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Summarize what you've heard so far:

  • Rules are written or verbal statements that attempt to communicate what behavior will be reinforced and how.
  • Watching what happens to others demonstrates what contingencies are really in effect.

The environment can be even more active in acting on individual behavior if it needs to be. Consider signals and prompts.

A signal is a specific arrangement of the environment that is intended to elicit from a person a specific behavior. In behavior analysis this is closest to what is called a discriminative stimulus [technical definition].

Imagine driving along a road and encountering a traffic signal glowing red. According to our training we dutifully bring the car to a stop until the light changes to green before proceeding. Our society has arranged the environment by building such signals that communicate to drivers that certain contingencies are active. If drivers stop on red they will avoid collisions with other cars, injury, and citations from the police.

Signals in the classroom include clocks, buzzers, schedules, calendars, or worksheets. Signals also include any arrangement of the environment if it is intended to provoke a specific behavior.

Like signals,

prompts are designed to evoke specific behavior but prompts are person-based***.

Prompts are specific actions by others that are designed to make certain behaviors more likely to occur. These actions can involve physical touch, gestures, verbal, or vocal behavior. While an alarm clock signals us to awaken, Dad gives us a verbal prompt when he says, "It's time to get up." Physical prompts are often used to train motor skills like riding bicycles, throwing a ball, swinging a golf club, or griping a pencil correctly. Gestures can indicate yes and no, directions to travel, or the location of an object.

To summarize this section (Antecedents)

Try to think of the various aspects of the environment that can affect the behavior of individuals. The environment of our daily lives provides an ever-present antecedent to all of our behavior. Rules, models, signals, and prompts can be manipulated in the service of educating students and structuring a learning environment that proactively encourages positive, adaptive behavior and prevents or discourages problem or interfering behavior. In our next section we will discuss some specific strategies that use the principles just discussed to build a comprehensive proactive program.

But first, test yourself! We have provided a mastery quiz in multiple choice format that goes over the main concepts presented so far. Taking the quiz will give you more experience working with the concepts and help to solidify your understanding.

(C) 2001 J. Tyler Fovel, All Rights Reserved