Free-Operant Field Experiences: Differentially Reinforcing Successive Approximations to Behavior Analysis through a ShaperSpace

Keywords: Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis, Teacher Education, Field Experience


Over the past few years an increasing number of schools and community organizations have developed transformative learning spaces referred to as ΓÇ£MakerSpacesΓÇ¥ for research and training purposes. MakerSpaces are organizations in which members sharing similar interests in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) gather to work on self-selected projects. Proponents of MakerSpaces highlight the implicit benefits arising from participantsΓÇÖ increased engagement with complex technical content in a voluntary, authentic context. We extend the MakerSpace concept to applications of training special education teachers to address the needs of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has vast empirical support for treating ASD. We believe the MakerSpace model provides a platform for developing a new generation of special education teachers. However, rather than making novel products, the focus is on shaping the behavior-analytic repertoires of special education teachers. In the field of ABA, the term ΓÇ£shapingΓÇ¥ describes the differential reinforcement of successive approximations to a target behavior. Accordingly, we propose the name ShaperSpace to describe a novel clinical training approach to developing special education teachers who employ research-validated interventions for individuals with ASD. The supervision model described in this article is provided, not as a recommendation, but as an exemplar that has developed over four yearsΓÇÖ contingency shaping and continues to be refined. We appeal to the reader to consider the ShaperSpace as a starting point from which skills developed through free-operant field experiences will ultimately be shaped and selected by the naturally occurring contingencies of the environment.

Author Biography

Lee L Mason, The University of Texas at San Antonio

Assistant Professor of Special Education

Department of Interdisciplinary Learning & Teaching