Apply! Apply! Apply!

Today we are fortunate to have a guest blogger, Dr. Melisa (Missy) Reed from Marshall University.  Missy is an expert in Special Education and Behavior Disorders and has trained many teachers and helped many families over the years.  Her real claim to fame, though, is as my graduate school roommate and all-around partner in crime!  Thanks for joining us today, Missy!”

First a little background. I’ve worked in special education since I was around 18 — I’m not about to admit how long ago that was. Let’s just say leg warmers were in style. Most of those years I’ve worked with children and youth with challenging behaviors, this includes several years as a public school teacher. These days I am a professor in a college of education, teaching graduate courses in research and emotional/behavior disorders. The majority of my students are in-service special education teachers.

The idea for this post stems from a conversation in the comments section on a previous post of Karen’s. I was lamenting the fact that although my graduate students seem to master certain skills important for teaching children and youth with behavior challenges, I do not always see them apply these skills in the classroom. Being a believer in the idea that “the learner is always right,” I realize that I need to look first at my own behavior to make sure these folk really are mastering skills before I set them loose on the world. If they have indeed learned, then I need to look at other contingencies affecting whether or not they apply what they have learned.

For this post, I’m going to focus on functional behavior assessment (FBA) because it is something that is near and dear to me, and because there are prerequisite skills and knowledge of concepts that are also important to successful teaching. By the time I get to FBA, I have covered skills and knowledge such as reinforcement theory, data collection, data analysis, identification of antecedents, setting events, and consequences. I teach FBA by providing reading material, reviewing the concept in class, working with real data in-class, and once the students are able to complete an FBA in class, they do one as a final project.

At some point after the semester is over, it isn’t unusual to receive a phone call or visit from a former student asking for help with one of their students who are frequently disruptive. The first thing I ask is to see their data. The answer tends to be that there are no data. Next I ask the student what the first step in assessing frequent behavior problems is — and they say it’s to conduct an FBA. But there is no FBA.

It’s time I stop saying “Aargh” and start a serious appraisal of what is going on here. In order to find out where there is a breakdown, I have to ask myself the following questions:

  • Is there a problem with my instruction?
  • Am I evaluating student performance correctly and adequately?
  • How am I planning for generalization and maintenance when skills are learned?
  • Is the time period between learning and application too long?

I think it’s also important to look at the teachers’ school environment. The questions I’ve come up with so far include:

  • Are my students supported or discouraged when an FBA is called for?
  • Is this an issue with colleagues, administrators, or policy?
  • If the problems with implementation are at the building or system level, how can my students and I become change agents?

As frustrated as I am about the lack of application I see with some students, I’m also feeling energized. This is just the kick in the pants I need to reinvigorate my teaching and scholarship. I would love to hear any ideas, suggestions, insight from people in the field. Please comment and get the discussion rolling.

I have my own blog about using iPads in education which you can read at You can also find me stalking people and randomly tweeting @Missy_Reed.

About Missy

I'm a professor of special education at Marshall University, specializing in EBD. I've been a public school teacher, autism specialist, and pizza delivery person. I've had all kinds of experiences working with all kinds of kids. Now I get paid to talk about it.
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5 Responses to Apply! Apply! Apply!

  1. karen mahon says:

    Perhaps an FBA of the teacher behavior is in order? What might be the consequences that maintain behaviors that compete with taking FBA data?

  2. Missy says:

    That’s what I was thinking, Karen. Great minds think alike 😉

  3. Steph G. says:

    I believe the problem is not with the instruction. It is my opinion that the crux of the problem resides mostly with the support of administrators and other powers that be. By the same token, I think that the administrator’s hands may be tied due to political ramifications. Of course that’s not saying that lack of initiation on the part of a teacher could not be part of the problem as well. It is my contention that FBA would be beneficial not only in special ed. classrooms, but with schoolwide implementation as well.

    • Missy says:

      Thanks for posting Steph, and the support 🙂
      I think it is important to cover all the bases, so I need to start with my instruction and work my way up.

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