Behavior Traps

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Have a learner struggling with academics? Most educators do. Have a student that you feel is not motivated? Consider using a ‘behavior trap.’ This term has been mixed up lately in the ABA world, and I’d like to reference some classic (and very useful) research articles reviewing behavior traps and their application. I had the privilege to have Professor Dr. Alber-Morgan at THE Ohio State University in graduate school from 2009-2010 and all these years later, this is still very relevant.

Alber and Heward (1996) published an article titled: “Gotcha!” Twenty-five behavior traps guaranteed to extend your students’ academic and social skills. The article describes a fifth grade student struggling with reading and math. Sound familiar? The teacher took note that the student took a liking to baseball and was alphabetizing baseball cards.  She utilized this interest in various academic subjects (i.e., he was calculated averages, wrote letters to his favorite players, and in geography, located hometowns of baseball players).

Alber and Heward (1996) outlined these five steps to design and use “behavior “traps” and I encourage you to check out their article (reference cited below) for additional information to set your own trap.

1)    Identify your prey—what academic/social areas does the learner need the most help? Be sure to target behaviors that are relevant, functional, and behaviors that lend themselves to frequent practice opportunities.
2)    Find powerful bait—what does the learner like? What motivates them? Watch them when they’re alone or simply by asking them and/or their parents and provide a variety for them to sample.
3)    Set the trap—place coveted materials in the student’s path. You can do this by forming classroom clubs, find classroom jobs for the learner based on his/her interests, and/or enlist the help of his/her peers.
4)    Maintain your trap—Start small. Use variety and give your trap a break periodically. Some big goals may need broken down.
5)    Appraise your catch—assess the changes in the targeted skills frequently and directly. Make modifications or set another trap if ineffective.

While utilizing students’ interests is not a new concept, but it is not always a go-to intervention when a student is struggling. Behavior traps are effective for students that are lacking motivation as well. Try it out and email us about your trap and we’d love to feature you on our social media page!

-Alber-Morgan, S. (2009). Notes for a lecture on planning and implementing instruction for generalized outcomes. The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.
-Alber, S. R., & Heward, W. L. (1996). “Gotcha!” Twenty-five behavior traps guaranteed to extend your students’ academic and social skills. Intervention in school and clinic, 31 (5), 285-289. 
-Baer, D. M., & Wolf, M. M. (1970). The entry into natural communicates of reinforcement. In R. Ulrich, T. Stachnick, & J. Mabry (Eds.), Control of human behavior (pp. 319-324). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Written by Amanda Fishley, M.A., BCBA, COBA

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