What does Shaping Mean and How to Use it
what does shaping mean and how to use it

What Does Shaping Mean?

Shaping is a great way to meet students where they are at and help them be successful while learning a new skill. If you've never heard of the term shaping, don't worry-I am almost positive that you are already doing it in your classroom and probably didn't even know it!

what does shaping mean?

What is Shaping?

Shaping is the use of reinforcement of successive approximations of a desired behavior. Basically, you are taking baseline data for where a child is currently at on a certain skill and BUILDING upon that skill to help a student learn a new skill.

Think of shaping similarly to training for a marathon. You aren't going to start running a full marathon when you begin training but you will build up your mileage as you train to achieve the final skill of running a full marathon.

What is shaping?

Examples of Shaping in the Classroom

Let's chat about some examples of what shaping looks like in the classroom. You may have a goal of teaching a student to read for 10 minutes during study hall. Maybe currently this student is capable of reading for two minutes during study hall time. You take this and build on it. The most important thing to remember about shaping is that the behavior HAS to be reinforced if we want it to occur again!

So, if I want to work on getting this student to read for 10 minutes, I will start with their baseline data and have them read for 2 minutes on day one. Then when the two minutes are up, I will immediately reward them and praise them for reading for two minutes. (I like to use visuals to show them when the reward is coming). The next day, I would set a timer for three minutes and then immediately reward them when three minutes are complete and so on, adding one minute each day with a reward until we work our way up to 10 minutes.

examples of shaping in the classroom

Examples of Using Shaping at Home

An example of using shaping at home might be getting a child to brush their own hair. You could break it down into these simple steps (offering a reward after each step):

  • Touch the brush
  • Pick up the brush once
  • Brush hair once

This technique would be very similar to using applied behavior analysis or ABA.

examples of shaping at home

Shaping in ABA

In order for shaping to be successful, it is important to clearly define the behavioral objective and the target behavior and give positive reinforcement, much like in ABA. Positive reinforcement is one of the main strategies used in ABA. When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change. In order to understand if I need to use ABA for a student, I take some ABC data first. You can find the data sheets that I use for ABA here.

shaping in ABA

Remember to reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! The behavior MUST be reinforced if you want it to occur again! When students are successful, they will be even more motivated to deliver! How are shaping behaviors going in your classroom this year?

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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