In Appreciation of the Frequency Finder

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. Lately, as in the past day or so, I have been thinking about the Frequency Finder.  That’s a charting tool described in Chapter 6 of the Handbook of the Standard Celeration Chart (Pennypacker, Gutierrez, & Lindsley, 2003; pp. 33-36).  The Frequency Finder seems to me to be one of those little things that makes a difference.

I have yet to illustrate or define a Standard Celeration Chart on this blog, and while there are many charting topics and issues to cover, right now discussion of the Frequency Finder seemed most germane.  So, first I’ll cover what the Frequency Finder is, and how to use it, and then get into the reason why I have brought it up.

As mentioned, the Handbook describes how to make a Frequency Finder.  Let’s cover this first.

To make one, you cut up a paper Standard Celeration Chart.  Depending on how wide you make a Frequency Finder, you can get 6 to 10 of them from a single chart.  To make one, get a daily Standard Celeration Chart.  Next, grab a pair of scissors and position them so that you will be cutting vertically up the chart at or around the first Monday line.  Cut all the way up the page, and as the Handbook suggests, trim away the corner areas if you want (that’s the area above the 1000 per minute line and below the .000695 per minute line). Next, somewhere on the Finder, write “Frequency Finder.”  Last, draw a small right-aimed, horizontal arrow at the 1 per minute line.  At this point, you’re done making the Finder, as we’ll call it for short.

As I said, you can make additional Frequency Finders from that same sheet of chart paper, though for any additional ones you make you will also have to write in the frequency numbers (e.g., 1, 5, 10, 50, etc.)

You may also order and purchase clear mylar Frequency Finders, for example, from Behavior Research Company. (I’ll get a link to BRCo’s site at some point.) In fact, even better, you can order Celeration Finders from BRCo; these also have Frequency Finders on them.

So, how to use the Frequency Finder?

Example:  Suppose a learner made 120 responses in 3 minutes.  Now, it’s easy for us to figure out this example frequency without having to use a Finder.  A little simple math tells us that the frequency was 40 per minute.  Anyway, to use the Finder with this example, position the Finder on top of the daily chart onto which you are charting daily frequencies of behavior.  Line up the arrow on the Finder with the 1 per minute line on the chart.  Next, move the Finder down the chart until the 3 per minute line on the Finder lines up with the 1 per minute line on the chart.  The arrow on the Finder now points to the Record Floor.  This is where you draw the time bar, –, on the chart.

Next, without moving the Finder, go up the Finder until you reach 120.  Alas, you will see that there is no 120 line on either the Finder or on the chart.  There is a 100 per minute line and the next line up is 200 per minute — such is life with a multiply-divide scale!  You will have to estimate where the 120 line would go if there were one. Fortunately, with our example here, we already know that 120 divided by 3 equals 40, and thus the frequency dot on the chart goes at 40 per minute. (By the way, this is one way of back-finding where a line would go.)

I should hasten to add that the example presumes that you, the charter, are putting the frequency and the Record Floor on the proper day line on the chart. So, in addition to moving the Finder up and down the chart, you would also first move it across the chart to the appropriate day line!

OK, this was an easy example.  It doesn’t show much of the power of the Frequency Finder, except that there is no 3 minute line indicated on the right-hand side of the chart.  The example really only shows us how to find and draw a time bar when we don’t have some time period guideline on the right side of the chart. And, in this simple example, we could easily do the math.

Next example, then.  Suppose the learner does 312 responses in 7 minutes. While we could still do the math to calculate the frequency, if one is not highly fluent in performing such arithmetic, it may be faster to use the Frequency Finder. In this example, we first line up the Finder so that the correct day line on the chart is just to the right of the Finder. Then, we also line up the Finder so that the arrow on the Finder is on the 1 per minute line of the chart. Then, as before, we’d move the Finder down the chart until the 7 line on the Finder lined up with the 1 line on the chart.  The arrow then points to where a 7 minute line would go. That’s where you draw the Record Floor.

Next, count up to 312 on the Finder. Again, there’s no 312 line, just a 300 line and next up, a 400 line. So, again, you’ll have to interpolate.  312 is much closer to 300 than to 400, so put the frequency just above 300 per minute on the Finder. You will see that, on the chart, the resulting dot is between 50 and 60 per minute. That’s as precise as you need to be, since at that location on the chart’s 10’s cycle, the dot itself will cover several frequencies.

As the Handbook stresses, you can perform rapid plotting with a Frequency Finder. The Handbook also provides visual examples of how to work the Finder.

So, why bring all this up, especially now?

Well, it’s unclear to me just how much people in Precision Teaching are using Frequency Finders these days.  Ever since the “paradigm shifted,” and PT became focused first on fluency, and second on a particular method of conducting timings, the result seems to be less of a need to use a Frequency Finder.

First of all, if you conduct a 1-minute timing, there is no need to use one at all. Secondly, if you conduct timings shorter than one minute using convenient fractions of a minute, then there is likewise hardly any need to use a Frequency Finder.  The common practice now is to conduct timings of students that are 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds, 10 seconds, and even 6 seconds long in time duration.  To find a frequency from running a timing of one of these durations is simply a matter of extrapolation.  Extrapolation is achieved by multiplying the count by whatever factor you would need to multiply the time by in order to bring the time up to one minute. 

For example, if you conducted a 30-second timing, then you would multiply the count by two, because you would also multiply 30-seconds by two to get a full minute.  Likewise, then, if a Precision Teacher ran a 10-second timing, he or she would multiply the count by six, because 10 seconds times 6 would equal 60 seconds, or one minute.

So, in conduting timings from within a fluency paradigm, where a teacher is perpetually doing one-minute timings or set, specific fractions of a minute and extrapolating by multiplying, there is no need whatsoever to use a Frequency Finder. The kid did four responses in a six-second timing?  Multiply 4 by 10 and presto!  You can assert, and chart, that the kid’s frequency was “40 per minute.”

Even when people conduct “endurance” tests of two minutes, there’s still not a whole lot of need to use a Frequency Finder.  Just divide the obtained count by two.  If the kid did 50 responses in 2 minutes, that interpolates to 25 per minute. Easy to figure out and compute, and no need to drag in the Finder.

You will note that no one conducts an endurance test of 2 minutes 23 seconds, or 2 minutes 45 seconds, etc.  Or one minute 39 seconds.  Again, etc.  It’s always some convenient (to the teacher or researcher) multiple or fraction. Because, in modern Precision Teaching, the teacher, after all, knows best.

So, is the Frequency Finder becoming something of a lost tool in Precision Teaching?  Maybe. I wonder. Because for the most part it just is not needed.

So, why might it ever have been needed?  Because, in the olden days of Precision Teaching, people did not conduct timings only.  At least the timings paradigm was not paramount, even though it had its origins early on.  Moreover, there was little overt concern with “fluency.”  Go look at the old PT literature from the 60s up through most of the 80s.

Back then, people Recorded behavior, rather than simply run timings. The old PT slogan was “Pinpoint, Record, Chart, and Try, Try Again.”  Not “Pinpoint, Time, Chart, and Try, Try, Again.”

When you record behavior you may not know ahead of time how long you will be recording it.  Moreover, you may end up with really inconvenient (from an arithmetic perspective) recording time.  What if you recorded behavior for 43 minutes, 17 seconds?  Not only is there no 43 minute 17 second line on the chart, there’s also no plain old 43 minute line. If the kid did 177 behaviors in those 43 minutes and 17 seconds, calculating the frequency might be beyond the quick proficiency of many people. With the Finder, you can rapid plot the frequency — move it down to where about a little over 43 on the Finder lines up with the 1 line on the chart, and the arrow is pointing to where a Record Floor of around 43 minutes 17 seconds would go.  Counting up 177 on the Finder lets you put the dot near the 4 per minute line on the chart.

People have asserted (and I’ll need to dig up the references) that in the early days of PT that the one-minute timing emerged because teachers could not do long division, and did not want to try to calculate frequencies in their heads or something.  And that this was in the pre-calculator era, not that people would also want to spend a lot of time messing with calculators anyway. That story may or may not be true.

But, with the Frequency Finder, they’d never have had to do any calculating anyway.  None.  No calculating, period.

So, why not teach the teachers of yesteryear to use Frequency Finders? Problem solved! Maybe that was tried and maybe people found that that, too, was just too inconvenient or difficult?  If anyone from that era who is still around can clarify this point, that’d be much appreciated.

So, why not use a finder?

Just move a piece of paper on top of another piece of paper, using what is, in effect, a little slide rule.  Easy to learn, easy to do, fast to do.

Under the fluency and timings paradigm, it’s not clear to me that newcomers to the field are learning a lot of the potential that Precision Teaching has, nor that they are necessarily learning the full range and scope of the Standard Celeration Chart and its vast and enormous analytic power. 

So, one of the things I want to find out is whether the Frequency Finder is still being taught anymore.  Are Chart Parents teaching it to newbie charters?  Are “intro to charting” workshops at ABA and IPTC teaching attendees about the Frequency Finder?  Are the few university courses that teach PT and charting teaching students about the Frequency Finder? Or is the Finder one of a growing set of relics from an earlier era?  That’s something I’d like to find out, either way. — JE



One Response to “In Appreciation of the Frequency Finder”

  1. Regina F. Says:

    “I want to find out …whether Frequency Finder is still being taught anymore.”

    Well, I guess you just did :-), since I have just been practicing the examples. I would say with the advent of the calculator, that charting the data points is simplified, but the really cool aspect, to me at least, is using the finder to determine the celeration, which on a finer comb scale than the scale on the chart itself. I would say that in the intro workshops that I have attended that the Frequency Finder was not mentioned but I don’t know if that’s a representative sample.

    I run timings with my older daughter, but I do more recordings with my younger. As we use the SCC more I will have to use the Frequency Finder and see how much it simplifies the calculations.

    Thanks for the tutorial.

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