steps to gradually help him reach stage e.
a. Willy will read a book with no pictures about a friendly, helpful dog.
b. Willy will read an illustrated book about a helpful, friendly dog.
c. Willy will look at photographs of dogs playing/walking nicely with youngsters.
b. Willy will watch dogs  in a movie or television program (select this media
c. Willy will watch a pleasant natured dog through a window.
d. Will will watch a pleasant natured dog tied to a stake or clothes line from the
        other side of a fence.
e. Willy will play with the neighbor's untrained Saint Bernard.

3. List at least five steps to shape behavior in the following situations.
a. Rose never participates in "Show and Tell" ("Bring and Brag?"). You have
        asked her to become involved, but she appears frightened to do so. You can
        select any reason for her failure to participate.
Desired behavior:
Present behavior:
Click here to see a possible answer (after you have developed your plan)


b. Andy has never raised his hand to volunteer an answer to your activity or lecture questions.  Decide why and then write a program to build the desired behavior.
Desired behavior:
Present behavior:

Fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page
Puppy shaping plan:
1. Puppy will fetch any page within 5 minutes
2. Puppy will fetch a page listed on the home page within 5 minutes
3. Puppy will fetch the home page within 5 minutes
4. Puppy will fetch the home page within 4 minutes
5. Puppy will fetch the home page within 3 minutes