Oct 042015


One of my grad students was reporting on her differential reinforcement intervention designed to reduce the number of curse words uttered by one of her students. The student began to show increasing self-restraint as he would start to say the usual curse/slur, but change the ending: Sh….oot, fah….fah, fah, fah, Da…delion. He also consciously changed certain words: Ninja for the “N word”, ducking for the “F word”, etc.

In the latter case the other kids recognized the implied word and chuckled, but the titillation (Can I say that on the internet??) soon left, followed quickly by the use of the rhyming words by them, replacing their own offensive terms.

The teacher found time to sit with the young man and talk about how he was making progress, telling him how she knew that he could show “maturity” by being able to switch gears depending on the demands of the situation in which he found himself. She noted the validity and importance of the caustic lingo in the streetcorner setting while helping him recognize that flexibility would benefit him now and in the future in other social and employment venues.

Unfamiliar with differential reinforcement? (It’s up there among the strongest behavior change procedures available.) Here’s a link to what-it-is and how-to-do-it videos:

 Posted by at 4:09 pm
Oct 042015

(From the facebook page) PLEASE EXPLAIN #2: A couple of days ago, I questioned whether all behaviors have a goal/function/purpose. (As claimed by adherents of the ABA model). A trio of people responded to the post. Here is my reply to them.

Thanks Jennifer. You presented a thoughtful response, as did Chevie and Steph. Perhaps I need to reframe my thoughts, as I talked about two different points on different ends of the path without connecting them.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, here my original post and the responses to it.

PLEASE EXPLAIN: According to behaviorists/ABAers, all behavior has a purpose… thus the Functional Behavior Assessment procedures to determine the purpose.
An emotionally overwhelmed teacher bangs his/her fist on the board and cries. What is the function of that/those actions? A schizophrenic adolescent reacts wildly to his/her distorted perception of reality. What is the function?
It it true that all behavior is purposeful? Please… seriously… let me know how the above-mentioned actions could serve a function. It’ll help to remove some of my skepticism of the “all behavior is purposeful” claim.

JENNIFER’S RESPONSE: One could argue that the actions of the overwhelmed teacher provide emotional release, which lessens the internal discomfort. It is difficult to surmise the purpose in example of the adolescent as it depends on what their perception is.

CHAVIE’s RESPONSE: That’s what I was going to say… the function of the adolescent’s behavior is relative to their perception. it’s functional to THEM. Thus, my FBA would probably conclude that if the individual seems to be attacking the teacher because he/she perceives the teacher to be a vampire that needs to be eliminated, we may try eliminating the vampire with anti-psychotic meds.

The teacher bangs his/her fist to express frustration/emotion and release cortisol or something (a biochemist I’m not.) We may address the function of this behavior by teaching him/her to use deep breathing and muscle movements to balance stress chemistry, while expressing the emotions with effective language.

STEPH’s RESPONSE: I, too have my issues with some of the premises of ABA. Jennifer above nicely described my analysis for me.
Recognizing my failure to be fully focused in the original posting, I perceive a need (in my mind) to restructure the thoughts and provide a better explanation. There’s not enough room here on facebook to explain things and provide links to support materials, so for those of you who wish to follow-up on the topic (and perhaps respond back here on facebook) here’s the link to my elongated

 Posted by at 4:03 pm
Aug 102015

In statistics by race/culture, YES. But not in reality according to a New York Times article. In this analysis, schools should not be concerned with “too many” black kids in special ed. Rather, they should be concerned that the numbers aren’t high enough! Link:…/…/is-special-education-racist.html…

 Posted by at 4:26 pm
Aug 102015

Just read an interesting article in the Atlantic in which an argument is made with slanted language, red herrings and the forwarding of correlation as causation, but the prevalence stats and suggestions for avoiding bottom-level discipline are spot-on. Link:…/school-discipline-chil…/399563/

 Posted by at 4:25 pm
Aug 102015

The Feds (USA) just informed state departments of education that “twice exceptional” students (gifted kids with emotional/behavioral disorders) MUST receive needed services for their disability. Many states were not providing those services for the kids. Here’s the link:…/idea-twice-exceptio…/20260/

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Aug 102015

WHO BUILT THIS PYRAMID? A colleague of mine sent this link to me:…/maslows-hierarchy-of-…/
It seems that Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid that we all learned about in Psych 101 was not in any of his works. Who drew it?

Call me a Barbarian-at-the-gate, but I don’t much care who drew the pyramid to explain Maslow’s work in a pictorial form. It helps with our understanding of how some “needs” serve as a foundation for greater likelihood of attaining and expanding other needs. As with all models, it explains a great deal while having some moth holes in the cloth. For example, one can have strong attainment of love/belonging while still being very tenuous in safety. Hmm…. Do I believe the blog post, or do I need to add the original two publications to my reading list?

 Posted by at 4:23 pm
Jul 232015

I’m motivated to post more about motivation. Here’s 25 suggestions from one of my former grad students for increasing student motivation to engage in our lessons and behave well:

 Posted by at 3:13 pm
Jul 232015

Perhaps the greatest contributor our ability to convince kids to be engaged and display appropriate behavior is having formed positive interpersonal relationships with them. Here’s some sage advice on the topic from a publication that reviews recent articles (The Marshall Memo, #585, May 4th, 2015). It is presented here verbatim.
Seven Steps to Building Relationships with Teens
In this Virginia Journal of Education article, award-winning high-school music teacher David Webb says he’s always believed that positive rapport with students is essential to classroom success. His suggestions:
• Meet them where they are. “Teenagers want desperately to be treated like adults,” says Webb. It may be true that their frontal lobes won’t fully mature for another decade and that they’re hard-wired to be impulsive and rebellious and need constant adult guidance. But an authoritarian approach doesn’t work. The best thing is to forgive teens their developmental circumstances and talk to them as equals.
• Get to know them. Teens crave approval or at the very least being noticed. “Engage your students in conversation,” says Webb. “Open your room/office to them during non-class time.” Chat. Eat together. Get to know more about them.
• Don’t demonize the things they think of as normal. “Our students do not know a world in which they find information in books, have to go to the library to do research, have to wait until later to answer a question from someone not in the room, or can’t simply touch a screen to get almost anything they want instantly,” says Webb. “Society will never go backward – it is our job to assimilate to their world, not vice versa.” Ditto for tattoos and piercings.
• Your reputation precedes you. “It is very difficult to shake a perception that people have of you based on what other people report,” he says – on the bus, in the cafeteria, online, from parents. She’s really cool. He’s mean and overreacts to everything. “What’s being said about you?”
• Know what you’re talking about. “Kids can spot a phony a mile away with blindfolds on,” says Webb. “They may not know the material you’re supposed to be teaching them just yet, but they can certainly tell when you don’t know it!” Admitting ignorance when you’re not sure of something is an excellent strategy.
• Teach with passion. “Show your kids why you love what you’re teaching,” he advises. “[T]hey won’t be engaged by people who aren’t engaged themselves.” Webb remembers the dramatic improvement in his own high-school math achievement when he moved from one math classroom to another.
• Like them. That doesn’t mean being lax on standards, but it does mean communicating genuine acceptance and affection, being positive about expectations (“Do this” versus “Thou shalt not”), and always explaining why.
“Getting Along with Teenagers” by David Webb in Virginia Journal of Education, November 2014 (Vol. 108, p. 8-12),

For more on motivation, check out my web page on the topic at:

 Posted by at 3:12 pm