Shaping example: Push a car sideways

This video is part of the free resource section that accompanies the PORTL manual.

For this shaping exercise, the teacher wanted the learner to push a toy car sideways across the table. That is, the car would be pushed perpendicular to the direction in which cars usually travel.

What happens normally when you give someone a toy car? The person usually pushes the car forward or backward.

The teacher could just wait and hope that the learner eventually pushes the car sideways. However, the learner may never do this behavior.

The teacher’s challenge for this exercise was to design a set of shaping steps that would help the learner figure out this behavior quickly and with minimal guessing or frustration.

Keep reading to see the teacher’s shaping plan and a video of what happened during teaching.

Shaping plan: Push a car sideways

During each PORTL exercise, the teacher starts by making a plan. This is one of the most important steps of shaping. A clear goal behavior and a well-thought out series of steps will lead to faster progress and fewer errors.

For this exercise, the teacher developed her shaping plan using a copy of the My Shaping Plan Worksheet from the PORTL manual. You can find a blank copy of this worksheet on the PORTL resources page.

As you can see below, the teacher used the worksheet to describe the behavior she planned to teach, think about the components that are part of this behavior, and write a list of shaping steps.

Although this looks like a solid plan, it’s important to remember that different learners will respond differently to the same shaping plan. So, the teacher should always be prepared to stop and make adjustments to the shaping plan, depending on what the learner does.

Video: Push a car sideways

In the video below, you’ll see what happens when the teacher implements her shaping plan.

In Chapter 4 of the PORTL manual, students practice six foundational skills related to shaping: resets, targeting, capturing actions, transferring actions, raising criteria, and chaining. Students then combine these foundational skills as they practice writing and implementing shaping plans for increasingly complex behaviors.

This example of pushing the car sideways seems like a fairly straightforward behavior. However, in this example, the teacher used most of these foundational skills. Understanding these foundational lessons and how to apply them allowed the teacher to design a shaping plan that worked quickly and with minimal errors.

It’s also worthwhile to notice how the teacher adjusts her shaping plan. Toward the end, she gives the learner a wine cork. She had planned to have the learner push the wine cork two or three times. The teacher thought this would be a good object to use because the shape of the cork is somewhat similar to the shape of the car.

However, the learner taps the cork, which sends it rolling down the table. The teacher observes that this action is different from how the learner was interacting with the earlier objects. During the previous repetitions, the learner’s fingers remained in contact with the object as he pushed the object. The teacher quickly returns to the yellow block because she doesn’t want the learner to keep practicing this tapping action.

We hope you enjoyed this PORTL shaping example. To learn more about PORTL and about how you can use it to improve your shaping skills, visit the PORTL resource library or our Behavior Explorer web store.

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