Welcome to the first post in a new series I have dubbed, ABA in the classroom.  My goal is to share some ABA concepts and knowledge with you as well as how you can implement these strategies in your classroom.  I hear so often from teachers that they aren’t allowed to use ABA and that blows my mind!  We use so many ABA concepts every day without even realizing it.  There are many many districts and staff that think discrete trials at the table are the only way to use ABA and that simply isn’t true.  So here is your first post on ABA in the Classroom: Chaining.

ABA in the Classroom: Chaining

So what the heck is this chaining thing and why should I know it?  Chaining procedures are just simply a way of teaching complex behavior skills in a systematic and research based method and we all know how important research based methodology is in the special ed world!

First let’s define what is a behavior chain?  Put simply, it is a series of small behaviors that link together to create a complex behavioral skill.  Think of all the skills and behaviors that are part of tasks such as showering, washing your hands, putting on a jacket, etc as links in a chain and the skill being the completed chain.  For learners that struggle with the small behaviors, asking them to perform these behavior chains without a systematic method of instruction is setting them up for failure.

3 Types of Chaining

There are three types of chaining procedures. The first method is called Forward chaining.  The teacher would begin by teaching their student the first step in the series of behaviors.  After the learner completes that first step, the teacher would follow up with completing the rest of them.  Once the learner masters the first step, they move on to completing the first two steps.  The process repeats until the learner is able to complete all steps independently and therefore has mastered that behavior chain.  

The second method is called backward chaining.  Essentially the same procedures are followed except that the teacher would complete all steps up until the last one in which the learner completes therefore accessing the reinforcer immediately after completing the required skill.  As the student masters the skills, an additional one is added on until they are completing from start to finish.

The third method is called total task presentation.  This is a variation of forward chaining.  Instead of requiring mastery of each step prior to adding on an additional one, the entire task is completed each time with the teacher providing fading prompts throughout until the student has reached mastery of the entire behavior chain.

Creating a Task Analysis

Once you decide which method to use, you need to create a task analysis of the behavior chain.  A task analysis is simply writing out each step or small skill that leads to the overall completion of the task.  Everyone knows the familiar “Washing your Hands” Task Analysis right?  Here is an example of one that I made for my classroom jobs task analysis visual set.               


Once you have your task analysis it’s time to assess the baseline skill level of your student!  There are a variety of ways to do this.  You can have them do each task, and complete the skills they are unable to do (while taking data), or you can have them do the skill from start to the point that they no longer are able to complete the task.  The downside of the latter, is that you won’t know if they already have the skills later on in the task analysis. You’ll also need to determine a mastery criteria so that you’ll know when to move on to the next skill in the task analysis.

Now What?

Now comes instruction!  It’s time to do what you do best…. Teach!  You can use prompts and prompt fading to help build towards independence on each individual skill.  Once you meet mastery criteria, you’ll move on to the next skill until, eventually, your learner will have that huge complex behavior chain mastered!                 

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking that this is a wonderful methodology, but your learners aren’t working on lifeskills.  Here’s the beautiful thing… you can use chaining methods to teach complex academic skills too!  Math instruction is a wonderful place to embed this ABA instructional strategy.  I have been working on creating a task analysis, data sheets, and fluency pages to teach those complex math calculation skills.  If you can create a task analysis for the skill, chances are you can use chain procedures to teach it.

I love seeing examples of chaining and ABA in action.  If you share an example of using ABA in the classroom and chaining on social media tag me or use the #adventuresinbehavior.  I can’t wait to see how you guys utilize this strategy! As always feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.                                                   

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