Lidz, Carol S. Early Childhood Assessment. Copyright 2003, John Wiley & Sons.
Form 2.2 (continued)
Based on these targets and further discussion with the teacher, we determine that the terminal behaviors are
TM1: plays and works parallel to peers without incidence TM2: initiates play with peers without incidence TM3: maintains play with peers without incidence TM4: spontaneously offers to help another child
The next step is to schedule the observation at a time when the target behaviors are most likely to occur. Ideally, there would be more than a single observation, but the reality is that more than one opportunity is not always possible. In this case, it is important to observe for a sufficiently long period of time to provide a good sample of the child's behavior. It is advisable to observe children over the course of several activities to look at their behavior and activity interactions (does the nature of the activity make a difference?), as well as their transition from one activity to the other. So, in the sample case we have determined that the best observation time is during free play, and we will remain in the room through transition to circle time and small-group structured activities.
The psychosituational assessment approach is a variation of the ABC format, in which the observer notes antecedent (A) and consequent (C) conditions, that is, those situations that immediately precede and follow the TG and TM behaviors. This information allows us to look for patterns of triggers that may precipitate the TG and TM behaviors, as well as those that may serve as reinforcers. When and if these patterns occur, it then becomes possible to modify and thereby control the behaviors; however, these patterns are not always so clear, and the antecedents or reinforcers are not always so immediate or observable.
During the time of observation, the assessor should be positioned in as inconspicuous a location as possible, showing a general interest in the classroom activities but without giving clear cues regarding the specific child who is being observed. The observer needs to be close enough to the action to enable accurate and meaningful recording and to take language samples when possible. It is optimal for observers to have desensitized the group to their presence, but if this is not the case and the children ask what is going on, the observer should just provide some neutral comments such as, "I'm just visiting and want to see what you do in your class."
Using Form 2.2, the observer records the time and nature of the activities as they occur naturally in the extreme left column. If duration or latency are parameters of interest for the behaviors, these can be recorded in this column when the relevant behaviors occur. If the observer is not taking a precise behavioral baseline, it is sufficient to self-count seconds to estimate time. The observer then makes a running record in the next column of the events as they occur in the classroom. When a target or terminal behavior occurs, this is noted (TG1, TM3, TG4, etc.), along with notation of the antecedent and consequent events.
In our case example, the running record may look something like the following:
M. enters the class, puts his coat into his cubby, and goes immediately to the block area. A peer approaches and takes a block from the shelf(A), and M. hits him (TG2) and grabs the block from his hand (TG1). The child screams and calls to his teacher, and the teacher puts M. on time-out (C). As children pass by M. on time-out (A), he tries to trip them (TG4) and goes unnoticed (C). The teacher tells him he can go back to the block area but needs to play "nicely" (A). M. returns and asks a boy if he can play with the blocks (TM2). The boy agrees, and M. joins him to build a castle. This lasts about 5 min (TM3). M. then runs to the other end of the block area and knocks over the block castle built by one of the boys (TG3). The boy screams for the teacher, who puts M. on time-out (C). . . .
During this recording time, the assessor is also processing the events and gets ideas about what seems to be occurring, as well as brainstorming possibilities for intervention. In this case, the assessor may begin to think that M.'s negative behaviors are attracting teacher attention and reinforcement, while his prosocial behaviors tend to be ignored. Regarding intervention possibilities, the assessor notes that M. responded well to the direct instruction to "play nicely." Although he did not sustain this for long, he may profit from more of such direct instruction, and the assessor remains on the alert to verify or negate this hypothesis. The assessor also makes notes to question whether M.'s interactions relate to issues of impulse control or to socialization experiences, and the assessor forms a mental plan to carry out a more in-depth family interview, as well as parent-child interaction observation and direct assessment.
Following the observation, the assessor counts up the number of occurrences of target and terminal behaviors and looks for patterns regarding antecedent and consequent events. For M., it is indeed the case that although TG behaviors do outnumber TM behaviors, there are nevertheless a good number of TMs, and these almost always go unnoticed. Furthermore, in looking at the nature of the TG behaviors, it seems that most of these reflect M.'s intent to become involved with other children, but he seems to lack the skills to do this in a consistently positive way. These observations lead to the eventual recommendation to counsel the staff to make a special effort to notice M.'s "good" behaviors and to give him attention for these while coaching him into more successful play interactions with peers. The assessor also resolves to include M. in a social skills training program and to pair him with a play buddy from within the class: a child who is successful with social interaction and is coached to play for several minutes per day with M. The assessor also notes that time-outs are often of unspecified duration and that the teacher sometimes forgets to release M. from these; M. often gets into tripping episodes during these times. Through program administration, the assessor therefore provides the teacher with a timer and encourages restricting these episodes to no more than 5 min, with the child released at the sound of the timer bell. In fact, it might be a good idea to teach him to set the timer bell as a way to facilitate his self-regulation.
Thus, with this approach it is possible to combine the benefits of both quantitative and qualitative parameters and to embed the benefits of a behavioral model while extending this information into useful inferences and hypotheses that link with recommendations for intervention. Because of the availability of the quantitative information, it is possible to return to the classroom for follow up once the interventions have been put in place and to rerecord the occurrences of both TM and TG behaviors to assess their response to intervention.
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