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Behavioral Identification Forms
Many times in life we get so excited about a new project or idea that we end up putting the cart
before the horse; the realm of behavior is no different. Often we get so caught up in moving forward
with a new behavioral plan that we gloss or skim over the most important part: identifying the target
behavior. Skimming over the groundwork happens all of the time, but it is imperative to understand
that we must lay the correct groundwork by clearly and precisely defining what it is we are hoping to
There is a reason that we tend to bypass some of the nitty gritty details of a target behavior: we
tend to believe we already know exactly what the problem is and that our definition adequately
captures it! For example, a common problem for parents and teachers is student responsibility, or when
a child refuses to accept consequences. This makes sense, doesn’t it? If I could just get my child to take
responsibility with their behavior, we wouldn’t have any problems! Why wouldn’t this be a good target
behavior? Let’s come back to that.
Target behaviors were given the name ‘target’ because they are the focus of an intervention.
This means that those are the behaviors we want to change the most. But how do you know if the
behavior is actually changing? In order to know the answer to this, the target behavior must be
OBSERVABLE. If the target behavior is an underlying cognitive process (i.e. a memory deficit) or some
other unobservable state, we cannot know with confidence that the target behavior is actually changing.
Moreover, we would not be able to rule out alternative explanations. Here is a scenario to illustrate:
Sally is a 3
grade student who just moved into a new school district. During the first week, her
teacher notices that she has a big problem with listening to directions when she is supposed to be
working, which is causing her to fall behind the class. She decides to implement a behavioral
intervention for Sally’s listening to instruction. She finds is that Sally does a great job listening during
the lesson when she stands right by her desk, and even does a great job with independent seat work.
The problem occurs when Sally is not expecting instruction. As it turns out, Sally has a substantial
hearing impairment and is not able to hear unless she is looking at the teacher and there is minimal
background noise. Knowing this, it would not make sense to spend hours and hours designing an
intervention where none is needed!
The next critical component of a target behavior is that it must be MEASUREABLE. Without
some form of data, there really is no way to know how much (or if) the behavior is improving. This goes
far beyond a guessing game or simple anecdotal report. There is a place for these types of
measurement, but it is not in the realm of behavior change. There are a number of ways to measure a
behavior, and this is another important consideration. Specifically, a behavior can be measured in
frequency (how often it occurs), duration (for how long it occurs), intensity (to what extent does it
occur), and ratio (for what percentage of time it occurs). Although each behavior has all of these
components, it is best to determine a single measurement for each single target.
Determining the most appropriate measurement warrants careful deliberation. Consider what
it is about the behavior that is most problematic, and focus on that single area. For example, behaviors
related to impulsivity such as interrupting may be most appropriate for frequency measurements,
whereas a tantrum may be more readily measured by duration. Behaviors that occur for a portion of
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time (e.g. out of seat during class) can be measured using a ration and converted into a percent. Finally,
although more subjective, intensity can be an appropriate measurement for a behavior that has variable
levels, such as screaming. If you choose to use an intensity based system of measurement, it is often
recommended that you combine specific descriptions of the behaviors with a consecutive level system
to increase the objectivity of the measurement. In some classrooms, teachers even use a sound-meter
to convert noise into measureable decibels!
This increase of specificity brings us to the final quality of a good target behavior. The target
behavior must be WELL-DEFINED. The enemy of any behaviorist is a vaguely defined goal. Goals that
are well-defined are more easily observed and more easily measured. Moreover, many children may
not be developmentally advanced to the point of understanding general behavioral expectations. “Be
good” and “That’s not okay” are used far too often, and are much less understood. To make any
behavioral program successful, the child must know precisely what is expected, and that means the
behavior must be precisely defined.
One commonly used term among behaviorists is “operational definition.” This implies that the
behavior is explicitly defined so that it can be consistently measured, is clearly understood across
multiple observers, and is easily identified in multiple settings. A behavior that is well-defined will
appear the same to both teachers and parents and occurs in a similar fashion at school as well as home.
It is important to remember that at this step, we are not trying to determine why the behavior occurs:
this is just a very clear description of the single behavior we would like to see change.
Let’s return to the behavior of ‘taking responsibility.” This goal presents a problem for all three
fronts. First, it is not easily OBSERVABLE because responsibility can happen in multiple settings and it
can be hard to notice when a student is doing what is already expected. Second, this behavior is not
easily MEASURABLE because there is no easily identified metric to track generalized responsibility.
Third, this behavior is not WELL-DEFINED because what is responsible to one observer may be very
different than another, and responsibility at school can be very different than responsibility at home or
in other settings.
To make this an appropriate target behavior, we need to create an operational definition. For
the student who consistently avoids taking responsibility, we could imagine that one component of his
or her behavior might be denial of misbehavior. An operational definition might look like: When caught
breaking one of the classroom rules at school, the student avoids responsibility by verbally stating “I
didn’t do it” and blaming someone else. This behavior is OBSERVABLE because anyone could hear and
see when the behavior occurs. This behavior is MEASURABLE in that it lends itself to a frequency count
of how often this specific behavior occurs. Finally, this behavior is WELL-DEFINED based on the clarity of
the situation and the contextual cues that are incorporated. As it is written, this target is focused upon
at the classroom level, but this could be generalized to other settings that have clear rules and
expectations. You would not want to say ‘When caught misbehaving…’ because that introduces another
level of vagueness and subjectivity across people and settings.
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Easy Steps: Form #1- Behavioral Identification
Complete as much demographic information as appropriate. In general, the more
information you can enter, the more meaningful the data will be, but YOU MUST BE
CAREFUL!! If you are planning on sharing this information with others, you may not
want to include a student’s personal information. You can either leave it out, or simply
delete sensitive fields prior to sharing the document (either electronically or physically).
The student’s educational placement can be helpful to note here for professionals who
may be interested in a basic understanding of the level of support the child is currently
receiving. Typically, educational placements range from a general education classroom
to a functional skills or cluster classroom, with a variety of levels in between. Further,
including this field provides an awareness of future possibilities of educational
Educational classifications and diagnoses are similar, but not exactly the same. The
purpose of this field is again to communicate information to other service providers who
may be reviewing the case. It is possible that this is the first evaluation for this student,
or perhaps the student is receiving Section 504 services and there is a consideration of a
special education diagnosis. In any case, the more information given to service
providers, the greater the transparency and consistency of potential wrap-around
For this section, simply check all data sources that apply. The more informants and
sources of data, the more reliable the data will be. If you are only able to check one or
two boxes, consider this a threat to the reliability of the data since there are very few
informants. Consider utilizing school records as well as information from the family.
Description of the Behavior
This section details the specifics of the behavior in question. In general, you want to be
as thorough as possible while still using precise wording. Why is this behavior a
concern? How will it impact the student’s development? What is the single target
behavior you are interested in examining? Consider writing to the extent that a
stranger, who has never met the student, would be able to enter a room and identify
the student based on their behavior.
Settings in which the Behavior Occurs
Check all settings that you feel are appropriate, but also consider any patterns you see.
Perhaps the behavior occurs in a very specific setting in response to that environment;
or, perhaps the behavior occurs in many general domains and is not apparently linked to
any one setting. All of these elements of data are clues that can help piece together the
puzzle of complex behavior.
This will be largely dependent upon the Target Behavior. Review each of the
measurement systems carefully, and select a single method with deliberation. This
system will be critical in the objective assessment of the behavior, as well as in
determining the effectiveness of any behavioral intervention.
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Data Tracking and Graphing
The primary reason that we make our target behaviors measureable is so that we can do just
that: Measure them! It is critical to measure the behaviors so that we can make informed decisions
about a number of domains: How big of a problem is this behavior? Is everyone aware of how often
this behavior is occurring? Does the student recognize when and how much they are doing this? Is the
intervention making a difference?
Data tracking is arguably the most time-consuming and burdensome component of a behavioral
assessment system. Appropriate tracking requires either extensive one-on-one time with the student or
thorough consultation with someone who does. Moreover, taking mountains of data will only inform
the next steps of a functional assessment, and may not tell you directly why a student is engaging in that
behavior firsthand. And a final point of frustration with data tracking is that all the while you are taking
scrupulous notes, the student isn’t making any progress. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on helping the
student right away, rather than to watch them fail while you take data on them?
The answer to this question is as complex as the behaviors you are attempting to change. First,
no one would ever want a child to fail. If there is a straightforward intervention that you think will help
your student, don’t hesitate to put it in place. However, most behaviors that reach this stage of
consideration are likely to be very resistant to change and varied in their presentation. For these tough
behaviors, it is important to put the supports in place that you feel are beneficial, and then continue to
take data to record a clear and objective assessment of the behavior. In addition, many times we
believe we can put interventions in place to help a behavior, but we forget to consider the long-term
sustainability of those services. Tracking the data, even with the interventions, can reveal more
precisely how pervasive a student’s challenging behavior is, and the challenges it can create for parents
The importance of good data tracking can be seen in nearly every field and profession. Consider
the stock market: people would not be satisfied if their broker simply informed them that the stocks did
‘fairly well’ or ‘pretty good’ that quarter. We desire data and numbers to track as precisely as possible
what our investments are doing, often with the more detail the better. Or, consider the medical field. A
patient would not want to hear that their white blood cell count is ‘probably stable,’ or that their blood
pressure ‘could be going up.’ These vague responses become even more upsetting in the presence of
instruments that can track objective data, and the decisions based thereupon become infinitely more
Consider, for example, a student whose behavior warrants immediate intervention. With
services and supports in place, the behavior is no longer a problem. So, why continue to track data?
Perhaps without the supports in place, the behavior regresses to its previous levels. If you have clear
data that show this trend, there could not be a better argument for those services. On the other hand,
perhaps the behavior gets worse, even with the services in place. Having a sound collection of data can
help elucidate the response of the behavior to the intervention, and is very strong evidence when
considering the level of behavioral difficulty observable at present and desirable in the future.
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Easy Steps: Form #2.1-2.4- Tracking Data using Frequency, Ratio, Intensity, or Duration
The number of times the behavior occurs will help you to determine the interval you
should use. If the behavior occurs less than 10 times per day, it will be appropriate to
use the date. If the behavior occurs at least 10 or more times per day, it may be better
to break each row into either a part of the day (e.g. morning, noon, evening) or use a
Be sure to include the operationally defined target behavior at the top of each page.
This will serve as a reminder of what behavior you are specifically tracking and will
decrease false positives (behavior that is similar, but not exactly the same).
If the behavior occurs fairly infrequently (<10 times/day), simply add the date to each
row of the first group of columns and then the number of times the behavior occurred
in the next column.
For more frequent behaviors, split the day up as mentioned above. To change this in
the column, simply delete the fields marked ‘Click here to enter a date.’ and write in the
time of day the behavior occurred, followed by the number of target behaviors
Once you have filled in the date and number of target behaviors, move DOWN the page.
DO NOT MOVE ACROSS. When you have completed the first group of columns on the
left, go on to the next group of columns (on the right side of the page). This will make
graphing much easier in Step 6 of this Easy Steps section.
Frequency (Form 2.1)
The variable ‘# of Target Behaviors’ observed has been defined in number from 1-15. If
you are observing more than 15 target behaviors per day, you will need to break the day
up into smaller periods or modify the drop-down properties in the Developer tab.
For those behaviors that occur very often, it may be easier to record a tally on a slip of
paper or notecard and then input the data into the form at a convenient time.
Duration (Form 2.2)
The variable ‘Min. of Target Behavior’ has been defined in minute-based intervals,
ranging from .25 (15 seconds) to 30. If you feel that there is not an appropriate interval,
please delete the field ‘Choose and item.’ and replace with an interval of your choosing,
or modify the drop-down menu properties in the Developer tab.
Whatever interval you decide upon, you must keep that interval for the entire data
sheet. This is so that when we graph the data it will not be skewed by variable intervals
and the graph will reflect more accurately what was observed.
It may be helpful to use a stopwatch to record the duration, especially over a long
interval (such as all day). When doing this, do not reset the stopwatch during the
interval; simply continue to add time as the behavior occurs.
Intensity (Form 2.3)
This form will require more operational definitions than the others. This is necessary so
that the target behavior can be accurately measured across different times, settings,
and with different people.
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To operationally define levels of intensity, determine what constitutes both the most
mild and most severe forms of the target behavior. The most severe form would be a 5,
and the mildest would be a 1. From there, determine how you can objectively state the
behaviors that would make up a rating of 2, 3, and 4. Record these operational
definitions on page 1 of Form 2.3.
When the target behavior occurs, determine the most fitting level of intensity. Record
this and the date on page 2 of form 2.3. This type of measurement paradigm is more
open to subjectivity than duration and frequency, but may capture some behaviors in a
more appropriate way. This would also include behaviors that are very unlikely to ever
be eliminated and where a goal of a “1” would be appropriate.
Ratio (Form 2.4)
Using a ratio is another method of analyzing behavior duration. The difference here is
that the data tracker would want to complete all intervals instead of only completing
intervals in which the behavior occurred. For example, when using a ratio tracking
system, you should have an entry for every interval, ranging from 0-100%. With other
systems, you can only record data when the behavior occurs. With a ratio tracking
system, each interval must be recorded.
This system requires a high degree of consistency and a rater who is able to monitor the
student objectively. Because this is often completed in relative hindsight (at the
conclusion of each interval) and with a fair amount of subjectivity, the rater must
exercise extreme caution in assigning percentages of the target behavior.
Graphing (any sheet)
Now comes the fun part! Once you have completed a form (the left, right, or both
groups of data points), it is ready to be graphed.
Open the Fillable FuBA Graph Wizard in Microsoft Excel.
For electronic data:
Select (highlight) both columns of one group (the date/time column and the
target behavior column).
Do not include the cells that say DATE/TIME and TARGET BEHVIORS
Copy the data by using the right-click on the mouse and selecting ‘copy’ or by
Open the graph wizard and paste the data into the specified columns by using
right-click and selecting ‘paste’ or by pressing “CTRL+V”
For hand-written data:
Input the data (date/time and target behaviors) into the specified columns
The graph will open in a new sheet entitled: Graph 1 (1
group) and Graph 2 (2
group). This can be found on the bottom left corner of the excel workbook.
Save this excel workbook under a new name (we recommend the students initials and
the date). With this workbook, you can print the students’ progress, review with
parents and educators, and even share this via email! Transforming raw data into a
graph has been shown to help both parents and teachers understand the progress that
their student is making, or can also emphasize the lack of responsiveness to a specific
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested