ABA in Classroom Instruction

aba in the classroom

“We can’t use ABA in our classroom!  The district says it isn’t allowed.”  I get this DM literally almost every day on my social media accounts and it never ceases to make my jaw drop.  School district administration have a fundamental misunderstanding of what ABA is.  We all know that it is the application of behavioral science, but what many people forget, is that it is already in our daily lives everywhere… including schools!

The very first thing a teacher should do when they are starting to set up their classroom is to create a classroom management plan.  Behavioral science principles are EVERYWHERE in these classroom management plans so let’s take a deep dive into one to show those school administrators that it is already being used daily in their classrooms!

Classroom rules = Rule Governed Behavior.  Now obviously there are students that don’t engage in these rule governed behaviors and have to be taught using contingency shaped behavior (that’s a whole blog post on its own about FBAs, reinforcement, and punishment contingencies).  Rule governed behavior involves behaviors that occur with no direct reinforcement history.  For example, almost every classroom I’ve been in has this common rule “keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself.”  Many students are given this rule verbally (written or vocally) and they just do it.  This is rule governed behavior.

In any professional development course when they discuss classroom management plans, they almost always talk about phrasing the behavior in a positive manner and specific manner, AKA  they want teachers to operationalize their behavior definitions or make them specific, observable, and measurable

Consequence Systems (and no I don’t mean punishment… that’s something that drives this BCBA crazy about the school system) are a huge part of a teacher’s classroom management plan.  Most of them take the form of a group contingency.  Here are some examples:

A marble jar is an interdependent group contingency where the teacher reinforces group behavior by adding marbles to a jar.  When the jar is full, all students earn a group reinforcer.

Class dojo is a very popular app used in elementary schools.  Teachers can award individual students points for engaging in specific behaviors.  These points are often redeemed for preferred items or activities.  This is an example of an independent group contingency using a token economy!

Also, can we mention behavior specific praise?  Teachers are masters at implementing this strategy.  They will say the student’s name, what behavior they engaged in, and offer praise for it.  This is yet another form of reinforcement (but only if it actually increases the behavior) that is so often found in the classroom management plans.

Teachers put these classroom management plans together, but then what?  Students aren’t mind readers, so the teachers have to model and teach the procedures of the classroom!  Using a model (learning behavior by seeing someone do it, then copying it) is another example of ABA in the classroom.  Teachers will have students model the correct procedures, then have them practice the procedures and provide reinforcement through the classroom management plan or praise.  This practice is repeated over and over throughout the first weeks of school.  

Teachers will also use the prompt hierarchy and prompt fading to help struggling learners when it comes to classroom procedures.  This is especially common in Kindergarten classrooms where many learners have never been in a school environment before.  Teachers will start by physically guiding the learner through the expected procedure and begin to systematically fade their prompts back to a simple visual or verbal cue until the student is able to master the procedure and perform it independently!

Another example of ABA in the classroom is planning for generalization.  Teachers will have students practice the different behaviors such as walking in a line by varying the line order, time of day, and location within the school.  This is an example of training loosely, which is changing miscellaneous stimuli that is not a required part of the skill.

I could go on and on for days, but for now, the next time your school administration or district staff tell you that you cannot use ABA in your classroom, you can share these terms and explanations with them to show them that ALL teachers already use the science of behavior on a daily basis!

About the author: Cassie is a certified teacher in special education for all ages and elementary general education.  She has experience in general education, lifeskills classrooms, behavior classrooms, and all ages of special education from elementary to high school.  She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst licensed in Texas and practice in home therapy part time.  She has her own blog, www.adventuresinbehavior.com where she shares practical tips and ideas on how to implement ABA in the school system. When she isn’t sharing her love of ABA, she is an avid dog lover and mental health advocate.  She can’t get enough of pens and planner stickers, and coffee is how she manages to juggle it all.

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