I recently shared a pin on planned ignoring and it has been enthusiastically shared and re-pinned many times. I’ve often used planned ignoring with my students, and found it to be a very effective method of eliminating problem behaviors. While I was never trained or instructed in a methodology for using PI, I understood that the key components were 1) have zero reaction to the behavior you are trying to eliminate 2) ignoring must be done by everyone who is in contact with the individual, and 3) consistency.
When I saw how popular this particular pin was, I decided to take a deeper look into the theory, methodology and pros and cons of this behavior modification strategy. Is there a right and wrong way to implement the strategy? Are there any negative impacts for the student? Is it considered an ethical way of changing behavior? After researching, I think I can answer these questions and more. (Click here to view the pin.)
According to B. F. Skinner, “Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence” (Skinner, 1938) With planned ignoring the desired consequence of the behavior (the consequence that the student is seeking) is removed. After repeated attempts (and almost always an escalation of attempts) without a reward, the behavior ceases to have appeal and is extinguished. It is important to understand that planned ignoring, or operant conditioning should ONLY be used to extinguish harmless attention seeking behaviors.
Attention seeking behaviors for which planned ignoring might be appropriate include: calling out, touching, loud noises, going under the table, laying on the ground, turning away, repeating requests. It would not be appropriate to use planned ignoring for: any type of aggression even if it doesn’t hurt, (I did use it for a student who, every time I walked past, would try to trip me), of running or leaving the classroom (of course), and destruction of property.
“Acting out” behaviors are a form of communication. If the student is non-verbal, then planned ignoring may not be appropriate, especially if the student does not have other tools to express himself. In such cases the student needs to be taught some means of communication whether it’s with PECS, sign language or assistive technology. Once the student develops a rudimentary form of communication, inappropriate attention-seeking behaviors should subside.
Once you have determined that the attention seeking behavior is not a function of an inability to communicate, then you need to figure out why the student is seeking attention (acting out). What is it they want/need? What would be a more appropriate way to communicate the need? Provide the student with a replacement behavior for the one you are hoping to extinguish.
Here are four points to consider before implementing planned ignoring:
1) Is the behavior you want to extinguish an attention seeking behavior?
2) Is it necessary to extinguish the behavior because of the behavior itself (ex. poking to get your attention) or the frequency and/or duration of the behavior (calling your name until you answer)?
3) Is the behavior severe in a way that it cannot be ignored (harmful to self or others, aggressive, safety issue). If yes, then planned ignoring is not an appropriate tool for modifying the behavior.
4) Will you ignore the behavior for the one student or will you ignore it for all the students in the class (calling out without raising hand for example).
Planned ignoring should include the following:
1) A strategy to teach student what behavior you want them to stop, why you want them to stop it, what they can do instead and what they can expect if they do the behavior (you will ignore them). A social story would work very well for this. (Click here to read my blog on writing a social story.)
2) Make sure everyone who works with the student is aware that you will be using planned ignoring for a specific behavior and that they are also to ignore.
3) Be consistent. This is extremely important. If you pay attention to the behavior even once, you are back to square one because the student will believe that if he just tries hard enough or long enough he will get the desired response.
4) Use positive reinforcement whenever replacement behavior is observed. If possible, make the reinforcement for the replacement behavior as desirable as the original reinforcement.
5) You will need a strategy for staying calm and positive while implementing planned ignoring. Behaviors almost always escalate before they are extinguished, as the student pushes to get the desired result they’ve come to expect. This can be very stressful—hang in there! Remember, ignoring intermittently only teaches persistence!
Here’s a great video demonstrating how to implement planned ignoring: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMwPsNM7wx8
I hope this has been helpful. Good luck!