Shaping behavior is an art. As a scientist I think of things that are difficult to do, and very beautiful, as art. I cannot do mainstream art, just behavior analytic art. Shaping can be easy and very difficult to do, depending on the behavior and depending on the ability of the instructor. An instructor whose behavior quickly becomes controlled by the behavior of that who he is shaping will be better at shaping. Prompting to shape, or as a strategy to establish a behavior, can also be a piece of art.
I see, time after time, instructors using physical prompting to teach children with autism, who, even given considerable training on the job, still overuse the physical contact, making learning slower and fostering inappropriate stimulus control; prompt dependency an accident waiting to happen. I see that even in videos on the internet that are supposed to show good examples of applied behavior analysis being implemented to teach children with autism. I had guessed a long time ago that it may help if instructors receive training in shaping a behavior "with their own hands", that is, observing the organism behave and making several decisions about exactly when to present the reinforcer contingent on a response that is not yet the final one, but is the one that a) is the closest approximation to that one seen until then; b) with such timing that the approximation itself will not be extinguished until a better approximation is seen and caught, reinforced. Read the rest of this entry →