Behaviorist Ed-tech — Ed-tech from the 1940s

So, how on earth have we ended up with this many myths continuing painfully from one decade to the next?

I’m afraid the answer is that too much of the training has been stuck in the 1940s. Too much is done by non-autistic people, often ones who happen to know an autistic person in some way (maybe a relative) but seemingly have never asked them about life. I mean ‘asked’ in any communication sense, not just speech. Over a million autistic people in the UK, and too often, such trainers have none of them as personal friends, none of them as colleagues. Isn’t that odd?

Such trainers pass on the ancient myths, generation after generation. They write them down, put them on Powerpoint presentations, and deliver them to you as if they are fact. Research based in part on materials from the 1990s and 1980s, which was based largely on watching groups of profoundly disabled young men in a care home, as far back as the 1940s. As far removed from a balanced view of autism as one can get, in fact.

Worse still, they often expect you to pay for this. It might look slick, with excellent graphics, and the trainer might look like they could pose for a fashion magazine . But…are you really wanting 1940s material?

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism. Is your training from the 1940s?

The 1940s behaviorism of the autism industry has entered public education via ABA, PBS, Class Dojo, SEL data collection, mindset marketing, and other priorities of private equity. Get this 1940s material out of our schools. Mainstream ed-tech is taking us backwards.

Behaviorism commodifies people. It is the opposite of personalized learning.

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

We cannot replace agency with response to stimuli.

Source: MMCP: Critical Digital Pedagogy; or, the Magic of Gears | Hybrid Pedagogy

I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

Source: Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Drop the B from PBS

I’ve made quite a study of ABA and PBS over the last couple of years. I know a good number of ABA and PBS practitioners. I have seen the methods. I have the training materials. I have the books. I have seen the course content. I’m a professional, working in autism, and autistic. I train the Royal College of Psychiarists, alongside my fellow autistic professionals. We train Psychologists, Psychotherapists, schools, colleges, organisations across the country. We haven’t just ‘fallen off the back of a turnip truck’, to use a phrase. We know what a good therapy should include, and what is a really bad idea.

I think I shall echo the words of the National Autism Project, in their report, “The Autism Dividend”:

“Positive Behavioural Support in the form of ‘active support’ may work for some children and families – but this approach is not suitable for everyone, and indeed is not without controversy”.

In fact, as far as anyone can tell, there has been no good long term independent research into the use of PBS and autism. We have no idea what the impact is of using this behaviour modification approach on autistic individuals in the long term. It is approved for use with learning disability, and has therefore been assumed OK for autism. But autism is not learning disability. Autism is different. Very different indeed. I’ve read so many examples of PBS assuming that a child has to be taught to socialise in non-autistic ways. Taught to socialise through every lunch time, every break time, every after-school event. If they can socialise just like they’re not autistic, they’re ‘accessing the community’, and that is the goal. “Indistinguishable from our peers”. Perhaps allowed a tiny flap or rock, if that’s not inconveniencing anyone else.

I would suggest that ABA and PBS needs some very thorough and continuing research. Because we are gambling with the lives of an awful lot of children. The suicide rates for autism are already stratospheric. I note the legal cases in the USA from some individuals who believe they were deeply damaged by some therapies. If we’re wrong, and we are in effect doing the same thing as the highly discredited and damaging ‘gay conversion therapy’…. we are setting an awful lot of children up to have serious consequences later in life. No matter how ‘positive’ the title of the product.

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, ABA and PBS: Some questions

Ann Memmott on Twitter: “Important thread about realising that the Behaviour focus of autism treatment leads to distress in far too many cases. We need to Drop The B from ‘Positive Behaviour Support’. Positive support, with deep understanding of autism instead, is much better.… https://t.co/B5pVGxwTcf”

Ann Memmott on Twitter: “The NHS has now chosen to ignore concerns of #ActuallyAutistic specialists and professionals, & decided that the way to deal with pain is to apply ‘behaviour training’ to the autistic people, to stop them showing they’re in pain. I cannot begin to explain how wrong this is./“

Thank you to the autistic autism researchers pushing back against PBS. Get PBS out of our schools. Behaviorist ed-tech is an utter failure of imagination.

Previously,

Explaining the Why of Your Ed-tech Choices

What does personalized learning mean at your school?

But what exactly does “personalized learning” mean across these varied products and contexts? And more broadly speaking, which labels and claims employed by companies can be trusted? How do the products schools are being offered differ from what teachers are already doing in their classrooms? Is personalized learning being oversold?

They’re all questions that get more complicated by the year for district officials trying to settle on personalized learning strategies and figure out which products will help them meet their goals.

“It’s become such a generic term. It’s aspirin,” said Daniel Gohl, the chief academic officer of Florida’s Broward County Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. “Slapping on the label ‘personalized’ does not mean that [a product] helps me systematically move student achievement.”

Source: Are Companies Overselling Personalized Learning? — Education Week

I don’t really know what my school district means by personalized learning. It’s nebulous and never really explained. I don’t know the why.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

One of these “Why Sheets,” for example, might explain a teacher’s decision to create a curriculum based on kids’ questions. Or for setting aside time each day for a class meeting. It might defend helping students to understand mathematical principles rather than just memorizing facts and algorithms. Or it might lay out the case for avoiding worksheets, or tests, or homework, or traditional bribe-and-threat classroom management strategies.

Eventually I started thinking about creating additional Why Sheets to help administrators defend enlightened schoolwide policies: why we don’t track students; why we push back against standardized testing and never brag about high scores; why we have multiage classrooms; why we’ve replaced report cards with student-led parent conferences; why we use a problem-solving approach to discipline in place of suspensions and detentions; why our commitment to building community has led us to avoid awards assemblies, spelling bees, and other rituals that pit kids against one another.

In short, any practice that’s constructive yet still controversial would be fair game for one of these punchy handouts. The idea was to help educators explain why they do what they do – and, equally important, why they deliberately avoid doing some things. The sheets would be made available free of charge, uncopyrighted, and accompanied by an invitation to distribute them promiscuously.

The Why Axis – Alfie Kohn

Kohn presents these why sheets as a way to provide support for progressive teachers trying new things, something I’ve suggested at school a time or two.

Some years ago, therefore, I hatched the idea of supporting such educators by convening a brain trust of leading theorists, researchers, and practitioners to create – and then disseminate – concise defenses of various features of progressive education. I imagined a set of handouts, each consisting of a single (double-sided) sheet that responded to a common question. The idea was to lay out the case briskly, making liberal use of bullet points and offering a short bibliography at the end for anyone who wanted more information.

I don’t consider the mainstream ed-tech notions of personalized learning progressive, but I still want to know the why. I want to know the why of choosing behaviorism and data collection. I want to know the why of choosing, for example, platooning vs. looping. I want to know the why of many things I see in ed.

My professional culture is heavy on writing.

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapieremployees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency.

Source: Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics | TechCrunch

Communication is oxygen. At my company, we build our communication culture on blogging. We create FAQs and Field Guides and Master Posts for everything. Writing and transparency are important parts of managing change and creating alignment.

Administrators are educators. Educate by writing in the open. Educate by publishing why sheets. Borrow from what works in distributed work: a culture of writing and transparency. Do some of the heavy lifting for teachers who have to defend district decisions to parents. Write. Write on the open web so that teachers can reference why sheets when communicating with parents. Default to open.