Tip of the Week: Measure Group Behavior in the Classroom

Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomMany classroom teachers are required to take data on the behavior of their students. However, this can feel like a daunting task given the many things teachers are trying to do simultaneously throughout the day! PLACHECK is a simple way to measure group behavior in the classroom for engagement or attention.

PLACHECK is short for Planned Activity Check. Let’s say that Ms. Esterman is using a partner activity for a math lesson for the first time in her fourth grade classroom. She wants to see if the kids remain engaged with the content during the partner activity. Here is how she can implement PLACHECK to collect data on engagement.

  1. Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomSet a MotivAider for a predetermined interval (learn more about the MotivAider). The partner activity Ms. Esterman has organized will take a total of ten minutes. She decides to set the MotivAider for 2 minute intervals.
  2. At the start of the lesson, set the MotivAider to run and clip it to your waistband. For Ms. Esterman, the MotivAider will vibrate every two minutes to signal her to observe her students.
  3. When the MotivAider vibrates, collect tally data. Ms. Esterman feels the MotivAider vibrate, then quickly counts the number of students who are engaged in the partner activity.
  4. Continue to do this for each interval.
  5. Graph your data.

Ms. Esterman’s graph looks like this for her 24 students:


The next day, Ms. Esterman does a similar activity with her students, but uses an independent activity instead of a partner activity. She uses the same 5 steps to use PLACHECK to measure student engagement in the independent activity. Now she can easily compare engagement between the two types of activities. You can see both days graphed below:


When she compares the two days, she finds these results, and it allows her to make better decisions about what types of activities might work best for the individuals in her classroom. Here, it is clear that between these two activities, her students were more likely to be on task during partner work. However, Ms. Esterman would attain better results by taking more data.

PLACHECK is simple to implement. Ms. Esterman is able to collect this data in less than two minutes each day and can learn a lot from just that brief time.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Simplifying the Science: Using a MotivAider to Self-Monitor

Teaching independent on-task behavior can be quite challenging when working with any student, but particularly so with some students with autism. In a study published in 2010, researchers Dina Boccuzzi Legge, Ruth M. DeBar & Sheila R. Alber-Morgan implemented and evaluated one way of teaching student to self-monitor their on-task behavior using a MotivAider. (The MotivAider is a simple electronic device that vibrates at timed intervals to provide an individual with a private prompt to engage in a specific behavior. It can be programmed to vibrate on a fixed or variable schedule at different duration and intensity levels.)

In this study, the researchers worked with a fifth grader with autism, a sixth grader with autism, and a fifth grader with cerebral palsy. They taught the boys to wear the MotivAider (calling it a pager) and note a + or a – to indicate their behavior each time the MotivAider vibrated. The behaviors they monitored were all related to being on-task: “eyes on my work,” “in my seat,” and “doing work.” Once each boy consistently rated his behavior upon feeling the vibration, the researchers implemented the intervention.

The MotivAider’s were initially set to vibrate every two minutes. Each time the MotivAider vibrated, the student would mark a + or a for each of the behaviors on a sheet he had on his desk. Prior to the intervention, the average percentages of time each boy was on-task ranged from 26% to 77%. Upon implementation of the intervention, “all three students showed an immediate and substantial increase of on-task behavior ranging consistently from 80% to 100%.

The researchers also included a plan for fading out the use of the MotivAider‘s, changing from a fixed schedule of every two minutes, to an increasing variable schedule. The fading schedules varied for each student. For example, for one student, the fading schedule started with a variable schedule of a vibration about every four minutes, then moved to about every six minutes, then to about every eight minutes, and then to about every ten minutes. The MotivAider was then removed completely.

After the intervention was complete, researchers collected data once a week for three weeks to see if the intervention was maintained. During all three maintenance probes, “all students continued to demonstrate 80%-100% on-task behavior.”

We’ve talked about how to use MotivAider‘s in the past, but I particularly love this intervention because it is feasible for teachers to implement in the classroom, promotes independence in learners with autism, and allows teachers to focus on other issues. Take a look at the study here to get a fuller description of how to implement such an intervention with your students.

For more information about the MotivAider, click here.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Prompting Behavior Change: A Guest Post by Steve Levinson, PhD, Inventor of the MotivAider

We’re thrilled to bring you this exclusive article written by Steve Levinson, PhD, Inventor of the incredible MotivAider. We’re all familiar with the incredible versatility of the MotivAider in facilitating behavior changes and here, Dr. Levinson explains how behavior modification works. We’re so grateful to Dr. Levinson for this fantastic article. You can find more exclusive articles from leading experts in the field in our new catalog.

Prompting Behavior Change by Steve Levinson, PhD

If you’re a parent or a teacher who’s trying to change a child’s behavior, you’re probably frustrated. It’s not easy to change a child’s behavior. But before you blame the child, consider this: It’s not all that easy to change your own behavior either! Even when you have a good reason to make a particular change, and you’re really serious about doing it, changing your own behavior is rarely a snap.

Why it’s so hard to change behavior  So, what makes it so hard to change behavior? If you think it’s simply a matter of motivation, think again. Motivation is certainly important, but many behavior change attempts fail not because of insufficient motivation. They fail because of insufficient focus.

You can’t change your own behavior unless you can keep your attention focused on making the desired change. While it’s easy to do things the old way because the old way is automatic, doing things the new way requires focus.

Unfortunately, whether you’re a parent, a teacher or a child, it’s not easy to stay focused. That’s because, amazingly, the human mind has no built-in mechanism to keep our attention focused on making the changes we want to make. So it’s really no wonder that our good intentions keep getting lost in the shuffle.

If you’re not convinced that (1) focus is an essential ingredient in the recipe for behavior change and (2) we’re not well-equipped to stay focused on the changes we want to make, here’s an example that should help. Suppose you have a bad habit of slouching. You realize that slouching is not only bad for your back, it’s bad for your image. So you promise yourself that from now on that you’ll sit up straight and stand up tall. How hard could that be? Yet soon—very soon—after setting out to improve your posture, you’re right back to slouching.

So, what happened? Did you lose your motivation? No. You lost your focus! You failed to make a change you genuinely wanted to make because you simply couldn’t keep your attention focused on making it.Yes, it’s hard to change behavior because changing behavior requires focus, and none of us—not parents, not teachers and especially not children—are particularly well-equipped to stay focused.

So what can we do to stay more focused on the positive changes we want to make? And what can we do to help our children or our students stay focused on the positive changes they want to make?

Prompting: A simple way to facilitate behavior change  One solution is to use “prompting.” Prompting is a simple behavior change method that uses frequently repeated signals to keep your attention focused on making a desired change.

To illustrate how and why prompting works, let’s return to the posture example we used earlier. Only this time, after you promise yourself that you’ll sit up straight and stand up tall from now on, I’m going to follow you around and every few minutes—whether you’re slouching or not—tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear, “You’re no slouch.”

With me reminding you frequently, I guarantee that you’ll stay focused on improving your posture. What’s more, soon I’ll be able to stop whispering because just feeling the tap on your shoulder will be all it takes to send you the associated message, “Yes, I’m no slouch.” Sometimes when you feel the tap, you’ll find yourself slouching, and you’ll straighten up right away. Other times when you feel the tap, you’ll notice that your posture is already fine. It doesn’t matter whether you catch yourself slouching or you catch yourself with perfect posture. Either way, you’ll be making progress in replacing your bad posture habit with a good posture habit. Before long, you’ll automatically be sitting up straight and standing up tall.

Fortunately, there’s a more practical and even more effective way to use prompting. Instead of relying on a dedicated person to follow you around and keep tapping you on the shoulder, all you really need to implement basic prompting is a timer or other mechanical or electronic means that’s capable of sending you frequent private signals automatically. The process is simple. First, you devise a brief personal message that urges you to make the change you want to make. Then, you associate the personal message with the signal—the same way we associated “You’re no slouch” with a tap on the shoulder in the example above. The result is that whenever you receive the signal, you’ll focus your attention on making the change you want to make. And by making certain that you receive signals often enough, you’ll stay focused.

Prompting isn’t magic, but it can do amazing things. What’s more, because it allows us to overcome an obstacle that all of us—parents, teachers and children—share, it’s remarkably versatile. The same simple method that can be used to help a young child do a better job of staying on task can also be used to help parents and teachers consistently stick to an effective technique they forget to use when they’re busy or frustrated. The same simple method that can be used to help a child make a constructive keystone change in her social behavior can also be used to help parents and teachers stay cool, calm, collected, and constructive when interacting with a defiant child.

Pick of the Week: MotivAider

It’s the best tool available for people of all ages to stay focused and change behavior and habits quickly, easily and privately. The MotivAider is one of our bestsellers for behavior modification of all sorts. The MotivAider is a simple electronic device that vibrates at timed intervals to provide an individual with a private prompt to engage in a specific behavior. You can program it to vibrate on a variable or fixed schedule at different durations and intensity. There’s a wonderful article and review on the uses of the MotivAider by our friend Jenn over at Toys are Tools that explores how some students and teachers are using the MotivAider in their classrooms.

This week only, you can save 15% on the MotivAider by entering the Promo Code BLOGMTVT at checkout. If you’ve always wondered just what the MotivAider can accomplish, here’s your chance to try it at a great discount.


*Offer expires on July 17, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.