The Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is used to collect information about problem behavior in order to understand why that problem behavior is occurring. Yell, Meadows, Drasgow, and Shriner (2013) describe four types of information that are identified in an FBA:
- Description of the problem behavior and daily routines
- Consequences maintaining the problem behavior
- Antecedent events that trigger problem behavior
- Setting events that increase the likelihood of problem behavior
An FBA is the first step in identifying the cause(s) of the behavior and hypothesizing about possible solutions. This knowledge is critical for the teacher because it can help them understand why the student is acting out and brainstorm possible ways to intervene.
In the first step of the FBA, being specific about the behavior is important. Saying that the student is “aggressive” or “frustrated” doesn’t describe exactly what is happening. The description of the behavior has to be specific and observable (i.e., not an emotion). For example, “Timmy throws his book on the floor when asked to read aloud.”
The second step is figuring out what is maintaining the behavior. “The FBA is driven by determining the function of the behavior” (Yell et. al., 2013). What is the student gaining by behaving the way they are? Are they craving attention, avoiding something, or is the root of the problem that they have a skill or performance deficit? What are the consequences of the students’ action?
Thirdly, it is important to determine what directly precedes the behavior. This could be the teacher asking the student a question or it could be teasing from a classmate.
Lastly, knowing the setting events that increase the likelihood of the problem behavior are helpful to know. These could be biological (fatigue, hunger), environmental (noise, seating distractions), or situational (routine changes, personnel changes) (Yell et. al., 2013).
An FBA can start with an interview of parents, teachers, and psychiatrists or counselors. Completing behavior check lists or rating scales can be very informative as well. Looking at medical records or other school reports can create a clearer picture of what the student is going through. Based on the interviews and data acquired so far, direct observation can solidify what was hypothesized about the problem behavior. Yell et. al. (2013) describe two types of direct observation methods: scatter plot assessment (SPA) and ABC observation. Having specific data about the time of day the behavior is most likely to occur is useful.
With this information in mind, we can better predict what exactly is causing the student to act out. The end result of the FBA is to create suggestions for the behavior intervention plan (BIP) that the student, parents, and educators follow.
I think it is critically important to watch out for students who do exhibit problematic behavior on a regular basis and to a marked degree. The main goal of an FBA should be to help improve the student’s skills and stop the bad behavior by replacing it with a more ideal and socially accepted behavior. As a future teacher, I hope to be able to react in an appropriate manner to all types of behavior. Yell et. al. (2013) assert that most teachers still tend to use punishment as the first line of defense when dealing with problem behavior. It can certainly be easy for a stressed and frustrated teacher to simply yell at the student causing the classroom disruption, but that is certainly not an ideal way to handle such events.
It will be a challenge to learn to control my own emotions and model good behavior for my future students so they in turn learn how to handle conflict appropriately. The FBA can not only be used for students with EBD, but it can also be used informally by the teacher for the general student population. Simply having a better idea about student behavior and the causes can be very helpful for dealing with any kind of student behavior, no matter how trivial. Changing my behavior and how I intervene, reinforce, or punish certain behaviors seems critical to maintaining an efficient and productive classroom conducive to learning for all.
Reference: Yell, M. L., Meadows, N. B., Drasgow, E., & Shriner, J. G. (2013). Evidence-based practices for educating students with emotional and behavioral disorders (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.