FBA is concerned with understanding a child’s behaviour
and the function that behaviour serves. It does this through
looking at the context of that behaviour, by gathering data
and formulating a hypothesis, then manipulating variables
to increase the desired behaviour and reduce the negative
FBA isn’t necessarily about changing the child, but changing
the context so the child’s behaviour changes. It emphasises
understanding the function of the behaviour for the
student, such as being to disguise a lack of skills e.g. not
having academic or social skills.
Theorists differ on how they define context, with some
preferring proximal, or immediate causes, while others
believe that distal causes, like family situations and
psychological factors are included. (Mitchell, 2008).
Principles of FBA
1. Primary function of assessment is to provide intervention
(Intervention must result from the data gathered and the
function the behaviour serves)
2. Focus of assessment is on current context
3. Direct measurement of problem (must be an observable
and definable behaviour e.g. out of seat and consistent
4. Behaviour is situational (must gather data from all target
5. Context variables are relevant
6. Role of evaluation is to determine treatment
effectiveness (Evaluation of intervention must occur
before, during and after intervention) (Cipani, 2011 )
Stages of FBA (Mitchell, 2008)
Step 1: identify and accurately describe problem behaviour/s
Step 2: gather information from: existing reports, work
samples, assessments, interviews and direct observation
Step 3: the team determines the function/s of the behaviour
and develops a hypothesis about the behaviour/s and their
Step 4: A Behavioural Intervention Plan (BIP) is developed by
Step 5: Implementation of the intervention plan. Detailed
records are kept.
Step 6: the plan is evaluated and modified where necessary.
Possible Information to collect for
ABC (antecedent behaviour consequence) – records
behaviour, preceding event and the consequence of the
Scattergraph to show connections between two events e.g.
antecedents and behaviours
Frequency- how often the target behaviours occur
Duration- how long the target behaviour lasts for
Interval recording- record student’s actions at regular
intervals e.g. 10 seconds
- Usually gathered by a teacher or observer but can also
be self-monitoring (students monitor own behaviour, which
can help correct behaviour but data may not be accurate).
The purpose is to find out proximal causes of
When is the behaviour more likely?
What activities/events happen just before the
What do people do or say before the behaviour
Who is present when the behaviour occurs?
Are there times when the behaviour is unlikely?
In what circumstances is the behaviour least
likely to occur?
The purpose is to define the observable behaviour’s
and distinguish the most problematic ones to
What form does the behaviour take?
Can you describe what they say/do?
What do you mean by (vague description e.g.
Which behaviour is most serious to you?
Why is that behaviour more problematic?
The purpose is to discover the function of the
What happens immediately after the behaviour
So how do you respond to this behaviour? How
effective is this?
How do the other students respond to this
What changes as a result of this behaviour?
What do they get out of the behaviour?
What do they avoid as a result of the behaviour?
Categories of Consequences
(adapted from Hulac, 2011)
When manipulating the consequences, we should focus on increasing the
desired behaviour and reducing the negative behaviour.
Some behaviours may not be socially mediated and the behaviour itself
may produce the reinforcement e.g. daydreaming or fidgeting.
Sometimes extinction (removal of punishment or reinforcement) can be
used e.g. if the function of the behaviour is to gain the consequences.
-rewarding good behaviour e.g. praise
The result is to increase the desired behaviour
The negative behaviour results in avoiding a task
the student doesn’t want to do e.g. bad language
results from being removed from the class
during a challenging test.
The result is to increase the negative behaviour
Negative behaviour is punished appropriately
e.g. Hitting another student results in a
The result is to reduce the negative behaviour
Negative behaviour results in removal of a
positive event e.g. texting in class results in the
phone being confiscated
The result is to reduce the negative behaviour
FBA is the descendant of Behaviourism, which maintains that human
behaviours can be described scientifically, and that we can alter
behaviour by rewarding positive behaviour and punishing negative
behaviour. The work of B.F. Skinner has been highly influential in the
field of behaviour modification, although he saw free will as an
illusion and education as being one of teacher as expert.
Behaviourism evolved into Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
FBA is also a result of moves in the 60’s and 70’s towards ABA. It
became popular when the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) specifically named it as part of the act and it
effectively became law .(Mitchell, 2008)
It also aligns with Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory which
looks at the microsystem and meso system and the influences these
have on the child. Bronfenbrenner takes this further to look at the
effect breakdowns in these systems might have on the child. Unlike
Behaviorism, Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model acknowledged the
role of the individual on the systems and how personal characteristics
can change environments (and vice versa). (Huitt, 2012)
Pros and Cons of FBA
Interventions that target antecedents and
consequences are proven to be successful with
behavioural and emotional issues
Mitchell, 2008 cites several studies which show
the success of this approach.
The causes of student behaviour may be difficult
to correctly identify.
By focusing on possible proximal causes, more
complex causes can be overlooked (Mitchell,
By overemphasising possible distal causes, more
obvious proximal causes can be overlooked
There may be multiple causes of the behaviour
and the behaviour may not be consistent so
analysis can be challenging. (Miller, Tansy, &
Successful interventions rely on understanding
the function of the behaviour
“Any undesirable childhood behavior can be
made inefficient, ineffective, or unnecessary
unless you forget that the behavior serves a
purpose for that child” (Waller, 2009; p28)
There is no systematic approach for
understanding the function/s of the behaviour
There is no consistent practice, procedure or
method for synthesising information, and there
is little research into developing educator-
accessible systems for doing so. (Miller, Tansy, &
Once understood, FBA can be carried out in the
classroom as a strategy by teachers (Waller,
FBA is labour intensive and can be expensive to
implement (Mitchell, 2008)
The New Zealand Context
When looking at the New Zealand context, the FBA model fits into the
vision, values and competencies, but not necessarily comfortably.
The vision of New Zealand children as confident learners (Ministry of
Education, 2007) is only achieved when they are engaged and learning at
school. A successful intervention should help students to achieve this.
The values of the curriculum are around inclusion, learning to learn and
community engagement. A child who is misbehaving because they do not
have the skills to participate in class is not included. FBA should identify
the skills shortage and plan an intervention to help the student acquire
those skills and be able to be included. The nature of an FBA is to help
students to learn how to learn by changing their context to enable this. By
gathering data and planning an intervention, there should be community
engagement, in which the community of the child is included in planning
and executing the intervention for it to be successful.
The FBA should help a student to ‘manage self’ better, and ‘participate
and communicate’ more effectively as the student’s skills develop.
However the links to the Treaty of Waitangi are more obscure. By viewing
the recently renewed Ka Hikitia (2013) Maori education plan, the aim of
engaging students in education by giving them the skills to succeed may
align with the FBA for the targeted students, who are experiencing
difficulty with aspects of school life.
Cipani, E. (2011). Decoding challenging classroom behaviors: What every teacher
and paraeducator should know!. Springfield, Ill: Charles C Thomas.
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handbook of school psychology: Effective practices for the 21st century. New York:
Hulac, D. M. (2011). Behavioral interventions in schools: A response-to-intervention
guidebook. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Huitt, W. (2012) A Systems Approach to the Study of Human Behavior. Educational
Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date]
Miller, J. A., Tansy, M., & Hughes, T. L. (1998). Functional behavioral assessment:
The link between problem behavior and effective intervention in schools. Current
Issues in Education [On-line, 1(5). Retrieved from
Ministry of Education (2013). Ka Hikitia: Accelerating Success 2013-2017, retrieved
Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning
Mitchell, D. R. (2008). What really works in special and inclusive education: Using
evidence-based teaching strategies. London: Routledge.
Waller, R. J. (2009). The teacher's concise guide to functional behavioral
assessment. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.