Running Head: STUDENTS WITH EBD’S IN ART 1
Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities in the Art Room
University of Central Florida
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Working with students with emotional/behavioral disabilities is exhausting, stressful,
challenging, different every day, but in the end rewarding. These students often have difficulty
communicating effectively with peers and adults, understanding their emotions, and using self-
control when needed. Art teachers have had these students in their classes, often without even
knowing it, long before regular education teachers had them in their classes with the push for
inclusion. While it is wonderful that art has been a part of these student’s lives, the lack of
training and research available to teachers on how to work with these students is unfortunate. As
an exceptional student educator I have taught students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, and
assisted regular education teachers create individualized behavior plans for these students. Many
of these students struggle with transitions as well as situations where they have too much choice.
This can often make the art room a challenge for them. I will review research on strategies that
work for students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, and recommend how these strategies
can be applied to the art room to allow students with emotional/behavioral disabilities to get all
they can out of their time in the art classroom. These strategies fit into four basic categories:
social skills instruction, cooperative learning groups/peer tutoring, classroom management
techniques, and ways to promote a positive self-image.
Teacher Perceptions and Types of Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities
I want to take this opportunity to stress that not all students who are labeled as having an
emotional/behavioral disability are alike. Some of these students may not display any of the
same characteristics. Therefore, the strategies that are described in this paper can all be useful,
but you need to understand the particular needs of your students in order to know which things to
focus on and how to implement them. Teachers and pre-service teachers often view students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities as being disruptive, moody, having poor self-control, loners,
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weird, and/or self-abusive (Rizza & Morrison, 2003). While all students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities struggle socially, and often academically, the things that are
impeding them are often different. Rizza and Morrison (2003) group these students into four
basic categories: behavioral/defiance, depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Art teachers
are in no way expected to provide treatment for these students, but it is still helpful to be aware
of the types of things that these students may be going through. The techniques described in the
remainder of this paper can be personalized for particular students, or used for the whole class.
The goal is to intentionally plan instruction that will be accessible to students with
Review of Literature in Social Skills Instruction
Students will emotional/behavioral disabilities have difficulty interacting with peers and
adults. This often causes these students to fall behind academically due to frustration and failure
to succeed in group work. Students with emotional/behavioral disabilities also have difficulty
starting and maintaining friendships with peers (Gilles & Smith, 2003). Special education
teachers often create small group situations with students who are experiencing difficulty with
similar issues, such as self control or empathy, and give explicit instruction in how to identify
and practice these skills. Students often role play, and most importantly, practice the skills in
everyday situations (Gilles & Smith, 2003). Social skills instruction helps students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities recognize their areas of difficulty and gives them tools to
interact more positively with people and handle their emotions in more acceptable ways. One
key point that needs to be emphasized is that once social skills instruction is complete, if you
never talk about the topic again nothing will improve. These skills need to be practiced in order
to be effective.
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Application for the Art Room
The art room can be another great place for students to express emotions in a socially
acceptable way. Spending five to ten minutes on a quick social skills lesson with the entire class
can do a lot to help students with emotional/behavioral disabilities participate in class correctly,
and avoid negative behaviors like name calling, outburst of anger, withdrawn behaviors, or
avoidance of work. Instructors should first identify students who is having difficulty with social
skills, and which skills they need practice with. Some common social skills topics are asking
permission, sharing, accepting no, making decisions, following instructions, offering to help
someone, accepting consequences, beginning conversation, and exercising self control (Gilles &
Smith, 2003). It is best to introduce a skill at the beginning of the week, and on a week when
there will be sufficient opportunity to practice it. For example, a teacher may want to introduce
decision making before the first time he/she allows students to demonstrate symmetrical balance
using paint or charcoal. It is important to practice and acknowledge the use of the skill with all
students so the student or students with emotional/behavioral disabilities don’t feel singled out.
Lastly, don’t be surprised if skills need to be revisited throughout the year.
Review of Literature in Cooperative Groups and Peer Tutoring
Peer tutoring and cooperative learning groups are two other ways to help students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities, and both are also great opportunities for students to practice
social skills. Bowman-Perrott, Greenwood, & Tapia (2007) suggest peer tutoring since it allows
for one-on-one assistance, increases time on task, and allows students a comfortable environment
in which to make mistakes. When using peer tutoring, it is important to allow all students
opportunities to be tutored as well as tutor other students. Cooperative groups can be slightly
more challenging for students with emotional/behavioral disabilities since they need to work
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with more students. Still, this can be accomplished, and can be very beneficial, as long as they
are done in a structured way (Groves, 2006). Providing roles or jobs to each student, that are
clearly understood, provides a sense of structure which is often calming for students with
Application for the Art Room
Peer tutoring and cooperative groups are not difficult to incorporate in the art room. I
suggest always having students sit in groups in which each student is assigned a letter or number.
That letter or number would correspond with a different “job” each week. Some examples of
jobs that can be used for cooperative groups are time keeper, material pick-up, clean-up, and
team leader. The team leader could do different tasks depending on what the lesson is that day. It
is a good idea to have students do their jobs even if they are doing individual work that day
because it maintains a sense of routine and stability for students with emotional/behavioral
disabilities. Cooperative groups provide a great opportunity for students to work together to
complete a common goal. For example, after a lesson on the use of texture you could have
students create a three-dimensional piece as a group. This would allow students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities to practice expressing their opinions appropriating, active
listening, and compromise. Peer tutoring should be used when you have determined that a
student needs additional instruction on a particular skill. When pairing students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities with a peer tutor make sure the student who is tutoring him/her
understands how to give advice in a caring manner. When having a student with an
emotional/behavioral disability tutor another student, make sure that student is giving instruction
to someone who needs it, and that the student is very comfortable with the skill being taught. For
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example, if a student with emotional/behavioral disabilities is able to shade well, you may want
to allow him/her time to help another student who is struggling with shading.
Review of Literature in Classroom Management
The two classroom management techniques that have been found to be most effective are
reward systems and self-monitoring systems (De I’Etoile, 2005). The reward systems that are
most effective are ones in which students earn points, tickets, or tokens which can be traded in, at
a predetermined time, for the reward of their choice. These systems are effective because they
allow for continuous reinforcement, and they also allow different students to work for different
rewards. When a student is completing a self monitoring system he/she completes the chart or
checklist at a predetermined time interval. This should be done on an individual basis and placed
where other students can not view their responses. Self monitoring systems are not to be used to
gather data on student behavior, but are to be used to help students become aware of their own
behavior. Often, once a student becomes more aware of when he/she is doing things that are or
are not benefiting him/her that student will naturally change the behavior to become more
positive. Self-monitoring systems should always be phrased in a way that emphasizes positive
behaviors. For example, a goal on a self-monitoring system may be to speak kindly to students
and teachers instead of to stop cursing at others. Self-monitoring systems can be used for various
purposes, and should always be created for the specific child. I have created two examples of
self-monitoring systems which listed in Appendix A and Appendix B. The first self monitoring
system is for students who have difficulty with self control. The second is for students who have
difficulty with anxiety. This example shows that goals should be different based on the needs of
Application for the Art Room
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Both of these systems can easily be integrated into the art room. Reward systems should
generally be done for the whole class, while self monitoring systems should be done for
individual students. The goals that are monitored should be created to address deficits in that
student’s behavior. If a student has a goal to engage in more positive interactions with peers,
his/her self monitoring system could be a checklist that states: I smiled at a student, I
complimented a student, I said excuse me when necessary, and I ignored any unnecessary or
mean comments made by students. An example of a reward system that would work for a whole
class would be a system where the teacher hands out tickets to students when he/she sees good
behavior such as waiting your turn or saying something nice to someone at your table. Students
would put their names on the tickets and hold them until the day that they can cash them in.
Then, on a prearranged day, probably Friday, students could use their tickets to choose things
they wanted such as art supplies, lunch with the teacher, class privileges, or a chance to choose
their media for a particular project. This can be infused with your social skills instruction by
giving each student one ticket at the beginning of the week that they must give to one student
who they see displaying the skill of the week. This tick should have the students name on it in a
different color, or have some marker, so that the student must give it away during the week. This
type of reward system is good for all students since there are a variety of rewards to choose from.
Some rewards should be larger rewards that would require a student to save up for several
weeks. This is a good way for students to practice delaying gratification and self control.
Review of Literature in Promoting Positive Self Image
Students who have emotional/behavioral disabilities often have a negative self image.
Students use various methods to hide this; some students withdraw, some act out, and some stay
within a tiny social circle. Many students with emotional/behavioral disabilities are not able to
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perform well academically, and this can result in a cycle of failure if no one successfully
intervenes. Anything that teachers can do to promote these students self-image is helpful.
(Hunter & Jones, 2006). Teachers should display student work, give instruction in a clear step-
by-step way, provide choices, and give specific and appropriate praise (Hunter & Jones, 2006).
Application for the Art Room
Of course, all students respond to different things, but in general many of these students
have similar needs. Many students with emotional/behavioral disabilities require more praise
than the average student. Often these students will not act out if you provide them the feedback
and praise they need before they act out. For younger students it is generally fine to praise
students publicly, but for students who are older you should often not praise students loudly.
Another great way to increase students’ self-image is to display their works of art. Some students
with emotional/behavioral disabilities do not do well in math and reading, so for them to be
acknowledged for class work can be a big deal (Hunter & Jones, 2006). Earlier in this paper, peer
tutoring was mentioned. While this practice can increase amount of time on academic work, it is
also very good at increasing students’ self-image. Changes in your lesson plans can also increase
self-image. Making sure that you walk students through the steps of your lessons is very
important. Make sure that when new skills are introduced students are given clear instructions,
and have something written they can reference when you are finished explaining. Another
change you can make to lesson plans is watching for times when you are asking students to make
choices. Students with emotional/behavioral disabilities often have difficulty making choices and
coming up with ideas on their own. One way you can alleviate this stress for students is by
providing short lists of suggestions or topics for students.
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This paper gives real-world suggestions for art teachers who have students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities. I believe that if teachers plan careful and try to include all
students, students with all types of disabilities can be successful in art. Preplanning is a very
important time for teachers to get organized, and find out information about their soon to be
students. Appendix C gives suggestions for what teachers should do during preplanning when
they know they will start the year with at least one student with an emotional/behavioral
disability. This list should also be revisited throughout the year, particularly if a teacher receives
additional students with emotional/behavioral disabilities midyear. This will help to ensure the
teacher is informed and students are receiving the best instruction possible.
It is unfortunate that there are not more resources for art teachers who teach students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities. There are three areas of research that I would find particularly
useful for art teachers. The first is how to best organize and manage art supplies/materials when
working with students with emotional/behavioral disabilities. As students get older, teachers try
to allow them more independence with class materials, but for students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities this can sometimes be a problem. My feeling is that more rules
around supply use may be helpful, but it would be nice to see research on that. The second area I
would like to read research on is which type of art projects may benefit students who display
particular symptoms such as depression, defiance, or anxiety. Although art teachers do not treat
these conditions, they could certainly be aware of projects that students have benefited from in
the past. The last area I hope to see research done in is which types of mentoring, partnering, or
cooperative groups work well for students with emotional/behavioral disabilities in the art room.
I know that this will vary a lot from student to student, but it would be interesting to see if there
are any trends in this area. Although the current pool of research leaves a lot to be desired, it is
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possible for art teachers to pick out pieces of information from research about students with
emotional/behavioral disabilities that will be relevant for them. Most of the strategies discussed
in this paper will help all students, especially for teachers in Title 1 schools. When changes are
made through social skills instruction, cooperative learning groups/peer tutoring, classroom
management techniques, and ways to promote a positive self-image for students with
emotional/behavioral will learn more in the art room.
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Bowman-Perrott, L. J., Greenwood, C. R., & Tapia, Y. (2007). The Efficacy of CWPT Used in
Secondary Alternative School Classrooms with Small Teacher/Pupil Ratios and Students
with Emotional and Behavior Disorders, Education and Treatment of Children, 30 (3),
De I’Etoile, S. K. (2005). Teaching Music to Special Learners: Children with Disruptive
Behavior Disorders. Music Educators Journal, 91 (5), 37-43.
Gilles, D. L. & Smith, S. W. (2003). Using Key Instructional Elements to Systematically
Promote Social Skill Generalization for Students with Challenging Behavior. Intervention
in School and Clinic, 37 (1), 30-37.
Groves, J. E. (2006). Art as a Behavior Modification Tool. Multicultural Education, 13 (4), 55-7.
Hunter, A. D., & Johns, B. H. (2006). Students with Emotional and/or Behavior Disorders. In B.
Gerber & D. Guay (Eds.), Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs through
Art (pp.43-60). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.
Rizza, M. & Morrison, W. (2003). Uncovering Stereotypes and Identifying Characteristics of
Gifted Students and Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. Reoper Review, 25
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Self Monitoring System for Students with Trouble with Self Control
Time 9:10 9:20 9:30 9:40 9:50
I kept my
hands to my
I used kind
I stayed in
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Self Monitoring System for Students with Anxiety
Time 9:10 9:20 9:30 9:40 9:50
with others if
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So You Have a Student With an Emotional/Behavioral Disability in You Art
Here’s a quick checklist to be done during pre-planning to help your year get off to the right start.
_____ I have rules and consequences posted.
_____ I have a plan for encouraging positive communication (cooperative groups, peer tutoring,
_____ I have clear routines for use of materials, lining up, etc.
_____ I have identified students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities (EBDs), and reviewed
their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIPs).
_____ I have created self-monitoring systems for any students who may need them.
_____ I have a positive reward system for all students.
_____ I have several social skills lessons planned.
_____ I have lists of possible topics available to all students for lessons in which topic is not
given by the teacher.
_____ My lesson plans are clear, and if multiple steps are required of students verbal, pictorial,
and written instructions are given.