Developing a Behavior Modification Program

When you think about it, behavior modification can be applied in hundreds of ways in your classroom. You have enough information in this chapter to tailor a program specific to any student’s needs, and your way of doing things.

For example, say you want to set up a program that will help Jason stay in his seat for longer periods of time, “Jason’s Staying Put Program.” Listed are some easy steps you can follow to get your program off the ground.

  1. Find out how many times Jason normally gets out of his seat over a specific time period, say 15 minutes. Try to get a cross-section of measures, including various situations and times of the day, to see if the number fluctuates. Once you have done this for about a week you will have an accurate measure of Jason’s normal behavior, from which you can set your program expectation levels.
  2. Set Jason’s program goals. If Jason gets out of his seat an average of five times every 15 minutes, his starting goal should be slightly easier, to guarantee his success, say six times. As he gets better at sitting in his seat, you can make things harder for him by increasing the length of time or decreasing the number of time he’s allowed to get out of his seat. You can also include a bonus reward when Jason gets out of his seat three times or less, and a super reward if he doesn’t get out of his seat at all.
  3. Figure out Jason’s reward schedule. How often you reward Jason depends on (a) how long he can wait without losing interest; (b) how involved you can afford to be; and (c) how much structure you have in your classroom. If you can manage it, reward him after every 15-minute period.

What if his reward time falls in the middle of an exam or a school assembly? You can handle uninterruptible situations by warning the child ahead of time that you won’t be able to give him his rewards as usual, but at such-and-such a time you’ll give him all the rewards he has earned.

When you first start your program, it is better that you take responsibility for going to Jason’s desk and giving him his rewards. As he gets familiar with the program, you can change this to him seeing you at your desk. This way Jason has the responsibility of making sure he gets his rewards. If he forgets, he misses his reward. You can help Jason remember by letting him use an alarm clock or timer set at 15 minutes.

  1. Decide on a reward that Jason likes. The immediate 15-minute rewards should not be too fussy. Simple rewards like hockey cards, stickers and tokens are easy to work with. Token can also be thought of as Money in the Bank, which children can trade in for the real thing at the end of the day. As well, you can incorporate daily or weekly prizes as additional motivators for children. Your class might enjoy fishing for their prizes in a fishpond.
  2. Keep track of Jason’s progress on a daily basis. In addition to your own records Jason should have a chart he can look at to visualize his progress. This can be as imaginative as you like: a drawing of Jason divided into horizontal stripes, which he colors in as he progresses; a gigantic jigsaw puzzle which he gradually pieces together and earns whatever it pictures. When making a chart, avoid cluttering it with too much information, emphasize positive behaviors, and make it easy to read (illustration #2).

Charts also ensure you monitor children’s progress at least once a day, which helps you be consistent. Accurate record-keeping is important. When discussing Jason’s progress it’s much more impressive if you say, “He has gone from getting out of his seat an average of five times every 15 minutes to three times every half hour,” rather than, “I have noticed a drop in his out-of-seat activity.”


As well, charts give you an ongoing objective picture of how much progress Jason has made. Children inevitably get into slumps, when they do not get any better or even regress, making it harder for you to stay enthusiastic. A look back to where you started helps to put the bigger picture into perspective. Lastly, it gives you a tool for evaluating your program’s success, and whether changes are necessary.

Behavior modification is one of the most promising ways of managing children’s problems. It has the added drawing power of also improving children’s academic skills; the natural by-product of Jason sitting longer in his seat is him doing more schoolwork. Unfortunately it carries with it an armful of extra baggage, which can bog down your workload. Even the most well-thought out program is worth little if no one has the time or resources to put it into action. It is better to implement something small well, than something big half-heartedly.

I urge you not to do what the leading authority recommends, nor what you heard worked in the class next door, but to do what you want. You are the person who knows best what your preferences are, what fits into your classroom, and what can help your students most. The more investment you have in a program, the greater likelihood of you seeing it through.