RATIONALE FOR DEVELOPING POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS
Traditionally, teachers have dealt with student behavior that interferes with classroom instruction by using various kinds of negative consequences (e.g., verbal reprimands, time-out, and suspension). The goal, of course, has been to reduce, if not eliminate the immediate problem. However, experience has shown that these usually are not the most effective or efficient means to eliminate problem behavior. "Reactive" approaches that follow inappropriate behavior, such as punishment, are not only time consuming, but they fail to teach the student acceptable replacement behaviors and also may serve to reinforce the inappropriate behavior. Many teachers have thus begun to introduce various programs to teach students more acceptable, alternative responses. For example, social skills programs have been an especially popular way to teach appropriate behavior; however, decisions regarding which behavior to teach a student usually are based on the program's curriculum, rather than on what skill a student demonstrates he or she lacks. As a result, understanding why the student misbehaved in the first place is seldom addressed.
Today, there is growing recognition that the success of an intervention hinges on: 1) understanding why the student behaves in a certain way; and 2) replacing the inappropriate behavior with a more suitable behavior that serves the same function (or results in the same outcome) as the problem behavior. Intervention into problem behavior begins with looking beyond the misbehavior and uncovering the underlying causes of the misbehavior. Examples of statements that consider "why" a student misbehaves are:
Generally, the logic behind functional assessment is driven by two principles. First, practically all behavior serves a purpose: it allows students to "get" something desirable, "escape" or "avoid" something undesirable, or communicate some other message or need. Second, behavior occurs within a particular context. It may occur in certain settings (e.g., in the cafeteria), under certain conditions (e.g., only when there is a substitute teacher), or during different types of activities (e.g., during recess). Because of these two things, students will change the inappropriate behavior only when it is clear to them that a different response will more effectively and efficiently accomplish the same thing. For this reason, identifying the causes of a behavior-what the student "gets," "escapes," or "avoids," or is attempting to communicate through the behavior-can provide the information necessary to develop effective strategies to address those behaviors that interfere with learning or threaten safety. This can be accomplished by means of a functional behavioral assessment.