# 1.5: Teaching Functional Analysis

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Focus Questions

• What are empirically-based methods to teach college students the skills involved with conducting functional analysis?
• How can generalization of functional assessment skills be promoted?

To implement functional analysis (FAn) and treatment procedures specific, well-defined skills are required by the college student to deliver antecedents and consequences for the client’s behavior accurately and reliably. Although college students may be able to describe a procedure in verbal or written form, that does not mean they can do it (Iwata et al., 2000; Wallace, Doney, Mintz-Resudek, & Tarbox, 2004). Role play and performance-based teaching are two strategies to establish the necessary skills.

## Role Play

A role play strategy is a more physically active manner of participation in the learning situation than computer simulation. Role play teaches procedural behaviors by the individual reenacting the situation while assuming another person’s identity. For instance, Jones and Eimers (1975) taught two teachers to use a behavior management approach to decrease the disruptive behavior of children in their classroom. Disruptive behaviors including talking to neighbors, out-of-seat behaviors, and inappropriate talk were behaviorally defined. A single participant research design was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the classroom behavior management procedure on students’ disruptive behaviors. In this multi-component training package, the teacher training procedures entailed a combination of role playing student and effective teacher behaviors, feedback, self-reflection on what went well or not, group discussion, until mastery learning. The results of this teacher training approach led to less student disruptive behavior and higher student academic performance.

Gardner (1972) compared role play versus lecture instructional methods to teach paraprofessionals behavioral skills. Using a simple experimental research pre-test, post-test design, 20 staff members were randomly assigned to either role play or lecture instructional methods. The results suggest that a role-play method improved proficiency scores more than lectures when teaching positive reinforcement, shaping, and stimulus control procedures. However, proficiency was assessed by a paper-and-pencil, 30-item test rather than observations of staff implementation of procedures or effects of training procedures on clients’ behaviors.

Wallace, Doney, Mintz-Resudek, and Tarbox (2004) demonstrated that a high degree of accuracy in implementing FAn may also be achieved using just role play in a workshop format. For one of the three teachers who were participants in this study, additional feedback on specific steps performed incorrectly was needed. One teacher in this study was able to use FAn in the classroom with a student 12 weeks after the workshop, demonstrating both stimulus generalization and maintenance of learning. Although role play is useful for the learner to engage in the desired behavior, additional instructional elements may be needed to promote students’ correct responding and shape the desired behavior.

## Performance-Based Training to Teach Functional Analysis

Performance-based training is a strategy that systematically teaches the individual to engage in specific desired behaviors to a mastery criterion by the learner practicing or rehearsing skills with modeling and feedback provided by the teacher (McGimsey, Greene, & Lutzker, 1995). Prior to training, the task to be taught is operationally defined, broken down into smaller, specific steps (called a task analysis), and a learning criteria is set. A baseline measure of the learner’s current level of proficiency is gathered from multiple assessment sessions. Next, training is designed to focus on the areas that the learner has not mastered. During performance-based training, the trainer completes the following phases with the learner: (a) trainer describes the learner’s skills in verbal and textual form; (b) trainer models the behaviors to be performed or a video presentation of the desired skills is provided; (c) learner role plays or rehearses the skills; and (d) trainer provides immediate feedback provided to the learner until a mastery criterion is attained (Seiverling, Williams, Sturmey, & Hart, 2012). Generalization of skills across situations, materials, people, and time (maintenance) should be assessed and, if not present, additional training is provided to ensure the occurrence of the behavior in the desired circumstances.

Some research has demonstrated that receiving didactic instruction (e.g., lecture, reading material, and/or video/live modeling) and demonstrating mastery on a knowledge test was insufficient for students to be able to implement the antecedent and consequence procedures involved in conducting FAn with a high degree of accuracy (Erbas, Tekin-Iftar, & Yucesoy, 2006; Iwata et al., 2000; Moore & Fisher, 2007; Wallace, Doney, Mintz-Resudek, & Tarbox, 2004). Only after immediate feedback was provided for learners carrying out functional analysis procedures to mastery criterion were students able to perform the traditional FAn conditions (e.g., demand, attention, play, alone) to a high degree of accuracy, demonstrating that performance-based training with role play can effectively be used to teach FAn (Iwata et al., 2000;Wallace et al., 2004). Iwata et al. (2000) demonstrated that FAn procedures could be taught to a high degree of proficiency to inexperienced undergraduate psychology students who had previously completed only one applied behavior analysis course. Following review of written and video-taped model presentations descriptions of the FAn conditions and passing a knowledge test, students did not correctly perform the FAn steps when presented with simulated clients. The next phase entailed the researcher providing feedback with video-taped review of errors and, within 10-30 min, near perfect accuracy in conducting the procedures involved in the FAn conditions was achieved. The results of Iwata et al.’s study are revealing and help to quell arguments that FAn is difficult to perform and unable to be taught to novices as the participants were college students enrolled in their first ABA course. Generalization to real-life situations and retention measures were needed in this study but other researchers have now examined these areas.

Performance-based training can be used to teach teachers to conduct FAn with children in their classroom. For example, Moore et al. (2002) replicated the Iwata et al. (2000) study with teachers who, after training, applied FAn with students in the classroom. Moore et al. (2002) demonstrated that performance-based training led three teachers to correctly perform the steps involved in conducting a FAn to a greater degree compared to that when only reading the procedures and demonstrating mastery of that knowledge on a test. In another extension of this instructional approach, teachers conducted the FAn conditions with children in their classrooms during part of the training phase and then performance-based training while reviewing those video-taped sessions with the researcher was provided (Erbas, Tekin-Iftar, & Yucesoy, 2006).

In another demonstration of use of performance-based training to establish skills, Noell et al. (2000) taught teachers to use a peer tutoring program with their students. Despite being given information on the program and knowing what needed to be done, the five classroom teachers in this single participant research design study did not fully implement the procedures until performance-based training and brief meetings were provided. The researchers measured the teachers’ students reading scores and found concurrent improvement in those scores as the teachers’ implementation of the procedures increased.

Performance-based training has been demonstrated to be an effective method to teach people how to implement other training skills as well (Codding, Feinberg, Dunn, & Pace, 2005; Gardner, 1972; Ducharme & Feldman, 1992; Hundert & Hopkins, 1992; Jones & Eimers, 1975; Nigro-Bruzzi & Sturmey, 2010). This method can lead to changes in behavior that are not just due to the learner being observed, but as a function of the instruction provided (Codding, Livanis, Pace, & Vaca, 2008). Isaacs, Embry, and Baer (1982) experimentally demonstrated the effectiveness of performance-based training for therapists to learn how to train parents to increase task compliance with their child. Even when other methods, such as video modeling are first used to teach a new skill, performance feedback can be used to effectively ‘top off’ skill acquisition (DiGennaro Reed, Codding, Catania, & Maguire, 2010).

A combination of strategies may be used to enhance training. Procedural checklists, role play and performance-based training have been used by six supervisors to teach nine residential staff members to conduct trial-based FAn (Lambert, Bloom, Kunnavatana, Collins, & Clay, 2013). A single participant experimental research design demonstrated that the training procedures were effective although periodic feedback was required to maintain skills following the original training sessions.

Typically performance-based training is conducted in a face-to-face format (e.g., Ryan, & Ilemmes, & Sturmey, 2004), although there have been efforts to evaluate the potential of online instruction with webcams and communication software (Desrochers & DiCesare, 2013). Initially, the learner’s training typically occurs with the instructor during role play simulations and once a mastery criterion has been met, skill training with the learner working with the client may occur. Advantages to structured role play are that a wider array of contextual possibilities (e.g., various client characteristics, functions, settings, etc.) can be presented to enhance the learner’s acquisition and generalization of skills. See the Table 20 below for an example of a performance-based training data sheet.

Table 20: An example of a performance-based training data sheet
Trainer: Mrs. Smith

Child: Siana

Situation: Playtime

Date: 1/20/2014

Skill being taught: Effective use of positive reinforcement

Description of Skill: See steps below

Goal: Correct use of positive reinforcement

Training criteria: 100% correct on all steps for 3 consecutive sessions

Step

On Each Trial Record:

√ X Ø

Uses contingent reinforcement—delivered immediately (within 3-5 s) following correct response
 1√ 2√ 3√ 4√ 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Provides a descriptive praise statement mentioning the behavior e.g., “Nice sitting!”
 1√ 2√ 3√ 4√ 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Provides enthusiastic praise in terms of voice intonation
 1√ 2√ 3√ 4√ 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Delivers preferred item, as appropriate
 1√ 2 X 3 X 4 X 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Steps performed well:
Steps that need correction:

The type of consequences for correct implementation of procedures taught using performance-based training may be important. DiGennaro, Martens, and Kleinmann (2005) conducted a study in which classroom teachers were taught procedures to decrease the problem behavior of their students. These researchers compared goal setting and daily written feedback delivered to teachers to another condition in which teachers were provided with performance feedback and could avoid a consultation meeting (i.e., a negative reinforce) if all of the procedural steps were performed correctly. The latter condition resulted in more accurate implementation of the treatment procedure by the teachers and improved outcomes for their corresponding students. In general, the reinforcer delivered to increase someone’s behavior should be tailored to the individual; that is, holding meetings may be a reinforcer to some while avoiding meetings may be reinforcing to others. The feedback delivered by the instructor should occur immediately after the learner’s performance and include praise given regarding multiple specific areas that the learner performed well and then corrective feedback concerning areas to improve. Initially, during the early instruction sessions, feedback should be immediately delivered after the learner’s performance; however, later in training, feedback should be delivered in a more delayed fashion to increase generalization to real-world situations where delayed feedback is typically the case (Lee & Belfiore, 1997).

## Generalization of FA Skills to the Natural Environment

Generalization refers to whether the desired skills occur across non-training behaviors, setting, time (or maintenance), and people as mentioned in Chapter 3 (Stokes & Baer, 1977). Generalization of learners’ skills across these various domains may not automatically occur (Finn, Patten, & McLachlan, 2010), so strategies to promote it may need to be programmed into the instructional approach. The occurrence of professionals’ assessment and intervention skills across different contexts (e.g., different individuals, topography of problem behavior, maintaining variables) and long-term maintenance of those skills are important.

A major approach to facilitate stimulus generalization is to incorporate into the training situation stimuli or events that are comparable to that in the natural environment (Ducharme & Feldman, 1992). For example, Finn, Patten, and McLachlan (2010) compared test scores for 82 medical students when they wore scrubs versus no scrubs following learning gross anatomy (which involved dissection and wearing scrubs in both conditions). Higher test scores occurred when the students were tested in a similar context (with scrubs) compared to dissimilar context (no scrubs) to training. These results suggest that incorporating common stimuli in the training situation may aid in transfer of knowledge. For example, professionals working in inclusion settings may generalize these results by arranging events in which students act as scientists using tools and equipment so students act as if they are performing scientific tests.

Case-based learning, also known as guided inquiry approach, involves presentation of a real-world problem for students to define and solve during instruction. The trainer/teacher provides a supportive role guiding the student down the correct path, delivering feedback, and probing for additional information (Srinivasan, Wilkes, Stevenson, Nguyen, & Slavin, 2007). Srinivasan et al. (2007) compared case-based learning to problem-based learning, which is a less structured approach, and found that medical students preferred case-based learning. Cifuentes, Mercer, Alverez, and Bettati (2010) describe how presenting problems for students to solve provides a meaningful learning experience likely to be encountered in future job settings. This method of instruction is versatile, and has even been effectively used in large university classes of 100 students working in groups of 5 or 6 to address a problem situation (Nicholl & Lou, 2012). There is also some research to suggest that gradually transferring instructional approaches from lecture to case-based learning may be more effective than using case-based learning alone (Baeten, Dochy, & Struyven, 2013). Additionally, providing structure (i.e., comparison of cases, prompts) to promote students’ focus on underlying principles related to the material presented may facilitate their learning (Harkrider et al., 2013). When teaching students to employ a FA method including multiple case exemplars of clients exhibiting a variety of challenging behaviors in various situations is important.

In a more extensive manner of programming common stimuli, general case strategy can be an effective method of programming for generalization or increase students’ learning occurring in new situations (Ducharme & Feldman, 1992). General case strategy entails carefully identifying the relevant aspects of a situation and including a representative sample of those characteristics in a training program.

To promote generalization of skills, Bolton and Mayer (2008) evaluated a staff training procedure involving performance feedback training with general case strategy and programming common stimuli. The general case strategy used in this study involved participants’ review of 10 examples of the implementation of the skills taught and training materials used that were similar to that found in the field. All three paraprofessionals who participated in the experiment generalized the instructional skills taught with different children. Applying these strategies (general case strategy and programming common stimuli) when teaching college students to use a functional assessment approach would entail presenting a broad range of client cases with characteristics and examples of challenging behavior likely to be encountered in the professional situation.

Similarly, the necessary therapist behaviors involved with conducting FAn (e.g., what the therapist should do following a client’s correct versus incorrect response during the demand condition) must be represented when designing instruction for college students. Should all therapist behaviors be depicted or can only a sample be shown for optimal student learning? Moore and Fisher (2007) addressed this research question by comparing complete video modeling versus partial video modeling procedures that differed in the number and range of therapist’s behaviors presented to teach FAn. The staff members who participated in this study performed FAn steps best following the complete video modeling condition (all possible therapist behaviors were presented) under simulated conditions compared to partial modeling (half of the possible therapist’s behaviors were presented) and lecture training conditions. Moreover, generalization of procedural skills following the complete video modeling condition by the three participants occurred when working with actual clients during follow-up probe measures.

Field experiences, internships, or practicum courses are often offered as a feature of university curricula in mental health professions to develop and hone students’ procedural and practical decision-making skills common in professional settings. Moreover, supervised experience is one part of the requirements to be eligible for board certification as a behavior analyst. These hands-on experiences allow students to practice skills and increase their likelihood of transferring the training to other situations. Given that such instruction entails work with actual individuals who are often in need of services, ethical constraints exist, the leeway for errors is small, and the breadth of exposure to different experiences (e.g., clients/students, problem behaviors, etc.) may be limited. Grey, Honan, Mcclean, and Daly (2005) provided 90 hours of classroom instruction and supervision to teachers working with a child with autism. Desirable changes in the children’s behavior and positive evaluations of the program by teachers and parents were found in this descriptive study.

## Summary

Realistic case examples need to be presented to provide the context for learning how to use FA and to design treatment implemented in the target situation. Multiple examples of a wide variety of cases involving children and adults displaying various problem behaviors in different settings may increase college students’ generalization of the skills acquired. Instructional methods to present cases in the college classroom under controlled and ethically safe conditions include simulations, role play, case-based learning, and general case strategy and may be used prior to supervised field experiences.

The instructor’s method of instruction should be geared to the type of behavior targeted for training. Different instructional approaches are required for establishing students’ knowledge versus skills. Performance-based training can be used to teach and refine the skills needed to conduct FA. Additionally, promoting the generalization of college students’ acquisition of the procedural and decision-making skills involved in FA may be facilitated by use of case-based learning and general case strategy to expose students to a variety of situations and client cases representative of that found in a professional setting. Moreover, these procedures can be acquired in a relatively short period of time and generalize to real-life situations even though role play under simulated conditions typically is used during training. Another necessity involves teaching the broader array of steps in the FA process (e.g., decision-making, hypothesis identification, data analysis, treatment selections) to ensure adequate preparation of a professional who will be working in the field, which is the focus of Chapter 6.

## Discussion Questions

1. Discuss how teaching skills differs from teaching content.
2. Name and describe four methods to teach skills.
3. Describe how you would specifically teach another professional or family member how to use positive reinforcement to increase a child’s desired behavior.

## Exercise: Case Study

Carly is a new teacher’s aide in an elementary school classroom who has been assigned to work with Allen. Allen is a 6 year-old boy with autism who frequently tantrums in the classroom. His treatment program includes administration of differential reinforcement of zero rates 5 min (DRO-5 min) and attention extinction. Carly must be taught how to employ this behavior intervention plan to reduce Allen’s tantrums, which are occurring at high rates throughout the day (i.e., 20-40 times per day on average).

Behaviorally define tantrum.

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How could you teach Carly to conduct a functional analysis to identify the function of the tantrum behavior?

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How would you teach Carly to implement a DRO procedure?

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Describe the steps you would use to teach Carly to correctly implement DRO and attention extinction.

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How could you promote Carly’s generalization of decision-making skills to new situations and client cases?

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What ethical considerations are necessary in this case?

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This page titled 1.5: Teaching Functional Analysis is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Marcie Desrochers and Moira Fallon (Milne Publishing) .