Ogden Lindsley always gave credit to his mentor B. F. Skinner for two important components of Precision Teaching: rate of responding and the cumulative recorder (Lindsley, 1971, 1991a, 1991b).
The cumulative recorder helped Skinner discover laws of behavior. The cumulative recorder had a number of elements for recording real time time behavior. As shown in the figure below, the cumulative recorder produced a cumulative (increased quantity of successive additions of responses) record (a piece of paper recording responses in time).
As shown from another of Lattal’s (2004) figures, the actual records produced standard visual displays. In the top half of the figure, the numbers 46 and 53 refer to rats. Below, their performance appears in the upward line. Even without knowing the specifics, such regularity produced in two different animals should give us pause.
How did the upward line occur? The cumulative record worked by a rat (pigeon or any other animal) responding in an experimental chamber (aka Skinner Box). If the rat activated a level by depressing it with its paw, that sent a signal to the cumulative recorder which would move the pen one unit in the same direction (once it reached the end it would reset). The marks on the cumulative record show when food (a reinforcer) was delivered. The marks, called pips, along with the pattern revealed by the shape of the line, allowed Skinner and all other behavioral scientists to understand nature – namely behavior. As Lattal said:
“The history of the cumulative recorder is the story of gaining control over the four aforementioned functions: step, pip, reset, and event mark. Thus it is a history of striving to achieve an ever more accurate and precise picture of behavior in real time, the primary subject matter of the discipline. In the broader scheme of things, it is also in microcosm the story of the experimental analysis of behavior and how the reciprocal interaction between the scientist, the subject matter, and its measurement has led to change and progress” (Lattal, 2004, p.330).
The Gift of Standardization
The standardization of visual display conferred by the cumulative records to the young science of behavior analysis inspires wonder and reverence. An entire science came into being when Skinner deliberated over visual patterns of behavior. The magnitude of changes he saw occurred due to the variables systematically implemented. The magnitude of the changes were not influenced by a shifting design of the cumulative record, they stayed the same because there were standard. When other scientists examined the magnitude of changes of their animals, they saw regularity because each scientist did not have to manually create a separate cumulative records, the standardized visual always came from the cumulative recorder. The reliability and quality of the standard visual displays reduced interpretation errors and enhanced productivity – anyone trained to understand cumulative records could immediately understand the visible data patterns.
Ogden Lindsley got it. He saw the power of standardization his mentor Skinner gave the world. Lindsley spent part of his early career using cumulative records with people at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, one of the first people to do so (Potts, Eshleman & Cooper, 1993). The moment-to-moment behavior changes shown in all their standardized splendor led Lindsley to discover conjugate schedules of reinforcement. He made many other important discoveries. But the standard visual display of the cumulative records showing changing frequency measures (i.e., count over time) profoundly influenced Lindsley. The glory of science stood before him: a standard, absolute, universal measure of behavior (frequency) could appear on a standard visual display.
The Standard Celeration Chart
Fast forward to the 1960s and Lindsley moved from the State Hospital to the University of Kansas. Lindsley decided to devote the rest of his professional career to helping students in education. He had a vision for education – bring science to the field and many discoveries would follow. Armed with the knowledge of what a standard visual display offers, Lindsley created the Standard Celeration Chart or SCC. The cumulative record differs in purpose from the SCC, thus the reason why Lindsley needed a new graphic.
The table above compares the features of the two visual display systems. Both have their place in understanding behavior change. The cumulative recorder shows a pattern of behavior changing moment-to-moment. If we want to understand how in a given situation our behavior may change the cumulative record offers an exquisite view. In the figure below we have a person gambling. If we measured the rate of time he activated the machine we could see a cumulative record of behavior. Under similar circumstances if we took another measure we would likely see the same behavior pattern – pretty powerful stuff!
The SCC shows behavior on a different scale, not moment-to-moment but frequency-to-frequency (see chart below). Let’s say we gave a child a sheet of addition problems and measured how many she completed in 1 minute. We have a frequency measure for that day. If the next day we do the same and continue taking a frequency for 7 days in a row, we now have a frequency-to-frequency measure. We call that measure (unit of change) celeration. Not only do we have a standard visual display with a line that gives us a standard visual picture, but we can also quantify the change – pretty powerful stuff!
As you move through the year, ask yourself if a standard visual display would help you do your job better. Whether that job involves working with children, teenagers, adults, or improving yourself. Would celeration improve analysis? The chart would not change – the visual picture emerging has the same flavor of standardization that Skinner and Lindsley marveled at; differential visual patterns resulting from different variables.
Good luck in the new year, and may all your charts accelerate – unless you want to decelerate behavior, then may all your charts decelerate!
Lattal, K. A. (2004). Steps and pips in the history of the cumulative recorder. Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 82, 329-355.
Lindsley, O.R. (1971). From Skinner to precision teaching The child knows best. In J. B. Jordan & L. S. Robbins (Eds.), Let’s try doing something else kind of thing (pp. 1- 11). Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Lindsley, O. R. (1991a). B. F. Skinner (1904-1990): Thank you, grandpa Fred! Journal of Precision Teaching, 8, 5-11.
Lindsley, O. R. (199lb). Precision teaching’s unique legacy from B. F. Skinner. Journal of Behavioral Education, 1, 253-266.
Potts, L., Eshleman, J. W., & Cooper, J. O. (1993). Ogden R. Lindsley and the historical development of precision teaching. The Behavior Analyst, 16, 177-189.