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Pivotal Behaviors: Teaching Children Across Behaviors

Posted on August 19, 2017 at 9:05 AM


Rather than working on specific targets or things to teach, programming pivotal behaviors (wide area of functioning) will produce greater effects. When teaching students to increase motivation, self-initiate, or self-manage, educating across behaviors instead of teaching a discrete skill can produce acquisition, mastery, and generalization at a faster rate. To do this, we must utilize natural reinforcement, intersperse mastery trials, use student-selected materials, and teach learner-initiated responses.


Motivation is described as observable student responding that shows an increased reaction to social and environmental situations. Simply, the learner's affect, interest, enthusiasm, and happiness increases.


Self-initiation and Self-management:  Self-initiated learning increases spontaneous interactions by teaching the learner to initiate question asking, which makes the learner viewed as socially appropriate. Self-management or monitoring gives the learner a sense of responsibility for his/her actions which increases self-esteem. A benefit of self-monitoring is that no one else is needed to observe the learner or reinforce them. How to teach Pivotal Behaviors Give the student choice in teaching interactions. This will decrease disruptive behaviors and increase adaptive behaviors (i.e.: time on task). For instance, where will the teaching be completed, what materials will be used, etc. If the student is unable to make a choice without options, offer them a forced choice (between two plausible options). This can be done verbally, with pictures, or written. Vary hard or teaching tasks with familiar, easy tasks. Motivation decreases because of repeated failures.


Make learners successful by having them respond correctly. This increases the probability that they will be successful with the teaching task. This is called building behavior momentum. Vary task size. You may have to teach difficult tasks in steps to make the child successful. This will decrease frustration and build on the skills they currently have. Modify the pace of teaching. Quick instruction is much more likely to be successful than long, and what becomes boring, tasks. Reinforce all attempts of what you are teaching, even if the student responds incorrectly. This will improve the learner's responsiveness during social interactions. Use enthusiastic praise! The power of praise is highly undervalued. Natural reinforcement is directly related to the task being taught. This increases motivation and rate of learning. For instance, if the learner requests that a peer plays a board game (being a board game that the learner enjoys); it is naturally reinforced when the peer and learner play. Priming through practice. Have the learner practice or role play at home to help with social interactions at school or in the community. This increases generalization (being able to perform at home, school, and in the community with different people and in dissimilar situations).

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