Part 2:

Designing a

Function-Based

intervention

The next natural step after gathering data is to develop an action plan to determine how you’re going to address the concerns that you’ve identified. When seeking to change behavior, function-based interventions are your best friend. Function-based interventions not only are an evidence-based practice, but have actually shown to be more effective at reducing problem behaviors than those that are non-function-based (Ingram, Lewis-Palmer, & Sugai, 2005).

 

How so?

Function-based interventions are strategically designed to address the reasons why a behavior occurs (i.e., function), rather than solely analyzing the behavior itself. The additional data allow for targeted strategy development resulting in greater reduction of undesirable behavior and increased development of more pro-social alternatives.

 

Let’s look at how you can create your own function-based intervention using the information you obtained from Part 1. I’ll begin by discussing the basic components of a quality intervention plan.

A well-written intervention plan is essential to the intervention planning process. Why? The intervention plan is similar to a classroom lesson plan, in that it provides the teacher with detailed delivery instructions. Without your lesson plan or with one that is missing key components, would you expect your lesson to be implemented smoothly? Likely, not. The same goes for behavior intervention plans, or BIPs. Poorly written BIPs can negatively impact an intervention outcome, whereas well-written BIPs set all involved parties up for success by providing specific information about intervention delivery and responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

So what does a good intervention entail?

Because all BIPs are not created equal, you’ll find some that are more detailed than others. While an intervention developed for a student with multiple concerns will look different than one that addresses more straightforward behaviors, the level of detail should not change.

Your intervention plan should always be written so that a person who is not familiar with your student, can implement it with ease.

At a minimum, here’s what it should include:

 

That’s not too bad, right?

Let’s get started!

 

 

After you have completed your ABCs and summarized your data, you’ll reference that information to develop your plan. This is what you would include in the ABC and Function section. I’ll explain where you can record this information at the end.

 

The Replacement Behavior

Consider this: your student likely exhibits chronic problem behavior because they haven’t exactly found a good reason not to! Most behavior doesn’t magically "go away" overtime, but instead requires a strategic approach to change. You will first need to determine: what behavior do you want to replace their behavior with? You’ll need to make sure that this replacement behavior serves the same function as the problem behavior. Hint: you will need to reference your function hypothesis for this.

Your goal with this intervention plan is to “[break] the student’s habit of using the problem behavior to meet their needs,“ through the use of a more appropriate behavior (and reinforcement, of course, but we will get to that later).

 

Replacement behaviors should be more efficient and effective than the problem behavior.

 

Why? Students engage in problem behavior because they have found an easy way to get (or avoid) what they want. For example, shouting out will get a teacher’s attention quicker than raising your hand. The key to finding a good replacement behavior is choosing an alternative behavior that meets the same need as the problem behavior (i.e., is similar in function) and is more appealing than the problem behavior (i.e., takes less effort, provides a greater reward).

 

Take a look at some example replacement behaviors:

 

 

Note: You should also make sure that the replacement behavior is socially relevant for your particular student. Does the behavior make sense for their ability level? Is it reasonable to expect that the student can perform this behavior proficiently, at some point? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you should reconsider using your chosen behavior and instead find one that is more appropriate for the individual.

Next, you’ll need to choose the strategies that you are going to implement. Remember, your intervention will include the following strategies:

  • Preventive Strategies: adjustments to neutralize or eliminate setting events and remove or reduce antecedents (i.e., triggers)

  • Behavior Strategies: strategies to explicitly teach desired behaviors

  • Consequence Strategies: modification of responses to increase use of replacement behavior and remove reinforcement of problem behavior

 

Preventive Strategies

The goal of preventive strategies is to make the problem behavior irrelevant. You do this by removing conditions that increase the likelihood of problem behavior and adding conditions that promote the use of the identified replacement behavior. In other words, they are strategies to use BEFORE the behavior occurs.

 

As noted above, you are attempting to change the conditions (i.e., setting events and antecedents) that trigger problem behavior, by promoting the use of the replacement behavior.

 

You might do this by:

  • Prompting a student when they might encounter situations where problem behavior is more likely to occur

    • Visual Prompts (e.g., use pictures, symbols, or highlighted text to encourage the use of the replacement behavior)

    • Verbal Prompts (e.g., verbally reminding a student to use the replacement behavior)

    • Gestures (e.g., use a certain gesture to remind a student to use the replacement behavior)

    • Modeling (e.g., the teacher performs the desired behavior)

  • Arrange the environment so that engaging in the desirable behavior is more valuable to the student

If related to an activity or task, you can:

  • Modify the Content

    • Incorporate student interests into the activity

    • Change the difficulty-level of the task (e.g., decrease the amount of work the student needs to complete, increase supports available to the student while working on the task)

    • Increase the relevance of the task (e.g., use of a class store to teach money management skills)

  • Modify the Delivery of the Content

    • Use Behavioral Momentum

      • Ask the student to complete a few “high probability” (i.e., student-preferred) tasks before asking them to complete a more difficult (i.e., non-preferred) task

    • Chunking

      • Break tasks into smaller, more manageable parts

    • Provide opportunities for choice

 

Take a look at these examples:

  • Adam struggles during classroom transitions, having difficulty with moving to his next activity in a timely manner.

    • Antecedent Strategy: Give Adam a small class job to finish right before transition (e.g., passing out papers for the next activity).

  • Mark struggles with making healthy food choices when at home in the evenings.

    • Antecedent Strategy: Mark gets rid of all junk food and replaces it with healthy, pre-portioned snacks.

  • Mary puts her head down and pretends to sleep when asked to read aloud.

    • Antecedent Strategy: The teacher asks Mary to read with her one-on-one.

  • Dan constantly approaches the teacher for help during independent work time.

    • Antecedent Strategy: At the start of independent work time, the teacher checks in with Dan to see how he is doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Behavior Strategies

 

An important goal of any behavior plan is to encourage the student to use socially appropriate ways to get their needs met. Hence we developed a more suitable, replacement behavior, earlier in the process. However, there are often times when students may not already know how to perform these behaviors. There are other times in which students may know how to do the behavior, but not perform it consistently. In both of these cases, students will need to be taught how to do them. Teaching strategies help make the problem behavior inefficient for the student.

 

First, determine: Can the student perform the behavior?

    **For potential academic concerns, consider completing a can’t do, won’t do assessment to determine if     the student simply refuses to complete work, or is truly unable to complete an academic task.

  1. If the student can perform the behavior, but does so inconsistently:

    • Teach and reinforce performing the behavior across all relevant settings

  2. If the student can perform the behavior and addressing an academic deficit will likely remedy the concern:

    • Address the academic skill deficit through increased supports

  3. If the student cannot perform the behavior (or a corresponding academic skill)

    • Address the academic skill deficit through increased supports AND

    • Explicitly teach the new behavior and reinforce the student for engaging in the behavior

How we teach new behaviors is similar to teaching any new academic concept. We wouldn’t expect our students to learn anything if we only told them what they were not supposed to do all day, right? The same would apply to behavior. In our plan, we need to include strategies to show them exactly what they should be doing.

This includes:

  • Providing a rationale for learning the new skill

  • Explaining the expected behavior

  • Modeling the expected behavior

  • Practicing the expected behavior

  • Monitoring and providing feedback to the student about their progress

 

For example, if you have a student who is attempting to escape non-preferred tasks, you might implement a break card intervention.

 

 Here is how you might teach this:

  1. Provide the student with a specific number of breaks to utilize throughout the day when needed

  2. Explain and model how the student can ask for break (e.g., use of a visual cue or verbal cue)

  3. Set and communicate the time limit for breaks and where they can be taken (e.g., 5 minutes each in the library corner)

  4. Review activities that are appropriate for break time (i.e., drawing, use of a stress ball)

  5. Practice use of the break card before implementing the intervention

  6. Praise the student each time they use their card to ask for a break

  7. Praise the student for returning from break (i.e., to their non-preferred task)

 

Sample Break Card Intervention Script:

  1. Tell the student: "Sam, this is a break card. I want you to use this when you feel overwhelmed by something in the classroom and need a break. A break will give you time to take a walk or visit another classroom to calm down so we don’t do something like hit our peers and get in more trouble. It is a free pass and you don’t get in trouble to use it!"

  2. "Here is how to use the pass:"

    1. I want you to raise your hand (hold the break card up in your hand)

    2. Then, I will call on you and say 'Go ahead, Sam'

    3. You can then walk to Mrs. Harper’s room and sit in an open chair or take a walk to visit Mrs. Vicky. They will send you back after you are done or you can come back when you are calm and ready

  3. "Got it? Great! Let me show you how to do it" (while verbally announcing each step, you physically raise your hand with pass, wait to be called on, push in your chair, put your things away and quietly walk out of the room)

  4. "Now, it’s your turn! Show me how you will tell me you need a break." Have the student model the process, then offer praise once completed, “Great job!”

 

**If you determine that a student is struggling academically, it is naive to only address the problem behavior without implementing strategies to improve his or her academic skills. When a student has multiple or complex concerns, you may need to also consider the following:

  • Conducting additional assessments to identify specific skill deficits

  • Providing more targeted instruction in or outside of the classroom

  • Revisiting current instructional grouping to determine appropriateness

  • Reviewing additional home and community-based supports

 

Consequence Strategies

 

Remember, the term consequence refers to what is done in response to the behavior (i.e., what happens after it). With consequence strategies, the appropriate use of reinforcement can distinguish a successful plan from an unsuccessful one. Our goal is to make the problem behavior ineffective. In other words, we are not allowing the problem behavior to obtain what it has been able to in the past.

 

To do this, you’ll need two types of consequence strategies in your plan: strategies that reinforce (i.e., increase) the use of the replacement behavior and strategies that remove reinforcement for (i.e., decrease) the problem behavior.

 

Reinforcing the Replacement Behavior

You want your student to actually use the new skill you are teaching them. However, when students do not have the internal motivation to exhibit appropriate behavior, external reinforcement must be used to increase the likelihood that the student will choose to use the replacement behavior over what they are currently doing. This is what you want!

 

To externally motivate a student to do something, you’ll need to give them things that they want, like, and enjoy doing, in exchange for exhibiting the new behavior. This can include such things like tangible items (i.e., one skittle, a bag of chips, a pencil), activities (i.e., reading time, free time), and social attention (i.e., teacher praise, peer praise).

 

Most teachers already have a good idea of what a student may like, but it is always best practice to ask them personally! With older students, this is as simple as asking them questions about what they enjoy doing in their freetime, or having them rate various rewards from most to least-preferred. With younger students, you may be able to ask them directly, but it is often helpful to have them complete a reinforcement survey if they can only provide you with a few ideas. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consequences for the replacement behavior should serve the same function as the problem behavior:

  • If a student engages in tantrums to escape work and we use a break card intervention, we want to make sure that he is able to easily access his opportunity to take a break (i.e., escape) following the request.

  • If an attention-seeking student regularly calls out during whole class instruction and we are teaching her to raise her hand, she needs to get immediate access to that attention after she does so.

 

Immediacy, frequency and consistency regarding reinforcement are key when teaching new behaviors. The longer the delay between their behavior and the reward/consequence, the more likely a student will not connect the two, resulting in the failure to see the benefit of learning the new skill.

 

Imagine that you’ve recently begun a new position in a different school district. If all of a sudden you stopped receiving your paycheck after the first month, would you continue showing up for work? It’s highly unlikely.

While we love our students, we go to work each day because we are reinforced by the paycheck we receive at the end of every month!

When beginning an intervention you will want to provide reinforcement as often as possible. As the student shows progress, you will gradually offer less frequent reinforcement (i.e., reinforcement thinning), until the student is able to perform the skill independently (e.g., instead of after every response, reinforce every other response or an average number of responses).

 

Ensure that your expectations for reinforcement are reasonable for the student. For example, if they are currently completing less than 25% of their work in class, it is unreasonable to expect them to work for 100% of the class period. Thus, they should not initially be required to do this before receiving reinforcement. It simply will not work. Instead, you can be more reasonable by:

  • Decreasing the length of assignments the student is expected to complete before receiving the reward

  • Reward the student for actually starting the task in a timely manner

  • Provide reinforcement after working for short amounts of time

 

Removing Reinforcement for Problem Behavior

While not recommended for use alone, strategies to decrease behavior work well when implemented alongside positive reinforcement strategies (i.e, what we just talked about). It is more effective to develop a plan that targets decreasing one behavior, while increasing another skill, than to only focus on decreasing the behavior. That said, your goal here is to plan how to respond to the problem behavior in a way that does not “feed” its function. Remember, we want to “break” the student’s association between the problem behavior and what it has previously been able to get.

 

Ideally, we want to place the behavior on extinction (i.e., withhold reinforcement from a behavior that was previously reinforced). However, we do understand that it is not always possible (or practical) to remove all reinforcing responses following problem behavior. With that said, as indicated above, our goal is to do our best to limit the ability for a student to “use” their problem behavior to achieve its goal. This would look like:

  • Strategically ignoring all instances of attention-seeking problem behavior,

  • Not providing access to preferred items following problem behavior

  • Not allowing a student to get out of completing assigned tasks following misbehavior (of course, this should be work that the student is academically capable of doing)

  • preventing sensory feedback from occurring.

 

Remember, you should always pair extinction strategies with high levels of reinforcement. Extinction should never be used alone.

 

Additionally, you can use these strategies to further limit reinforcement of problem behavior:

  • Limit verbal interaction with a student during/following problem behavior

  • Create a signal that prompts the student to stop and/or return to desired activity

  • Prompt classroom peers to ignore problem behavior

  • Specifically praise other students who are complying with your directives, during problem behavior

Note: Students who engage in problem behavior to avoid something, should never be put in “time-out” or sent to a “recovery room” or office. These consequences only further reinforce the behavior because they are still allowed to “get out of” whatever situation they are viewing as aversive.

 

 

You can find more strategies by function on our resource page. 

Crisis Plans

When a student’s behavior is potentially dangerous to themselves or others (e.g., destruction of property, physical aggression toward others, running from the classroom or building),  a crisis plan should accompany their intervention plan. The crisis plan is meant to outline what specifically happens if a student exhibits behavior that places themselves or others at serious risk of harm. To be clear, you should never be completing crisis plans on your own; always seek administrative assistance before developing interventions for students with these types of behaviors. Responding to crises requires a team effort, thus decisions about what to include in a student’s crisis plan should be made with all involved parties (e.g., classroom teacher, principal, special education teacher, home-school communicator).

 

Because further explanation of this topic extends beyond the intended scope, you can reference more information about crisis plan development here.

 

Documenting Your Plan

You might be wondering, 'how in the world will I keep track of all of this information?' Well, fret no more! There are some great templates you can use (and reuse) to remind you of the steps and streamline this process as you complete it at your school. In my experience, I have found that two types of templates work best for teachers. Which one you choose is truly based on your own preference.

 

#1. Competing Behavior Pathway Model

The Competing Behavior Pathway provides a visual representation of how the information you collect relates to the strategies you develop for your intervention. This is often used in more advanced problem-solving processes (i.e., functional behavior assessment), but offers a more succinct way to review data for the purposes of developing a plan. Here are links to blank and completed templates:

Competing Behavior Pathway Template

Competing Behavior Pathway (with example)

 

#2. Function-Based Problem-Solving Worksheet (FBPSW)

The FBPSW takes you step-by-step through the problem-solving process. It is more lengthy than the Competing Behavior Pathway, however this is simply because it is more comprehensive. It provides you with more prompts and a section to record any amendments made to the plan. I often choose this style of worksheet when working with teachers because, well, sometimes the other can come off as confusing, at times. I’ve included blank and completed templates for this one, also:

Function-Based Problem Solving Worksheet

Example Problem-Solving Worksheet

For a little of both:

Explore this interactive worksheet, which offers the ability to type directly into the online form. It is more tailored to the special education FBA process, but includes some great prompting (just in case you forget). Like the competing behavior pathway, it has more of a "chart" feel to it, but includes a bit more help that you'd likely see in the FBPSW.


 

Great News!

You’ve made it through the thick of it! The next steps in the process are planning how you will implement your intervention and review its progress. It will be smooth sailing from here!

Continue to Part 3

 

 

Looking for even more strategies? Explore these websites!

 

Evidence Based Intervention Network

The EBI Network is an online database through the University of Missouri and provides guides, fact sheets, videos, and briefs on interventions for the classroom setting. Click on 'Behavior Interventions' under the 'Evidence-Based Intervention Section' on far right to search for strategies.

 

Intervention Central

Intervention Central provides free assessment and intervention resources for educators. The website contains resources for effective academic and behavior intervention strategies to use within tiered, academic and behavior frameworks. Click 'Behavior Interventions' on the menu at the top to access behavior strategies. 

A Little Note About BIPs

Often, schools discuss BIPs almost exclusively within the Special Education context (i.e., with students who have individualized education plans). However, an intervention plan to change behavior can be implemented within any setting. A student does not need an IEP for an intervention. In fact, it's more advantageous to the student when staff do not “wait and see” if they get referred for special services before intervention occurs). Interventions are actually designed to eliminate or reduce the need for more intensive services in the future, so addressing problem behavior early, is key. Okay, I’ll end my soapbox here. Regardless, if you’d prefer to use the term “intervention” or "strategies" instead of “behavior intervention plan,” that is fine with us. However, we will use these terms interchangeably on The Behavior Cafe.

A great strategy that can address any function is Non-contingent Reinforcement (NCR).

NCR is a strategy that reduces problem behavior by giving the student access to a reinforcer frequently enough that they are no longer motivated to misbehave, in order to obtain it. In other words, you are attempting to satiate the student, from the reinforcement. For example, if a student constantly seeks your attention throughout the day, yelling for you from across the room, providing him with frequent attention BEFORE exhibiting the behavior, gradually reduces his desire to engage in it for that purpose. In other words, his cup is “full” with attention. For a student that is consistently off-task throughout the day, you might consider providing him with frequent, routine opportunities to take short breaks, unrelated to the meeting of any goal. The visit the EBI Network to learn more about NCR.

 

Find some of our favorite reinforcer worksheets and a list of FREE rewards on our resource page.

 
 
 
 
 

References

Ingram, K., Lewis-Palmer, T., & Sugai, G. (2005). Function-Based Intervention Planning: Comparing the Effectiveness of FBA Function-Based and Non—Function-Based Intervention Plans. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7(4), 224–236. https://doi.org/10.1177/10983007050070040401

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