Bounce on the SCC

I have not entered a blog post for a while due to a grant which I can now report has found its way to IES. Now I can turn back to my official duties as a PT blogger.

Today we discuss an incredibly important characteristic of learning – bounce. Bounce, a Precision Teaching term for variability, refers to the degree to which a behavior varies over time. We can only see bounce for multiple data points across time, bounce does not lie in a single data point. The larger the bounce the more erratic the behavior. Seemingly “out of control behavior” is high bounce. One day the behavior occurs one or two times and the next day it occurs 40 or 50 times. As an example, I had the chance to inspect the Standard Celeration Chart of young man with autism who had a behavioral target of “aggression.” Aggression referred to behaviors that included hitting, kicking, pushing, and biting. By the way, aggression makes for a very poor pinpoint.

On the chart the total bounce value came to x30.0 (see figure below – counting time = 4 hours). A x30.0 total bounce value describes the relative multiply units of frequency distance found on a Standard Celeration Chart. In other words, we have a bounce envelope comprised of a Down Bounce line, Celeration line, and Up Bounce line (though the actual bounce envelope covers the distance from the down Bounce line to the Up Bounce line). The frequency distance for the “hits other” Movement Cycle (i.e., behavior) falls within the x30.0 bounce envelop measured from the Down Bounce line to the Up Bounce line. Look at the figure below which shows total bounce at x30.0. The individual data points bounce all around the celeration line. From the Down Bounce line to the Up Bounce line the individual behavioral frequencies (recorded data points) fall within the x30.0 spread. With the Down Bounce line resting on the .004 frequency line (that is the frequency line for a behavior with a counting time of 4 hours or 240 minutes) and the Up Bounce line on the .15 line, the range within the envelope is between 1 and 30 instances of “hits other”and everywhere in between. Having such a large bounce value means one day “hits other” could occur 1 time for the observation period or up to 30 times during the next day (for the 4 hour observation period).

If you had Jason in your class and he performed the pinpoint “hits other” once in 4 hours  on Monday but the next day he had 23 instances of hits other what would you think? Such a crazy swing in frequency makes it seem like Jason’s behavior is unpredictable. Wide swings in the frequency of behavior are clearly identified by large bounce envelopes. With the SCC, you put on a number on it. The power of the picture and number, the Total Bounce value, puts a hard core scientific measure in the hands of the teacher. The teacher knows the behavior is not unpredictable, just extremely bouncy (namely, a x30.0 Total Bounce).

And as a teacher who must help Jason, the task moves to accounting for the variable(s) at play leading to a x30.0 Total Bounce value across the three weeks. Behavior is the product of an orderly function of a large number of variables. When we see a large bounce value the controlling variables could be appearing episodically. But the controlling variables are there, and when interventions are put in place the Total Bounce value will tell us if we have found those variables controlling behavior.

Look to the right of the x30.0 Total Bounce and see the x3.0 Total Bounce. The stability and regularity with the spread of data instantly communicates the behavior is under better control. In other words, the controlling variables of which the behavior is a function are revealed through the spread of the behavioral frequencies (measured pinpoints). Behavior is a lawful phenomenon. The charted frequencies and how much they bounce speak to the orderliness at play in the person’s current environment. And we can see it all on the chart.


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Precision Teaching Behavior Dynamics Designs

Single case experimental designs have become an established method for determining functional relations between variables. According to the What Works Clearinghouse, single case designs “can provide a strong basis for establishing causal inference, and these designs are widely used in applied and clinical disciplines in psychology and education, such as school psychology and the field of special education” (Kratochwill et al., 2010). Single case designs help experimenters arrange and examine relations occurring between and among variables (Kazdin, 2011). The following figure shows the symbolic representation of three common single case designs that experimenters can use to discover a functional relation with variables.

A number of excellent books describe a variety of single case designs and how experimenters use them for discovering order in nature (e. g., Gast, 2010; Johnston & Pennypacker, 2009; Kazdin, 2011; Kennedy, 2005). The three experimental designs in above figure work by establishing experimental control between the application of the independent variable, or the intervention, on a dependent variable. Experimental control means an experimenter achieved a predictable change in behavior reliably produced by manipulating some part of the environment (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). Experimental control occurs because the experimenter exercises precise control of the implementation of the independent variable, or the intervention, by presenting it, withdrawing it or varying the value of it while also holding all confounding and extraneous variables constant (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007).

Conducting good science with single case experimental designs requires a high degree of planning, implementation fidelity and resource availability and management. Within the context of Precision Teaching, experiments using single case designs and the subsequent production of functional relations have occurred (e.g., Kubina, Young & Kilwein, 2004; McDowell & Keenan, 2001; Young, West, Howard & Whitney, 1986). Yet the majority of people applying Precision Teaching do not reside within a University setting where access to resources and other important components for conducting experiments exist. Teachers and learners within home, private and public schools constitute the main body of people applying Precision Teaching. And within home, private and public school settings the teachers and learners typically do not have the resources necessary for conducting controlled experiments that lead to the discovery of functional relations. Nevertheless, “good science does not require experiments, it can be done with an intelligent use of observational evidence… there is more than one way to do science, depending on the nature of the questions and the methods typical of the field” (Pigliucci, 2010, p. 20).

Many scientific disciplines do not conduct experiments but that does not mean they cannot conduct good science that results in uncovering latent order in nature. Paleontology, for instance, does not conduct experiments [Experiments – an activity were an experimenter carefully controls variables and looks for factors that reliably affect the results observed due to the manipulations variables, (Clark, 2004)]. Paleontology studies ancient life by examining the structure of organisms revealed by fossils found within rocks. Paleontologists cannot arrange conditions or experiments to study extinct organisms. Instead, paleontologists can observe a particular type of fossil in specific rock strata. Trilobites no longer exist. Paleontologists, however, have learned a great deal about trilobites by examining their fossils in a geologic strata existing within the Paleozoic era. Paleontologists have discovered different orders of trilobites, when they lived, where they lived and how they lived, all without active experimentation.

Scientific disciplines such as paleontology and astronomy cannot conduct active experiments but they can collect empirical data through observations and produce and test hypotheses leading to reliable and valid knowledge about nature. Precision Teachers who mainly operate in the fields of education and psychology do not face the same restrictions as paleontologists and astronomers; Precision Teachers can and do conduct experiments. But many teachers do not have the luxury or resources required to coordinate and administer carefully controlled experiments.

As a profession, teachers face a more vital charge when contrasted with conducting tightly controlled experiments that lead to functional relations, namely producing learning outcomes. Three principles define the role of teachers; “Principle 1: The teacher makes a profound difference in how, what, when, and why students learn…. Principle 2: Teaching involves creating as many opportunities as possible for successful learning…. Principle 3: effective teaching enhances what the learner already knows and enables the learner to do things that could not be done before” (Darch & Kame’enui, 2004, p. 13-15).

Teachers have an applied role similar to physicians. Physicians with a family practice aim to provide primary care for their patients. Family practice physicians typically do not conduct controlled research; they spend the majority of their time delivering a range of medical care services. Likewise, teachers focus their energies creating successful learning outcomes for their students. Teachers and family practice physicians could conduct experiments, however, they both concentrate on applied outcomes.

Even though teachers do not usually conduct experiments, they still need to monitor learner behavior and apply good science to routine problems. Commonplace problems teachers face range from students not making progress in an specific skill to having to teach learners two to three years behind same age peers in academic achievement. Every teacher in every subject and in every school setting will deal with learning and/or behavioral problems at some point in time. Some problems may have simple resolutions; others may require a more intensive systematic approach. Precision Teaching offers an applied, scientific system for analyzing, and ultimately dealing with, all types of learner behavior. Unlike single case designs that seek to establish functional relations among variables, Precision Teaching also applies behavior dynamics designs in a search for variables yielding regular and predictable patterns of behavior. Behavior dynamics refers to  a level of research where correlated phenomena (e.g., behavior changes and interventions) lead to predictive, replicable, and believable outcomes (Cooper, 2005).

I admire and very much appreciate single case designs and the functional relations they can uncover. Additionally, I value experiments and welcome teachers to apply single case designs with Precision Teaching if they desire. The sciences of education and psychology both necessitate the full range of varied, quality science (i. e., descriptive, correlational and experimental studies) producing empirically verifiable information necessary for understanding nature. The part of nature interesting to teachers includes human behavior and learning.

Two of the basic behavior dynamics designs examine celeration/bounce changes between two or more phases, the following figure shows both designs. In the first design the teacher implements an intervention or collects baseline data. Most precision teachers immediately implement an intervention because they do not have luxury spending time not teaching, or applying interventions aimed at creating successful learning opportunities (baselines form a critical part of experimentation). Next, a decision rule, or a teacher established guideline (e.g., specific period of time), triggers a phase change and a new intervention begins. The teacher then inspects the celeration and bounce in the first phase and compares it against the celeration and bounce in the second phase. The teacher could select from a variety of other analytical techniques that come to bear on the data evaluation between the two phases. A teacher could employ any additional analytical technique like the combined jump/turn analysis, frequency and celeration multipliers, a comparison of successive AIMs and outlier analysis for rich understanding of the comparisons. Both the visual and quantitative information would provide a strikingly clear analysis as to the magnitude, direction and quality of behavioral changes between the first and second phase of data.


The second behavior dynamics design evaluates data similarly to the first design except the celeration/bounce changes also occur across multiple participants. Even though individual interventions will produce different degrees of learning, the general principles of learning apply to all students and examining changes across multiple participants will show precisely how a class of interventions affected learner behavior. The visual and quantitative analysis of Standard Celeration Charted behavior leads teachers to conclusions that specific interventions or variables produce (or don’t produce) reliable and convincing changes in pinpointed behavior.

As a teacher, behavior analyst, speech therapist, or whatever profession you practice, behavior dynamics offers a means for you to uncover order in nature. In the final analysis, most of the helping professions’ codes of conduct reference delivering services to people through the use of researched-based or science-based methods. Therefore, our analytic attention and compassionate inclinations should draw us towards useful, applied behavior discovery systems like Precision Teaching and behavior dynamics.



Clark, J. O. E. (2004). The essential dictionary of science. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Cooper, J. O. (2005). Applied research: The separation of applied behavior analysis and precision teaching. In W. Heward, T. Heron, N. Neef, S. Peterson, D. Sainato, G. Cartledge, R. Gardner, L. Peterson, S. Hersh & J. Dardig (Eds.), Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievement, challenges, and opportunities. (pp. 295-303). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Darch, C. B., & Kame’enui, E. J. (2004). Instructional classroom management: A proactive approach to behavior management (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Gast, D. L. (2010). Single subject research methodology in behavioral sciences. New York: Routledge.

Johnston, J. M., & Pennypacker, H. S. (2009). Strategies and tactics of behavioral research (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Kazdin, A. E. (2011). Single-case research designs: Methods for clinical and applied settings (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Kennedy, C. H. (2005). Single-case designs for educational research. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Kratochwill, T. R., Hitchcock, J., Horner, R. H., Levin, J. R., Odom, S. L., Rindskopf, D. M. & Shadish, W. R. (2010). Single-case designs technical documentation. Retrieved from What Works Clearinghouse website. Retrieved from

Kubina, R. M., Young, A. E., & Kilwein, M. (2004). Examining an effect of fluency: Application of oral word segmentation and letters sounds for spelling. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 13, 17-23.

McDowell, C., & Keenan, M. (2001). Developing fluency and endurance in a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34, 345-348.

Pigliucci, M. (2010). Nonsense on stilts: How to tell science from bunk. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Young, K. R., West, R. P., Howard, V. F., & Whitney, R. (1986). Acquisition, fluency training, generalization and maintenance of dressing skills of two developmentally disabled children. Education and Treatment of Children, 9, 16-29.

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Counting and timing behavior

In the applied science we call medicine, a patient visits a doctor due to some condition aversely affecting health. The applied medical model involves the doctor obtaining information to identify the problem (e.g., virus, unregulated cell growth, parasites, deteriorating muscle). After determining the cause of the health condition, the doctor prescribes an intervention aimed at curing or fixing the problem. The doctor exercises considerable discretion specifying the amount of an intervention. If the doctor recommended radiation therapy to kill cancer cells, the dosage is measured in rads or grays, both units describing the absorbed radiation dose. When a doctor suggests using pharmaceuticals, dosages are mainly calculated with the metric system such as liters and grams. Indeed, accurately calculating doses is a key portion for many health care worker such as the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Dosages within medicine are scrutinized so intensely due to the outcomes. Too little of a dosage and the intervention fails. Too much of a dosages and the patient suffers harmful effects. Just the right amount of the dose, called a therapeutic or curative dose, results in the patient overcoming the original problem.

As an applied science, education (as a whole) has missed the mark when it comes to applying precision in the process of describing the presenting problem, determining proper “dosages” or the amount of an intervention to implement, and evaluating subsequent intervention effects on learner behavior. Descriptions used to first identify the problem range from unobservable or ambiguous non-behaviors to real, measurable behaviors. Dosages or the amount of how much of an intervention a learner should receive is manifested through indirect measures like converted scores or with dimensionless units like percentage. The resulting effects on learner behavior make it exceptionally difficult to confidently understand what exactly changed and how well the learner profited from the intervention. Through the act of counting behaviors in time, the field of education has at its disposal a standard, absolute, universal unit of measurement (i.e., frequency) that enables education to function as other applied sciences like medicine who employ sensitive measures in treatment and evaluation of their subject matter. The nucleus of a science of education is frequency, found by counting and timing behavior.


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Counts and visual displays

The following figure shows counts of behavior and portrays those counts graphically in sets. The counts can represent any learner behavior the teacher may wish to measure (e.g., interrupting a conversation, volunteering to do a classroom chore, writing antonyms or factoring trinomials). The dots represent the physical amount for each count (e.g., for 2, the two dots show 2 written antonyms, or two competed chores).

When displayed on charts, the counts measured in the above Figure transform into an ordered arrangement of data. The resulting visual pattern provides information to the chart reader beyond just examining numbers or counts alone. When displayed on an arithmetically scaled line chart, Figure below, the differences between 1 and 2, 2 and 4, and 4 and 8 all have disparities in the amount of space given to represent the change.  The change from one to two has the smallest space because it has the least amount of total change. Conversely, going from 4 to 8 we see the largest amount of space showing the greatest amount of total change. With arithmetically scaled charts the relationships between quantities will always appear as shown in this example because the architecture of the graphic (i.e., arithmetically scaled line chart) has the specific design for showing absolute amount changes. Arithmetically scaled line charts exist to show how much more (amount) or less (amount) a quantity changes. Teachers who use these charts place all of their analytical ability on knowing only whether an intervention produced a greater or lesser amount of the targeted behavior.

The displays on ratio charts, or charts with semilogarithmic or multiply/divide scales, illustrate the proportionality between the differences between 1 and 2, 2 and 4, and 4 and 8. The amount of space appears equal on the cross section for the charted data with all three data sets because all have a proportional change of x2.0, or a doubling. Semilogarithmically scaled or ratio line charts will always show absolute changes but focus the eye of the chart reader on relative and proportional effects. The objective of the resulting visual pattern between the two types of time series graphics, arithmetically scaled and semilogarithmically scaled line charts, seems at odds. How can a substantially larger amount of change not always convey greater significance when compared to a smaller absolute amount of change?  The example in the differences between a cross-section of an arithmetically (above) and a semilogarithmically scaled or ratio line chart (below) help to answer the question.

It follows that analysis of visual data occurs as a principle result of the dimensions inherent in the graphical display. All the arithmetically and semilogarithmically scaled line charts will have critical features that impose order to the data set such as scales, data labels and an aspect ratio. The resulting data picture significantly affects the chart readers analysis, interpretation, judgement, and subsequent decision making. Decisions based on only what provides more or less (the middle figure) provides very different information from a visual display (above) showing how much things change but also within the context of what they change from (relative change) and how they change proportionally. Contrasting the two visual displays goes to the heart of how we determine significance of changing quantities.

4 to 8 is +4 while 1 to 2 is +1. If we only care about which provides more then we value 4 to 8 change more than 1 to 2 change. But 1 to 2 change = 100%  change and 4 to 8 = 100%  change. On arithmetically  scaled line charts, visually people see the 1 to 2 change the same as as 7 to 8 change (both show +1) but 1 to 2 = 100% percentage change while 7 to 8 = 14% percentage change. In the add world, and with arithmetically  scaled line charts, we value the change of 1 to 2 as much as we value the change of 7 to 8. We should get very excited, however, at the 1 to 2 change, and not so much with 7 to 8 change when we look at the data change in the multiply world and the ratio line charts. And if you don’t think relative change is more valuable or significant than absolute change, answer this question: if you invested your money which return rate would you rather have – a 100% return rate or a 14% return rate?

People always, always answer that question the same way, they say they want a 100% return rate over the 14% return rate. How do we calculate return rates? We must use the first number, where we start from, to the second number. Yes, if you said to me “Rick do you want $1,000 or $10 I will say “I want $1,000.” But if you say to me, “Well you have to give me $10,000 if you want $1,000” I might not have $10,000. But I do have $100 so I can get the $10 deal (both of these figures, the $1000 and $10 come from a 10% calculation). When the fields of education and psychology place so much stock in only absolute amount of changes, epitomized by arithmetically  scaled line charts, we fail to appreciate true significance of changes and only look for what produces the biggest changes ignoring the facts of percentage changes.

The technical features (i.e., showing relative and proportional change) of a ratio or semilogarithmically scaled chart line chart make one wonder why it has never taken hold in scientific disciplines like education and psychology. According to Schmid and Schmid (1979, p.99), “The semilogarithmic chart is unequaled for many purposes, especially in portraying proportional and percentage relationships. In comparison with the arithmetic line chart, it possesses most of the advantages without the disadvantages. This type of chart not only correctly represents relative changes, but also indicates absolute amounts.” In their book Engineering graphics, Giesecke et al. (2001, p.846) reinforce Schmid and Schmid and other authors when they write, “Semilog charts have the same advantages as rectangular coordinate line charts (arithmetic charts)…. When rectangular coordinate line charts give a false impression of the trend of a curve, the semilog charts will be more effective in revealing with the rate of change is increasing, decreasing, or constant.”

Consider the ratio chart. And if you consider the ratio chart, consider one of its most sophisticated forms – the Standard Celeration Chart. You will see significance of data change in a whole new light.



Giesecke, F. E., Mitchell, A., Spencer, H. C., Hill, I. L., Loving, R. O., Dygdon, J. T., & Novak, J. E. (2001). Engineering graphics (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schmid, C. F., & Schmid, S. E. (1979). Handbook of graphic presentation (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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Decay rates and celeration

How often do we discard trash each day? I ate breakfast this morning and had a yogurt (in a plastic container) and then a Del Monte grapefruit cup (cup made of plastic). Later I mailed some items and used my label maker which produced a label and a plastic piece that when to the the trash. After going to the post office I opened my PO box only to find three pieces of junk mail which went into the the trash. I could go on describing the trash I produced and I know you can relate to my story when you think of your own person life and your relation to refuse. What I would like to draw your attention to follows; how long does it take for objects to decompose when we trash them.

As an environmentally conscious person I frequently worry about our relationship with our planet. But I do not directly intend to lecture anyone on their trash producing habits. Instead, I want to focus on decay rates involved with decomposition. Let’s start with the term decomposition. Decomposition refers to how substances break down into simpler forms of matter. For every single substance, decay rates occur as an exponential function. An exponential function simply means a quantity changes (grows or decays) by a fixed percent per unit of time. For example, an exponential increase (growth) in a population of people might come to 3% growth every year. As an example, if the city of Denver (Colorado) had 619,000 people living in it in 2012, a 3% growth would do the following:

Current population in 2012 = 619,000

619,000 x .03 = 18,570 (new people)


619,000 + 18,570 = 637,570 (new population in 2013 with a 3% growth rate).

What about decay rates we see in decomposition? Same process but we use division.

How long does it take for a banana peel to decay? We would need to figure out the decay rate. To do so, we need a unit of time for our calculation. We could choose minutes, hours, or days. Then we need to factor in the process that gives us the percentage for the decay rate. In the case of a banana, bacterial growth act on the organic material causing it to decompose. When the bacterial organisms multiply and work on the organic material, the more organisms created (exponential increase), the more quickly the item (like the banana) will decay. Of course, much factors into decay rates like temperature and humidity (which impact the rate of growth for the bacteria).

Different types of substances decompose at different rates due to the processes that act upon them. Look at the following graphic and observe how long different forms decompose. The items have different decay rates because each substance has a different chemical structure; the decay rate is directly influenced by the active agent involved in the decay. For organic material, bacteria and other lifeforms hasten decay. But for inorganic material like glass and plastic, chemical decomposition occurs. Or perhaps, chemical change would more accurately describe what happens. Nevertheless, glass and plastic change forms but do not decompose like the banana peel. A plastic bag will break down into simpler components, and again, depending on the circumstances and environment factors take an exceptionally long time to change.


I write this blog post on decay rates because I do have deep concerns about trash and what we do as a society to recycle and reuse finite materials, but also I want to draw your attention to a direct corollary with Precision Teaching. We have a change measure called “celeration.” Celeration refers to how much a quantity changes (grows, decays) over a time period. For the daily Standard Celeration Chart, if a quantity grows, which we call acceleration, the value represents how much it has multiplied for a week. Let’s say I started off the week with 20 behaviors in a minute. If I have a celeration of x2.0, then at the end of the week my quantity of 20 behaviors/minute will have grown or accelerated to 40 behaviors/minute (20 x 2 = 40).

The same holds true for decay rates or deceleration. If I started off the week with 100 behaviors/10 minutes, and I have a celeration of ÷2.0, then at the end of the week I will experience a 50% reduction and have 50 behaviors/10 minutes (100 ÷ 2 = 50). Just like I described above with the decay rates for organic materials, many factors would effect celeration when it comes to behavior change. But that can wait for another blog post, for now, how very awesome is it that we have the celeration change measure!!! (You know I am excited because I used three exclamation marks instead of one).

Whatever personal interest you have in behavior change, losing weight, learning how to play the guitar, biting your nails less, or some other personal project you desire a change in, celeration gives you the measure to say exactly how that behavior changes across time. Perhaps you hold a personal or professional stake in the behavior change of someone else. Maybe you have a kid brother than needs to learn to read better, or a neighbor kid that you are coaching to play better soccer. Or you might have a professional stake in helping a child hit his peers less or eat more food. Celeration is not only your best friend when examining and evaluating behavior change, but a critical, indispensable measure for everyone serious about determining the effects of an intervention.

Why is celeration so important? Let’s go back and look at the decay rates for trash. If we control the conditions affecting decay rate such as temperature, humidity, and available oxygen, we end up with predictable, consistent decay rates. This is science at it best, controlling variables and then receiving consistent information regarding nature. How long until a banana peel decomposes? Under specified conditions 5 days. What about an orange peel? Again under specified conditions 3 months and 15 days.

Decay rates tell us how long we can expect to have the trash we put in landfills, fields, lakes, and oceans will remain with us. Likewise, celeration tells how long behavior takes to grow or decay. Concerned with how long it will take your child to learn to tie his shoes? Celeration gives us a standard line (slope) along with a number telling us exactly how much shoe tying is changing. Anything we find important, any human behavior, we can put on a chart and look at its celeration. The growth and decay rates (we call both celeration) are immediately available providing the chart reader critical information showing and quantifying change across time. Like the decomposition rate poster above, one day we can produce similar posters for learning showing what procedures produce for whatever outcomes we find important.


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Importance of pinpointing

Precision Teaching promotes the use of clear, precise descriptors of real behavior, a process called Pinpointing. Behavior, in Precision Teaching, is synonymous with movement, action, and activity, something producing observable changes in the environment.

A passion to speak about, measure, and compare real behavior is universal. In fact, a recent example highlighted in the clip below, “Mark Cuban Calls Out Skip Bayless.” The video shows Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, disagreeing with Skip Bayless, a commentator on ESPN over the irrational and indefinable practice of using general descriptions to explain the result of a recent game. “Miami wanted it more,” explains Bayless, to Cuban’s dismay. Often the sports fans hear similar comments about specific players or particular games as explanation for outcomes. Team X overcame “unbelievable odds” and won the championship, or player Y (usually the poor kicker asked to make a last second field goal) choked under “enormous pressure”. Rarely are real, observable and clear behaviors used to define success or failure.

Mark Cuban exasperates as Skip uses meaningless descriptions to compare and reason why one team (or player) prevails over another. One team “wanted it more” than another, or a player was under “excruciating” pressure. What is the definition of wanting it more? Using such caviler expressions in place of authentic behaviors makes true comparisons or fact-based discussion difficult (and measurement impossible). Mark points out, “…everything is generality,” and as a result no one can question the so-called facts, different interpretations and conclusions are out of the question.

Tragically, explanations just a flimsy as “they wanted it more” (found in sports) are used in education to explain student performance and lack of performance.  Familiar phrases that ring similar in education include:

  • Your child’s learning style just isn’t a match to the rest of the class,
  • Your child is not progressing because s/he is going through puberty,
  • The student is a “hands on” learner and content is presented visually,
  • Your child is just choosing not to do his/her work,
  • Your child’s issue is developmental,
  • The student’s IQ is so low that progress may not be possible.

Blaming unmet goals on mysterious concepts (e.g., learning style) and generalities handcuffs teachers, parents, and counselors. A recent survey of Individualized Educational Plans revealed a top ten list of worst descriptions of behavior.


Top Ten List of Descriptions of Behavior within IEPs











To correct poor learning outcomes Precision Teachers rely on Pinpointing. Pinpointing is a solution for instructors who want to raise the level of their instructional power by helping them avoid imprecise and vague descriptions of behavior. Pinpointing supplies an exacting science the selecting, naming, and describing of important learner behavior. A guided process helps teachers choose important, real behavior that occurs at frequencies that facilitate measurement, describe the behavior using simple and concrete term in a consistent pattern and the identification of behaviors pairs.

After establishing pinpoints and applying an intervention, real behavior change is not only possible, but also hard to miss! Teachers skilled in Pinpointing hold the power to see the effects of their intervention by observing, recording, and interpreting changes in the frequency of the pinpoint. Significant and celebrated changes in behavior are easy to spot with Pinpointing: more words are read correctly during practice, more three-point shots are completed during a game, less hits to peers at recess, and more imitations during play all illustrate real performance changes.

No longer does education need to suffer general and nondescript terms for learning outcomes or useless measurement methods. Pinpointing, the first step of Precision Teaching, elevates education from art to science.


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Moving frequencies

Do you realize that every person you know, love, become angry with, or have ever met does things measured by frequency. In fact, every person that has ever lived and ever will walk the planet Earth will behave, act, and move measured by frequency. Frequency is a fundamental dimension of all behavior. And as universal measure of behavior, it is one of our most precious assets.

Frequency, as used in the natural sciences, means count over time or count/time.  Every behavior we value or despise has a frequency. Take playing the piano for example. A novice trying to improve piano playing has a moderate frequency of incorrect keys tapped and the low frequency of correct keys tapped. Improvement comes with practice. Practice means the frequencies move in desired directions: the frequency of incorrect keys tapped decelerates while the frequency of correct keys tapped accelerates.

What about social behaviors? When we have conversations occasionally another person will interrupt us. Conversation interruptions occur at a frequency. The frequency of 1 to 2 interruptions per five-minute conversation may be acceptable to most people actively involved in an discussion. However, 3 to 5 interruptions per five-minute conversation breaks the “acceptable threshold” and moves into mildly to moderately annoying territory. A person with a frequency of 6 to 10 interruptions per five-minute conversation is considered discourteous; we will avoid or limit our conversations with such a serial interrupter.

In the discipline of education and psychology, frequencies for different behaviors need established. Then when a teacher or psychologist wishes to grow or decay certain behaviors, different interventions are applied to move the behavioral frequencies in the desired directions. Everything we consider good-bad, normal-abnormal, correct-incorrect has a frequency. If we look at our laws and what we consider crime, almost any breach of the law, a frequency of 1 in a lifetime, can be considered bad. Once we have a frequency determined for particular behavior, the trick is to figure out how to move those frequencies upward ( i.e. acceleration), downward (i.e. deceleration), or in some cases, maintain the present level of frequencies.

Frequency offers the most versatile and sensitive of measures. When we place it on a ratio chart, like a Standard Celeration Chart, we have a visual record of a person’s behavior. As we apply different interventions, the subsequent frequencies will move upward, downward, or maintain (the direction is called celeration – steeper the slope the faster the rate of change) and vary between one another (the varying movement is called bounce – the higher bounce the more irregular and less control is exerted on the behavior).

Take a look at the following segment of frequencies taken from a student teacher working with kindergartener building frequency (practicing) with letter sounds. What do you notice about the direction (celeration) of corrects and incorrects? What other critical information is revealed by an intensive focus on frequency?

Corrects grow at a very slow rate, a x1.05. Anything x1.0 stays the same, so x1.05 is insignificant growth. For incorrects, the student continues to make 2 incorrects per minute on each of the four different assessments.Look at how far the student must move her frequencies to hit the aim for corrects. She has a lot of work ahead of her; we know this because the distance from her goal (100 correct per minute) and her present frequency of 6 immediately jump out at us visually. If we used percent correct, we would not have such an eye opening experience.

Frequencies, strung together, tell us that the student needs help with an intervention. Her corrects are not growing fast enough and her incorrects remain stable at 2 per minute. Each frequency give us information on the days performance. But when frequencies (or performances) are examined across time they tell us about learning – celeration is the Precision Teaching word that allows us to quantify learning, no one else has it!

Frequencies do not move on their own, that is why we have the institution of education. A teacher must implement some type of intervention so the performance frequencies will grown or decay depending on the goal of the program. With a science-based approach to education, we have a literature base that demonstrates what works and what type of learner would benefit from a particular invention. Solid instructional programs will work for the vast majority of learners, thus the emphasis on discovering interventions through a systematic, scientific approach. In the end, each learner is an individual. Discovering what interventions best allow each student to reach their potential are truly moving frequencies.


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More on relative change

In the Precision Teaching Book a great deal of information surrounded the difference between absolute amount of change and relative change. The Standard Celeration Chart offers relative change, the common nonstandard arithmetically scaled line chart uses absolute amount of change.To demonstrate the imperative we gain with relative change, please answer the following questions. If Bill Gates found a $10.00 bill, and a single mother of five children living in sub-Sahara Africa also found $10.00, for whom is it a more significant increase to his or her personal wealth? If a 42 pound, six-year-old girl is sick with strep throat and a 220 pound, 35-year-old man also has strep throat, who would significantly benefit by adding a daily, 180 mg dosage of Azithromycin (for five total days)?* Which atrocity was more significant, the 40,000,000 deaths from Mao Zedong’s rule where he starved his people and led a civil war or the 40,000,000 deaths from the 13th century Mongol Conquests? Bill Gates and the single mom both received the same amount of money (i.e., + $10.00), the six-year-old girl and the 35-year-old man both experienced the same milligram dosage, and the Mao Zedong rule and Mongol Conquest were equally catastrophic in terms of death toll (i.e., 40,000,000). Arithmetically scaled line charts portray and communicate the significance of educational change without context of where the change starts from.

Approaching the previous questions and embrace context provided by relative change we judge significance in a different light. If Bill Gates’ net worth comes to $56,000,000,000 and the single mom has a net worth of $100.00, finding a $10 bill would mean almost nothing to Bill Gates whereas the single mom has just come into the windfall of her lifetime. A 42 pound, six-year-old girl receiving a therapeutic dose will have a significant outcomes whereas a 220 pound, 35-year-old man may likely remain sick because the same dosage acts differently within his body due to weight. The Mao Zedong rule and the Mogul Conquests each killed 40 million people. When scaled for population size, however, Mao Zedong maintains a mid-20th-century equivalency of 40 million people who lost their lives while the adjusted Mongol Conquests would have led to 278,000,000 deaths making it the second most deadly atrocity in the 20th century (Pinker, 2011). Context matters.

*Azithromycin dosage guidelines: Children should take 12 milligrams (mg) per each kilogram they weight. For a 42 pound girl the recommended dosage works out to roughly 180 mg a day. Dosage recommendations for adults – 500 mg on day one and 1250 mg for days two through five.


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The king of all time-series visual displays

How do we know if the behavior we measured change across time? We display it visually. We have two broad choices for time-series visual graphics: arithmetically scaled and ratio scaled line charts. Each chart displays the behavior and can tell us if the change stays the same, goes up, and goes down. Beyond that we will find major differences.

Before I get into major differences let us do an analogy. Pretend you have a child who needs medical treatment. You go to a doctor who offers a diagnosis of the problem with two levels of information. Version one diagnostics has very basic information and uses qualitative (i.e., words) descriptors. For example, the doctor says your child’s pulse is very fast. Your child also has a high temperature. Furthermore, your child has abnormally high respirations. That’s all the information you get. Version two diagnostics has descriptive and wonderfully quantitative (i.e., numbers) information. The doctor says your child’s pulse is very fast at 110 beats per minute. Your child also has a high temperature, 101 degrees. Furthermore, your child has abnormally high respirations, 27 breathes per minute. Which version of information do you want the doctor to use to figure out what is going on with your child? Is there any parent on planet Earth that would pick version one diagnostics? Any parent that wants the doctor to use less information rather than more? Is there?

Let us now bring this analogy closer to home. Suppose you have a child who needs educational, behavioral, or psychological treatment. You go to a teacher, behavior analyst, or psychologist who offers a diagnosis of the problem with two levels of information. Version one diagnostics has very basic information and uses qualitative (i.e., words) descriptors. For example, the teacher/behavior analyst/psychologist says your child’s reading behavior is very poor. Your child also makes many mispronunciations. Furthermore, your child recalls very little information after reading a passage. That’s all the information you get. Version two diagnostics has orders of magnitude more descriptive and quantitative (i.e., numbers) information. The teacher/behavior analyst/psychologist says your child reads text at 57 correct words per minute. Your child also mispronounces words at a rate of 8 word per minute. Furthermore, your child can only retell 2 thoughts units per minute after reading a passage for two minutes. Which version of information do you want the teacher/behavior analyst/psychologist to use to figure out what is going on with your child? Guess what version our education system, discipline of behavior analysis and psychology use? If you guessed the more basic, version one form of diagnostic information you are sadly correct.

Why do we find ourselves in this state of affair? I will attempt to answer that complicated question in time. But in the present, I tell anyone who will listen to me we must, must use the version two level of diagnostics. That is, let’s use a visual display that provides numbers and understandable comparisons of the data (i.e., Standard Celeration Chart) versus the most basic, and prone to provide misleading rate-of-change information, visual graphic (i.e., nonstandard arithmetically scaled chart).

The version almost every single teacher, behavior analyst, and psychologist uses: nonstandard arithmetically scaled line chart. For example, I just completed an extensive survey of behavior journals and found out of 2039 graphs 99.997 were of the arithmetically scaled variety. But you don’t have to take my word for it, open up any journal and see for yourself (of course don’t pick the Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration 😉

Below please see a table from The Precision Teaching Book. After reading the table, which visual graphic provides the most information? Which visual graphic will make the most difference for teachers, behavior analysts, and psychologists?

The measurement and visual display landscape of education, behavior analysis, and psychology needs to change because every single person whose data is scrutinized deserves the best, most ethical intervention possible. The visual display filters and tells the chart reader what is happening, and it does so through the lens of the selected visual display (e.g., nonstandard arithmetically scaled chart, Standard Celeration Chart). As a rational, concerned consumer or deliverer of educational, behavioral, or psychological services, let’s work to make the SCC the preferred visual display system for time-series data. Our connection to the data, and the people whose behavior is measured, will dramatically improve. In the end, education, behavior analysis, and psychology are founded on the principle of helping people grow. Shouldn’t we use the most informative visual display possible to analyze, interpret, and communicate data?


Posted in measurement, Precision Teaching, Standard Celeration Chart, Visual display of data | 1 Comment

Classification in the sciences and PT

Classification is a practice to bring order to the vagaries of natural phenomena studied by all scientists. Classification refers to a process where an object, event, idea is grouped and arranged by applying a logical or physical structure to the target phenomena. Well-known classifications occur throughout science. Examples include the famous Linnaean taxonomy, named after the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, which classifies and orders life. Biological life, at its broadest is the kingdom, of which or three. Kingdoms are then further divided into phyla, phyla into classes, classes into orders, orders into families, families into genus, and genus into species. The broadly encompassing and unifying system for classification imposes order that is fundamental for scientists to study and understand life.

Other well known classification systems are the geologic timescale with its classification and order of time and important events in the history of Earth (e.g., Cenozoic era > Paleogene period > Paleocene epoch). Astronomy has its stellar classification of stars ordering stars according to their temperatures. And chemistry classifies elements with the periodic table originally developed by Dmitri Mendeleev. Classification systems move the sciences forward. Precision Teaching is an applied science, like medicine, which also has different classification schemes aimed at bringing order to the main subject matter of education – behavior.

Precision Teaching orders behavior through different methods. First, all behavior we can name does not automatically qualify for analysis. Behavior must form a pinpoint which means it has to include a Movement Cycle (i.e., action verb + object like “turns page,” “taps button” and “squeezes hand”) and pass the “Dead man’s test” or represent authentic, active behavior that a dead man could not perform (e.g., a dead man can sit in a chair, a dead man cannot chew food). Also, we need to add learning channels so we have a “pinpoint+” (said pinpoint plus).

Let’s take the example of the verb “engages.” When we say a student engages in reading, what does that really mean? Using Movement Cycles, a Precision Teaching might say, “reads word,” “reads sentence,” or “reads book.” Both have an active present tense verb and an object that tells you how to count something. “Reads words” means a student reads one word and we record a count of one (assuming the student read it correctly). We could also count incorrects so if the student reads the word incorrectly we have a count of one incorrect.

The Movement Cycle (MC) changes into a pinpoint when we add context. “Reads word” + “from first grade must know list” is a pinpoint because we added context the MC. The context of a specified list,   a first grade must know list, contextualizes the Movement Cycle. Let’s draw a comparison between “engages in reading” and “reads word from first grade must know list.” Do you have any question, any question at all, what the second behavior looks like when compared to the first? “Engages in reading” seems like it communicates information but it does so only with each person making assumptions. In a science where precision reigns supreme, we never ever want to make assumptions when defining the object under observation. Ever!!! (I added three exclamation marks just so you know I am serious 😉

Could you tell the difference between a sighted and visually impaired student with “engages in reading.” Precision Teaching further classifies behavior concerning learning channels. If we say child A used the learning channel set “see-say” and child B “touch-say” can you guess which one is sighted and which one is visually impaired? Of course you can! Can you guess which one is sighted and which one is visually impaired if I used “engages in reading” to describe both? Precision Teaching is an applied science that classifies behavior like no other field in education or psychology. Because Precision Teaching is meant to augment other curricula or learning methods, it can be used in conjunction with whatever the person is measuring.


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