Notes from Tools for Teaching Part 12

July 10, 2005

Omission Training
Responsibility Training is designed to increase the rate of a behavior. The general name given to an incentive system that decreases the rate of a behavior is Omissions Training. The structure of Omission Training is dictated by the simple fact that you cannot reinforce the non-occurrence of a behavior (“I like the way you did not just hit him.”). You can, however, reinforce someone for not doing something for a given length of time. You could, for example, reinforce a student for going ten minutes without interrupting.

While Omission Training is useful in providing a means other than the Backup System for eliminating problem behaviors, it becomes especially powerful when mated with Responsibility Training. This combination of management programs mobilizes the peer group to help both the teacher and the student with special needs. For example, you could give the group a minute of bonus PAT if Larry could go ten minutes without making an inappropriate remark. This gives the peer group a vested interest in supporting Larry’s efforts and ignoring his provocations.

Early in our discussion of Responsibility Training, I said that I wanted perfection, not just improvement. The reason I gave was purely practical: mere improvement does not create less hassle. There is also a technical reason. If Larry can deprive the class of its Automatic Bonus (by not being in his seat when the bell rings), Larry is not only in control of the class, but he has also placed the rest of the students on an extinction program for cooperation. You must have cooperation by everyone, or the entire notion of Automatic Bonuses collapses.

We need a failsafe mechanism to keep Larry from ruining Automatic Bonuses for the group. You can simply cut Larry out of the herd by announcing that Larry is now your problem not the class’s and that he will no longer count against them, but will have to deal with you. Even better would be to add Omission Training to the program. Simply say that if Larry is in his seat when the bell ring, everyone will get a second bonus minute, so that while Larry can no longer cost the class time, he can give them time if we all choose to work together.

The Omission Training program described above is an excellent alternative to the Backup System. For very little effort, you have protected the many against the abuse by the few, and you have substituted a positive approach to management for the Backup System which is adversarial by nature.

Using Omission Training in conjunction with Responsibility Training to get the peer group involved in problem solving is a general notion that can be stretched well beyond the bounds of discipline management. You might also use it for motivation by giving the class bonus minutes if a particular student performs properly. This is referred to as “piggybacking”.

Placing your Responsibility Training program in the hands of a substitute teacher is a bad idea, although you might supply them with a simplified “bonus only” program, which amounts to nothing more than a little piggybacking. Tell the students before you leave that the substitute will keep a list of the names of all of the cooperative students. When you return, each name on the list will be worth three bonus minutes. Or you could have the substitute give the students a “cooperation score” of 0,1,2, or 3 at the end of each assignment. All of these scores will be added when you return and will represent the number of bonus minutes of PAT the class earns for cooperating with the substitute while you were gone.

While Omission Training is not magic, it is as close as you will ever get in behavior management.

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