Four Functions of Behavior

23 October 2015

Hello Everyone!  It’s Desiree from Papers, Pencils, & Progress Reports. I hope you’ve all settled in to a great first quarter!   However, if you are still frazzled by student behaviors this post is for you!  As a special education teacher, one of my strengths is behavior management and working with student with significant emotional challenges and disabilities. Below, I’ve outlined the four functions of behaviors.

Let’s face it we all have had a student in our class or on our caseload that has exhibited some sort of undesired behavior. I’m talking about serious behaviors the ones that disrupt the learning environment, not just about the teachers-pet peeves. I’m sure a specific student may come to mind, you know the one who often acts out for various reasons we aren’t sure of, heck,  you might even think they stay up late just thinking of ways to annoy or irritate you.  

Students will exhibit undesired behaviors for one of four reasons. It is our job to listen to the behaviors in order to find a replacement so the student can be successful.

 Social Attention
Behaviors occur to gain some form of attention or elicit a desired reaction. For instance a student may engage in a behavior to get others to look at them, laugh at them play with them, hug them or scold them.

Tangibles/activities
A student may engage in an undesired behavior to gain an activity or item.
I always think of the tantrum at the supermarket checkout lane!  You’ve probably witnessed it before the child throws a fit so their parents will buy them candy.

Escape or Avoidance
Many behaviors often occur because students want to escape or avoid something.  I had a student who would become aggressive during recess. It took a while to see the pattern. He would become so bad at recess be would need to be removed from the class and sit in the office.  Although it appeared he couldn’t handle recess, he wasn’t escaping recess. He was having a fit so he wouldn’t have to attend math, which occurs right after recess.

Sensory Stimulation
Sensory stimulation occurs when students need some type of internal stimulation. Maybe the student calms himself by rocking back in forth in his chair. A student may even routinely, chew on clothing or pencil tops. This behavior occurs when students need a specific sensory input.

In order to eliminate or reduce specific behaviors you need to determine a Replacement Behavior.  A replacement behavior a specific behavior you want a student to use instead of the problematic behavior.   Keep in mind replacement behaviors need to serve as the same function.

Teachers/adults think behaviors occur because students are lazy or just trying to be the class clown. Students are communication with us through these behaviors. It’s our job to figure what they mean.  The Virginia Department of Education has some great resources on Behavior management as well as information on Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP). They also have a great Problem Behavior Questionnaire.

Here are a few reinforcement questionnaires that may help to determine possible rewards.





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