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November 30, 2018

Teaching Replacement Behaviors

Saving time and energy with proactive teaching strategies!

“We can’t hold kids accountable for things we’ve never told them we expect. Behavior should be treated like academics. Students have to be taught the skills they need.” Erin Green, Director of National Services Operations at Boys Town, had this right!

As a former teacher of students with emotional and/or behavioral challenges, I found myself spending much of my time creating functional behavior assessments and behavior support plans, writing individualized education plans, collecting data, developing reinforcement programs and intervening in behavioral crisis. Far less of my time was spent actually teaching! And rarely did I proactively teach replacement behaviors. Can anyone relate?

Looking back now, I realize that if I had spent the time up front explicitly teaching students prosocial skills as replacement behaviors, those other tasks could have been minimized. (No, not eliminated, but definitely minimized.) Here are a few tips on how you can save time and energy with some proactive teaching strategies.

A replacement behavior is the behavior you WANT students to exhibit in place of the behavior you are trying to eliminate. As an example, you have a student (and you know you do) who blurts out. You want to eliminate the blurting, so you teach the replacement behavior of raising a hand and waiting to be called upon. But here is the deal, unless we actually TEACH these behaviors, we cannot be sure students know how or when to perform them.

So, to teach replacement behaviors, you need to know two things:

1. How do I choose replacement behaviors to teach?

First, choose ONE behavior to replace. Start with the behavior that is most impactful to the student’s or other students’ learning. Then, it is important that you chose a replacement behavior that will serve the same function as the behavior you want to eclipse, so you may need to refer to the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). If an FBA has not been completed, you can hypothesize and/or consult with your behavior specialist. Try to choose a replacement behavior that is incompatible with the target behavior. For example, if you want to replace the behavior of being out of a seat, the replacement behavior of keeping his or her knees under the desk is incompatible. He or she cannot do both at the same time.

2. How do I teach replacement behaviors?

You do this in the same way you teach everything else: plan, explicitly instruct, model, practice, allow for independent practice and provide specific feedback and positive reinforcement! The Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) method is an excellent instructional strategy even when teaching social skills and behavior. This method of teaching moves the responsibility of learning from the teachers to the students. It’s not a linear model, and sometimes students will move back and forth through the levels as they master skills or content.

Check out this visual:

Gradual Release of Responsibility

One final piece that’s important to your success… you must positively reinforce the replacement behavior. A few things to consider here:

  • Find out what is motivating to your student. Check out the reinforcement survey
  • Consider a token economy system (downloadable tickets here) or a penny board as a reinforcement.
  • At the beginning, reinforce the replacement behavior EVERY TIME you see it.
  • As the student begins to display the behavior more often, you can move to intermittent reinforcement.

If I had my career to do all over again, I would still have chosen to work with children and teens with challenging behaviors, but this additional information would have made life so much easier. I hope it helps you while you teach students the skills they need to be successful.

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