Saturday, November 14, 2009

A headache, but a fun headache....

Here it is! This little house is the newest reason for Billy and me to take near-overdose quantities of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and analgesics at "o'dark thirty" in the morning. Our first house, beautiful, full of light, and for a good little while at least, a pain in the everything.

Mary Miltenberger, longtime family friend, said it best: "Owning your own home is a headache, but it's a fun headache." We moved to this home from a 1-bedroom apartment, using a 17-foot U-Haul. By the next day, everything hurt, right to the fingertips. So it's fair to say that by the time that only heads were aching, we were very happy indeed.

Within the first week, there has been a lot to laugh about. Much of this has been our minds playing tricks on our brains, thanks to sleep deprivation. We have thought we lost our kitchen sink (apparently neither one of us is good at maintaining relational positions in new places); searched for clothes and food by holding flashlights in our mouths (note to self: search for light switches and outlets during daylight hours next time!); and awakened in the middle of the night not only wondering where we were, but also thinking the house was aflame (wives, don't allow your husbands to play with fireplaces unattended!).

Life is good. And funny, when you are two dopes in a new house, on short rest as they say in the baseball trades.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hey! That's not one of my preferred TLA's!

Everything anyone ever taught you about clear communication and professional writing skills is correct. The thing is that attempting to practice the behaviors suggested in those lessons is highly irritating. Simply put, explicit and spelled-out is just not how anyone really wants to write when they're GSD or "getting stuff done". Left to our own devices, easier is better, and easy for me may not be easy for you: I'll write it fast now and go back and de-code later if I have to. Those of us who think at all, tend to think quick and think in largely idiosyncratic code.

This laziness-in-service-to-quick-thought has been a persistent pattern of mine (not, dear readers, an asset!) for years and years. It was an in-joke to those around me, even before I graduated college. There was an "Amanda-to-English" translation guide on one of my first websites, and the code my friends continuously worked to crack was called variously "CryptoWilloughby" and "Amandese" and "Amandisms."

Sadly, this affliction continues to dog me to the present, and I'm afraid it's maintained and even shaped in my everyday environment (it, and I, are caught in a behavior trap, to those who appreciate the reference). As a SpEd-BCBA studying for the NYS SBL/SDL credentials, I throw about TLA's (three-letter acronyms), not to mention the odd 4-LA and 2-LA (FLA? TwLA?) with the best and worst of "them." At work, we talk about FBA's, BIP's, IEP's, IFSP's, SEIT's, DTT, DTS, VB, VBA, VB-MAPP, DAR's, TPRA's, CABAS, NYSEd, the DoH, the DoE (that's Education, not Energy), NYC, NYS, BCBA's, BCaBA's, and the BACB, among many, many others. It's no mere alphabet soup: it's an invitation to acquired dyslexia. But at least in our own tight-knit little verbal community we have some idea of what we're all talking about. When a rookie doesn't know the TLA (2-LA, 4-LA), we gleefully teach the acronym, and, if necessary, the associated decryption and import of the vocabulary and referent associated with the acronym, and scurry onward.

Imagine my surprise to receive an email related to buying a house that stopped my eyes mid-scan of screen. It took me quite a while to get just half its jist. It said, in part:

"Then all conditions have been met for file to go to QC then CTC."


Like the Star Trek computer calculating pi, I began sifting through all the terminology I had been learning these past six months. What natural-language match could I come up with for "CTC"? Fine mind for science that I have, I gathered by its terminal place in the sentence that CTC must be the final step before actually closing on the house, so it must be more important than anything coming between now and the end of the sentence. Hmmm. C. Close. Aha! Clear to Close! Yes, that must be it. Attorney, mortgage guy, realtor, all week all anyone had said was "Clear to Close." Some status the mortgage bank gives before closing. Got that.

QC. Ahem. Quality Control? Dunno. Still don't know. Actually, still working on the assumption that it's a passing phase before the Clear to Close. Will find out sometime tomorrow, I guess. If it's not a TLA, then it can't be THAT important, can it?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to Study in a Board Certified Behavior Analyst Program

1. Your very least favorite (track coach, physical education teacher, driver’s education instructor) was correct: “You get what you practice.” In fact, research suggests that you get exactly what you practice. So: when you study, practice the same operant that will be tested in class or used in the field. Students are frequently dismayed when they feel they have understood the text when they read it, but perform poorly on quizzes. However, they were tested on “writing responses to a quiz,” not on “reading a quiz,” and generally most students “read” when they study. So a good first-line intervention would be practicing more “writing” while studying the texts, in preparation for written quizzes.

• Instead of merely reading and re-reading texts (Kazdin; Cooper, Heron, & Heward), devise ways of inducing ASR or “active student responding” while you read. Here are some suggestions:
• The Prentice-Hall website provides guided notes for the Cooper, Heron, & Heward text; you will prepare study guides for one another. Use the guided notes and study guides while you do your first read-through to increase your ASR.
• Learn to summarize whole chapters into very short lists of “P’s and Q’s” (Points & Questions). As soon as you finish reading a chapter (filling in a study guide as you read), put away your book and notes, and write a chapter summary of no more than five bulleted Points and three lingering Questions for further discussion with your BCBA supervisor, study group, or instructor. If your list is more than 5 P’s and 3 Q’s, you need to revise – Sorry, Polonius, but brevity is the soul not only of wit but also of adduced contingencies.
• The Prentice-Hall website also provides another resource for the Cooper, Heron, & Heward text: online quizzes. Take these after your first read-through of a chapter and then again after further study to gauge whether you are ready for the in-class quiz. Charting your progress on these quizzes is a good way to prepare for the BCBA exam. Keep at it until you are at your personal goal: 100%? 90%? 80%?

2. Behavior analysts do not communicate only by writing and reading. We also speak and listen. So, for better or for worse, your oral fluency with the “high-falutin’-est” verbal behavior of the science of applied behavior analysis is important. Some of this can be addressed through written quizzes, but speaker/listener skills are best practiced through speaking and listening. To this end:
• Sign up for and use Quizlet. There is a group set up for Manhattanville BCBA students especially. You can practice vocabulary with flashcards, vocab quizzes, games, and more:
• Tutor one another on vocabulary flashcards. Not only will both of you benefit from the exposure to the vocabulary as you tutor one another, but doing Verbal Fluency Tutoring sessions is a good way to develop your expertise with presenting discrete trial teaching and collecting and analyzing data.
• Take advantage of the fact that there are now several cable-TV shows that illustrate many principles of applied behavior analysis. Excellent examples include: SuperFetch, SuperNanny, It’s Me or the Dog, and Good Dog U. Examples that are possible to use but will provide less clear illustrations and/or more complicated operants and applications include: Dr. Phil, The Biggest Loser, and CleanSweep. What is common to all these shows is that the practitioners on these shows seldom use scientific terminology correctly, if at all, to describe the procedures they recommend. Get together with a peer or peers (motivating operations like popcorn and soda are OK, and may even be necessary!) and watch one of these shows (preferably on DVD, TiVo, via Internet connection, or some other way in which you can “pause” the action for discussion). Observe the procedures, pause, and discuss. Look through your notes and texts and tact the principles of behavior and behavior change tactics being employed in the vignettes. If you as a group cannot decide, write down the example and bring it to your BCBA supervision or to class.
3. Like it or not, you are entering this class 4/15 of the way through the program (almost a third of the way there), and you’ll leave this class 7/15 of the way through this program (almost half-way there). It is already time to be studying for the BCBA exam. Research tells us that distributed practice is superior to massed practice, so:
• The CBA modules from Behavior Development Solutions worked for me, and I had only 10 days between notification that I was qualified to sit for the test and my testing date. They have a money back guarantee if you complete all the modules to criterion before the test and then for some reason do not pass.
• Keep plugging through the online quizzes for the Cooper, Heron, & Heward text. Use a grid to mark each score and recycle until you get to 100% on each and every quiz. You will know when you are fluent!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

When "Abstract" is really "Concrete"

Mid-October saw the deadline for submissions for the 2010 Convention for the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI, but we still pronounce it "ah-buh"). At the school where I work, bucketloads of social reinforcement is available for staff members who prepare and present papers at ABAI each year. There is a frenzy just before and after the actual Convention to think about papers that would be good for next year's convention, but the real work generally gets done about half a year later: at submission time for the following year's convention.

Applications require submission of the abstract to the paper to be presented. Sometimes this is easy: the study has been done, the paper is written, just send the abstract as it already exists.

Other times, the study is just a great idea, and the convention becomes to goal line for completing the study. When this is the case, a loosely assembled set of fairly
abstract ideas for a study have to be abstracted into an abstract in short order. It's time to get down to business and pull together the essential ideas of background literature, purpose, design, and expected results. The document that comes from this process, the abstract, tends to be pretty concrete in the end.

Here's a sample abstract for a study we're just putting together now:

<>AMANDA W. DOLL, Ed.M, BCBA, Tina Covington, PhD, BCBA, Rachel Sgueglia, MS.Ed., and Dana Logozio, MS.Ed.<>Previous research (Doll, Covington, Rosenfeld, & Cerrone, 2009) has identified that a subset of teaching staff do not respond to repeated observation-and-feedback cycles with a modified TPRA form fashioned after Ingham & Greer, 1992. In the 2009 study, those teachers who continued to commit instructional errors subsequently improved when they were taught how to use the modified TPRA form and then used this form in order to self-score their own teaching behavior from video samples. Teaching accuracy improved and instructional rate also improved; accuracy was a treated variable, while rate was an untreated variable. The present study seeks to replicate results from the 2009 study; to identify teachers for whom observation-and-feedback cycles are not serving to improve instructional behavior; to create a data-base for using video self-observation as a tactic when instructional practices need to be improved. Data collection is ongong.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Moderation Doesn't Always Come in Moderation

In college I first learned and fell in love with the idea that life is best lived enjoying all things in moderation. Thus far, however, I have found that moderation itself seems to come not constantly but in fits and starts. There are beautiful, almost-perfect-despite-their-imperfection periods in which it is possible to balance and re-balance responsibilities, adjusting oneself to the necessities of daily life. This is sometimes called "one day at a time living."

And then... and then... then there are those other, more challenging, stretches of time when "all the days come at once." There is very little need to describe these times. We all live in them. Some of us never escape them. They are the stuff of television situation comedies. They are the stuff of road rage. They are the stuff of desperation and suffering, too. I suppose they always have been - or why would the ancients have written about them, for me to learn about "all things in moderation" in 100-level Humanities courses?

Very recently, many months of "life in moderation" or normal time yielded to "everything all at once" time for a little while. Partly, this is mere occupational hazard. Working in a school while continuing my own education means that I do almost everything I do by the whirrings of multiple academic calendars. Usually, academic calendars have enough similarity to be somewhat predictable, and enough difference to be maddening. This year has been no exception.

Despite my cherished notion that time exists to prevent events from happening "at the same time," the overlap of the calendars allowed for a few synchronicities that were quite enjoyable (at least in retrospect, once fully rested again from the return trip East!).

Within the span of a week, I was able to participate in the Columbia University Teachers College Masters Convocation; learn that I had in fact passed the BCBA exam; and present at ABAI in Phoenix, AZ. Here's a picture of Dr. Tina Covington and me in front of my poster on stimulus-stimulus pairing and the emergence of early language. Several other colleagues and I also presented papers in a symposium the same day. It was a humbling and energizing experience...Possibly too much fun for me for one week. Now what I'm really looking for is a whole lot of moderation for a while!