This past week I was observing high school students in their classes. These observations started me thinking about the value of Functional Behaviour Assessments and how underutilized they are in schools. Functional Behaviour Assessment (FBA) is founded on the principles of behaviourism which operates from the assumption that all behaviour serves a function. If the function of a certain behaviour can be identified, then that behaviour can be changed. To understand the function of behaviour an assessment of the controlling variables is undertaken. An FBA includes the following five components: “(a) an operational definition of the problem behavior, (b) identification of predictable antecedent-behavior-consequence chains, (c) determination of stimulus control and operant function, (d) determination of an appropriate functional replacement behavior, and (e) manipulation of antecedent and consequence events to facilitate the replacement behavior” (Scott et. al., 2010, p. 88). There is ample research to support that FBAs can and do result in positive behaviour change in students (Scott et. al., 2010). If positive change results, then why are FBAs so underutilized in schools?
The answer may be that FBAs are often conceptualized as a complex and formal process which, when translated by busy teachers, is viewed as equating to added responsibility and time commitment. To rectify the misconception that FBAs will require a lot of additional time or responsibility, Scott et al. (2010) recommend simplifying the process by removing the jargon, such as that outlined above in the FBA component description, helping teachers recognize that they are likely already engaging in informal behaviour assessments of their students, and therefore little additional learning or work would be required to complete an FBA.
The first step in the simplification process is to help teachers describe the context in which a student’s maladaptive behaviour is taking place in terms that are familiar and relevant to the school setting. Statements such as when, where, and what is happening, would replace the traditional FBA jargon of antecedent, consequence, and function mentioned above. The second step is for teachers to understand that, in general, behaviour can be conceptualized as either serving to help students get what they want or helping them get away from things they do not like (Scott et. al., 2010). By conceptualizing behaviour in one of these two ways, teachers can formulate a hypothesis without any formal language or structure. Once the problem behaviour is identified, a new behaviour to replace the maladaptive behaviour can be taught. In the final step, the teacher is asked to think about how that student might get their needs met in a more appropriate way. When an alternative route to the student’s goal has been identified the teacher can then go about planning an intervention that is compatible with the teacher’s style of teaching, is feasible within their classroom setting, and/or come to the conclusion that additional supports are needed.
In the above mentioned article Scott et al. (2010) have presented FBAs in a manner that is both accessible and feasible for the classroom setting. The task now is getting the information to teachers!
Scott, T., Alter, P. & McQuillan, K. (2010). Functional Behavior Assessment in Classroom Settings: Scaling Down to Scale Up. Intervention in School and Clinic. 42, 2, 87-94.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA