Planning the behavioral program for students with behavioral-emotional disabilities
involves making many choices about how to deal with both group and individual
behaviors. The teacher must choose a program that appropriately meets the needs of the
group and must use a variety of behavioral interventions that meet the needs of
individuals. These strategies can be adapted to meet the needs of individual situations
and classrooms. Steps to planning and developing an individual behavioral plan or group
behavioral programming follow.
1. Identify the Purpose
Effective intervention planning to address problem behavior requires a comprehensive
understanding not only of the student's behavioral repertoire but also underlying unmet
psychological needs expressed through aberrant behavior. In order to effectively modify
problem behavior, one must analyze the function or purpose of the behavior. All human
behaviors have some reason or function for occurring. The most common function of
behavior is to obtain something or to escape or avoid an uncomfortable situation. It is
important to remember that these problem behaviors have been effective for that
individual student to meet his/her needs, and previous response by others to these
behaviors have reinforced or shaped the behaviors. Other documents on this website give
more in depth information about how to conduct a formal Functional Behavior
2. Manage the Behavior
Behavioral management techniques and interventions are a planned response to problem
behavior. They reflect a proactive perspective with clear procedures for handling targeted
behavioral problems. Management plans often require a team approach. Good plans
diffuse volatile behavior by decreasing the potential for the students to personalize or
project responsibility for problem behaviors on others. Students and parents should be
involved in the development of and have knowledge of the plans. This helps create the
perception of the education setting as a safe and predictable environment. These plans
should be individualized to reflect student's differences and presenting problem
3. Teach a Replacement Behavior
Once the function or purpose of a problem behavior is identified and acknowledged, the
role of the special education teacher is to teach a new response to obtain the same results
or to meet the same need. Teaching replacement behaviors can be difficult. Prior
patterns often sustain and reinforce behavior. In order to decrease or eliminate an
undesirable or inappropriate behavior or response pattern, it must be replaced with an
appropriate alternative. Once the positive replacement behavioral alternative is
identified, it should be taught, practiced and positively reinforced. Consistency and
patience on the part of the teacher in shaping this behavior and the utilization of certain
tools and techniques such as cueing strategies and incremental reinforcement strategies
greatly increase the likelihood of successful modifications of behavior.
The term behavioral intervention is generally used as any course of action designed to
shape or modify students' inappropriate behavior or misbehavior into more appropriate
A key component of any successful intervention strategy is the consistency of its
implementation. Implementation consistency is easier to accomplish in self-contained
classrooms. When the student's educational program is more inclusive or
departmentalized, intervention strategies should be developed and agreed upon by all
school personnel with whom the respective student has contact. Continuity and
consistency across all settings in which the student functions is imperative in order to
facilitate behavioral modifications of problematic behavior. Time bound and
situationally specific behavioral interventions can sometimes be effective at modifying
inappropriate behavior in the time period and context in which they are applied.
However, such strategies have limited scope and generalization potential.
Another key component of a successful behavioral intervention is that there is a match
between the student's developmental level, cognitive and functional abilities and the
accomplishment of the desired behavioral change. A comprehensive assessment and
understanding of the student's strengths and limitations is necessary for the acquisition of
Types of Interventions
Behavior strategies range in a continuum from preventative, proactive, nonintrusive
strategies to gradually more reactive and more intrusive or restrictive strategies. It is best
to start interventions at the less intrusive end of the continuum and gradually move
towards more intrusive strategies when developing a student's behavior plan. Beginning
with the preventative and positive strategies allows for additional options if the student's
behavior persists or escalates.
Preventive interventions are environmental modifications and other proactive efforts
through which a teacher creates a structured and predictable learning environment in
order to minimize student misbehavior. Preventive interventions are often general in
nature and often create an orderly environment conductive to learning for all students.
Some preventive interventions are designed to respond to the behavior issues specific to
one individual student.
Reactive interventions are planned courses of action designed to modify specific
situational difficulty or problematic behavior of a particular individual student. No
matter how much effort is invested in problem avoidance through proactive planning,
some students with behavioral and emotional difficulties still exhibit oppositional,
challenging and disruptive behavior which greatly impacts the instructional environment.
Reactive interventions are designed to address these targeted problematic behaviors.
Preventative and Proactive Strategies
Proactive strategies help to prevent behavior problems from occurring. In combination
with a well-planned educational environment, proactive strategies help deter situations in
which students feel anxious and unprepared. Proactive strategies increase students'
feelings of success and security by preparing them for difficult situations and providing
hurdle help when the student needs it. School and classroom use of positive behavior
support strategies and practices can be a very effective way to create the positive,
proactive, preventive environment. Additional information about Positive Behavior
Support (PBS) can be found at www.ncpublicschools.org/positivebehavior.
Providing the appropriate amount of supervision lets students know that staff are aware
of their behaviors. Making the time and effort to be aware of their behaviors and what is
going on with each student is one way to let them know of concern for them and provides
a feeling of security. It is also important to control the conditions of unsupervised time
(running errands, lunch or break times, etc...) based on the individual needs and abilities
of the student.
It is helpful to provide good supervision without creating a feeling of mistrust. Some
ways to increase knowledge of student activities and to be in close contact while
continuing a positive relationship include:
Beginning a conversation with students about a positive topic
during free time, particularly if they seem anxious or that they may
be planning inappropriate activities;
Asking students to help with a task;
Setting up the classroom so that every student can be observed at
all times without being obvious; or
Find a task to do in close proximity to a student who may need
Sometimes it is appropriate to let a student know that his/her behaviors have created a
feeling of distrust and that s/he is being supervised closely because of the behaviors. This
should be done openly after discussing the issue with the student, so s/he will know the
natural consequences for their behavior and so they will continue to trust the staff.
During recess the teacher notices Johnny and Mike, two students who have a history of
intimidating others, talking near the monkey bars. By their body language she suspects
they may be talking about planning revenge on David who reported their behavior earlier
in the day. The teacher walks over to them and cheerfully starts a conversation and/or
challenges them to an activity on the monkey bars. During the interaction she may try to
move the topic towards peer relations or the earlier incident and get the students to
discuss their feelings about David. Then she may be able to suggest positive alternative
behaviors and avert further problems. The students will know she is aware of their
feelings and may be less likely to attempt the revenge activity.
Limiting Space and Tools
When the teacher perceives that something has excessive seductive value for a child, it is
better to limit it rather than let him/her walk into a situation you know s/he cannot handle.
Johnny loved to work puzzles. The teacher realized that puzzles were very distracting for
him during academic work times, so she made sure the puzzles were inaccessible to
Johnny. She placed them in a locked cabinet out of sight, until it was an appropriate time
to play with the puzzles.
This strategy is very effective for some student behavior. When a student begins
demonstrating undesirable behavior, the teacher uses proximity control by physically
positioning himself in close proximity of the student. Moving to stand close to a student
tells him/her that the teacher is interested in him and what s/he is doing. This act alone or
accompanied with a light touch on the shoulder may be sufficient to redirect the student
to task oriented behavior. Be careful about using physical presence negatively. If a
student perceives the closeness as stifling and overwhelming, s/he may act out to get
The teacher is providing introductory academic information. Johnny appears restless and
is attempting to engage other students in conversation. Rather than redirecting Johnny
verbally, the teacher simply continues instruction while walking towards Johnny. He
visually monitors Johnny as he is approaching him, going over and standing next to him,
and placing his hand lightly on his shoulder. This support and teacher presence is all that
is needed to motivate Johnny to focus his attention to the instruction.
The teacher should use antiseptic bouncing when he or she recognizes antecedent
behaviors that generally lead to the student escalating to more serious problem behavior.
When the teacher or supervising adult recognizes such behavior, s/he diverts the student's
attention away from the source of conflict or tension with a simple request to walk away
with an adult or run an errand for the teacher.
Johnny appears agitated toward a classmate over a minor incident that had transpired the
previous day. The student approaches Johnny in the hallway between classes in an effort
to reconcile the situation. Johnny appears to be increasingly hostile toward the student as
evidenced by his elevated voice level and condescending tone. The teacher is aware of
Johnny's propensity to escalate such situations into physical altercations, if adults do not
intervene. The teacher approaches Johnny and requests his assistance in preparation for
the upcoming class activity.
Permission and Authoritative Verbot
Sometimes permitting a behavior will result in cessation of the behavior. It has lost its
"value" to the student when the teacher "allows" it to continue. An authoritative verbot is
a polite way of saying "NO", with no questions asked.
Johnny started ripping tiny pieces off of his math paper in an attempt to get a response
from the teacher. She ignored the behavior and in a routine manner came over to check
his progress in math without mentioning the behavior; or the teacher could say, "You
must be feeling frustrated. If it helps to tear up paper, there are some old math sheets in
the recycling box you could tear also."
Johnny asked if he could leave for lunch early so that he could be in front of the line.
The teacher responded, "Students are not allowed to leave for lunch before the bell
In order to increase the likelihood of student compliance with teacher requests, it is
important that such requests are precise and specifically indicate the behavior the teacher
expects for compliance. Certain steps should be followed to convey a precision request
to students. These steps include:
Politely tell the student what behavior you expect. Do not use a
question format as it suggests a choice which is not offered.
Maintain direct eye contact with the student to ensure the student
knows to whom the request is directed.
Be aware of paraverbals. Make sure your voice tone does not
communicate impatience or condescension.
Do not threaten the student with consequence for noncompliance.
Give precision requests in a soft yet firm voice. Do not raise your
voice level or nag the student. Try to remain non-emotional.
If the student fails to comply within five seconds following the
second request, follow through with a predictable consequence.
Do not harp, nag or plead with students to gain compliance.
Precision requests should be made only in close proximity to the
student for whom they are directed.
The teacher has asked the group to put up their activities to get ready for the next lesson.
Johnny continues to work on his puzzle. The teacher says "Johnny" (waits for eye
contact) "please put your puzzle on the shelf and get ready for science," in a firm but
calm voice tone.
This strategy is sometimes effective with students who tend to become increasingly
oppositional when overtly confronted or reprimanded about their undesirable or
inappropriate behavior. It is also sometimes effective for student behavior which tends to
escalate gradually from appropriate to increasingly inappropriate. In this situation the
student frequently displays antecedent behaviors which indicate that the student is likely
to engage in increased severity of undesirable behavior.
When the teacher recognizes the signs leading to the display of an antecedent behavior,
signal interference is provided by a discrete nonverbal prompt. The form of this prompt
should be mutually agreed upon by the student and teacher. This avoids the
embarrassment that public acknowledgment may present. It may be something as simple
as direct eye contact with the student by the teacher or some other arranged signal
identified to prompt the student to self-monitor and continue in the designated classroom
By observing behavioral data, the teacher has identified a clear pattern in the escalation
of Johnny’s inappropriate behavior. She has observed that Johnny's major behavioral
disruptions generally are preceded by displays of boredom and disinterest in the assigned
lesson. He initially stops working on his assignment and begins to direct his attention to
extraneous stimulus in the classroom. When verbally confronted by the teacher, he
becomes increasingly noncompliant and oppositional usually culminating in his removal
from the classroom.
To avoid the escalating spiral of conflict, the teacher and Johnny agree that when Johnny
displays the target antecedent behaviors (stops working, off-task behavior), she will make
eye contact with Johnny and say the word "choices". This prompt will remind him of his
three choices which they have mutually arranged to use in these situations: raise his hand
for individual assistance, take a three-minute time-out at his desk by sitting quietly, or
returning independently to his assigned task. The teacher provides social reinforcement
by acknowledging when Johnny appropriately exercises one of the options and prevents a
Verbal Interactions between Lead and Support
Effective verbal exchanges between adults in the classroom provide good models for
students. It is an effective way of communicating with students and giving them verbal
cues indirectly. The adults may model good conversation skills, politeness, appropriate
voice tone and body language in making requests, and other positive language skills. The
teachers may discuss the expectations for behavior so that all the students hear instead of
directly addressing the group or an individual. This method may prompt students to
exhibit appropriate behavior without causing embarrassment or creating a confrontation.
The group is preparing to go outside for recess and will be walking through the hallway
by classrooms where instruction is taking place. Several of the students are talking too
loudly as they are preparing to go. The teacher says to the assistant, "We will be passing
by classrooms where students are working, so we must make sure we are quiet walking
down the hallway." The assistant replies, " I am sure our students will stop talking as we
line up to leave the classroom because they will not want to disturb the other classes."
Body Contact and Touch
Body language should convey positive messages and involvement to students. The type
and amount of body contact changes depending on the age and personal needs of the
student. Occasionally, you will have students who do not trust their environment or the
teacher enough to tolerate physical contact. For these students, physical contact will
often trigger impulsiveness and acting out instead of calming and rewarding the student.
For these students, physical contact should be avoided and replaced by verbal
reinforcement in a low key manner without much personal focus.
As the teacher walks around the room checking how students are doing on their writing
assignment, he pats Mike on the back for working consistently and touches Sally on the
shoulder while he gives feedback on a sentence. However, he stands to the side of
Johnny without touching him while he reads his paragraph because he has noticed he has
a larger area of personal space than the others and stiffens or becomes agitated when he
touches him or comes too close.
Positive Notes or Calls Home
When a student has had an exceptionally positive day at school, teachers can periodically
emphasize the positive responses with positive notes or calls home. Contacting parents
to provide positive feedback develops the teacher-parent relationship, as well as
reinforces the appropriate behaviors of the student.
Johnny completed all his assignments on time for the first time in three weeks. He had
no arguments with his peers and generally followed directions well. The teacher gives
verbal praise and writes a note to his mother telling her how proud she is that Johnny has
made progress in his goal of completing his work on time.
Behavior momentum is a procedure used to increase compliance to a direction. The
procedure includes identifying a minimum of three requests with which the student has a
high probability of compliance. Three high probability requests are made immediately
before making a low probability request. Reinforcing the compliant behaviors after each
request develops the feeling of competence and creates a series of positive interactions.
This increases the probability of the student complying with the low probability request.
Johnny did not like to wash his hands before lunch and would frequently not do so. The
teacher in preparing the class for lunch gives Johnny three directions he usually followed
directly before asking him to wash his hands. "Johnny, would you take up the Math
papers for me? Thank you. Will you help Mike put up the games? Good job! Will you
water the plant before we go to lunch? That was a big help, that plant really needed the
water! Now, wash your hands so we can be ready to go to lunch."
Direct Instruction of Replacement Behaviors
Students may have many behaviors that have been effective for them in past situations
that are not appropriate in classroom and social situations. They may not know the
appropriate behavior that is expected of them. Direct instruction of the appropriate
behaviors may be necessary. This is active teaching or explicit instruction which
includes explaining to the students exactly what they are expected to learn, demonstrating
the steps needed to accomplish a task, and providing opportunities for practice and
feedback. They also will need prompts and hurdle help to use these new behaviors in real
life situations. See information on this web site on Teaching Social Skills for more
When Johnny first came to the classroom, he often would put his head down on his desk
and refuse to work when he needed help with an assignment. After direct instruction,
role playing situations, and prompts from the teacher, Johnny started raising his hand or
asking for help more frequently than he put his head down on his desk when he had
difficulty with an assignment.
Positive Intervention Procedures
There are many ways to involve peers in intervening with behaviors. They include the
use of same and/or cross-age peers for academic tutoring, structured social engagement,
and/or as peer "buddies".
Home Notes and Parent Involvement
The purpose of home notes is to provide clear, precise communication between school
and home. This communication must occur on a regular basis, such as daily or weekly.
The majority of the feedback to parents should be positive. Home notes can be written
on a form used to check off how the student did on his/her personal goals, if s/he finished
assignments and any other information the teacher and parents wish to share. There
should be a system to insure that the parents actually see the note such as returning the
note signed, or if the parents do not receive a note they will plan to call the teacher.
Parent involvement in determining a behavior plan for a student is helpful and can be
critical to the success of the student. Parents must be notified of the student's difficulties
and attempts made to involve them in problem resolution. Parents may be involved via
on-going phone calls and/or school visits.
Self-management includes strategies which involve management and control of a
student’s own behavior. Some examples of this may include self monitoring of
behaviors, self reinforcement of appropriate behaviors and self evaluation of behaviors.
Here are steps to assisting a student in self-monitoring his/her own inappropriate
behaviors. Considerations include:
1. You should identify the specific target behaviors which most significantly impact
the student's learning.
2. Rate these behaviors from 0-5 daily for a designated time without letting the
student know (establish baseline).
1. Explain your rating results to the student and establish behavioral goals.
4. The student and the teacher should both rate the student’s behavior on a daily
5. Compare the two separate ratings daily. If the student comes within one point of
the teacher's rating, then he/she earns that respective number of points. If he/she
exactly matched the teacher's rating, s/he earns a bonus point in addition to the
respective number of points. If the student fails to come within one point of the
teacher's rating, then no points are earned. Provide contingent reinforcement for
6. If the student consistently matches the teacher's rating, the teacher should begin
fading his/her rating to three times per week. These days should be randomly
selected. The student should continue to rate on a daily basis.
7. As the student continues to consistently match the teacher and make progress on
the behavioral goal, the rating frequency of the teacher fades to two times per
week, to one time per week, to every other week, etc.
Johnny frequently interrupts the teacher during group instructional time. In order to help
him become aware of his behaviors, he has a card taped to his desk on which he makes a
mark in the appropriate time block every time he interrupts the teacher. After gathering a
baseline number, the teacher helps him set a goal for himself that will gradually reduce
the number of times he interrupts. At the end of the day he counts to see if he has made
his goal. Whenever he makes his goal for the day he is able to choose a reinforcement
that does not interfere with his class schedule or disrupt the class. In the beginning the
teacher or assistant counts the number of times Johnny interrupts and compares totals.
When Johnny's total is within an acceptable amount compared to the teacher's, he gets
extra free time. The teacher gradually decreases the number of times s/he counts until
Johnny can accurately rate himself on his goal.
Contingent observation takes place when a student who is doing something
inappropriate is told to step away from the activity for a few minutes, sit in a chair
nearby, and watch the appropriate behavior of other students. The teacher deliberately
attends to the other students who are behaving appropriately. The student observes the
type of behavior the teacher wants and sees the teacher reinforce those students who are
acting appropriately. The student rejoins the activity after a few minutes of observation,
and when the student performs the desired behavior, s/he is reinforced.
While several students were playing a game, Johnny kept trying to take the dice before it
was his turn. The teacher said, "Johnny, you should wait until it is your turn to pick up
the dice. Sit back and watch the other students take turns." The teacher praises the
students who are taking turns appropriately. Johnny rejoins the group after a few minutes
of observation and is praised when he waits until it is his turn before taking the dice.
Teaching a student the steps for problem-solving empowers him/her to be responsible
for finding solutions to use in conflict situations. The steps usually involved in
problem-solving are below.
STEPS CHILD SAYS....
Define the problem “What's the problem? What do I have to figure
Explore alternatives "What choices do I have to solve this
Think about consequences "Now I'll look at the ways each choice affects
me or someone else."
Choose a solution “Which choice is best?"
Reinforce OR "I made a good choice. That's great."
Cope and try again "That choice wasn't the best. I need to try
again and make a better choice. I can do it."
Johnny is having difficulty getting along with Mike whose desk is right next to his. He
says Mike is constantly making little noises that bother him and Johnny has responded by
threatening Mike. The teacher sits down with Johnny and Mike and prompts them to
work through the problem-solving steps together. The teacher provides hurdle help when
they have difficulty exploring alternatives, but lets them choose the solution.
This is a simple technique which communicates to the recipient the impact of his or her
behavior on the person sending the message. It identifies the specific behavior, how the
sender feels, and ends up telling the person what they want or expect. The teacher can
use an "I message" to communicate both the impact of the student's behavior and the
expected behavior. Students can learn to use "I messages" to appropriately deal with
The teacher is beginning a new instructional unit on reptiles. She is introducing the unit
to the class with a short lecture on the characteristics of reptiles. As she begins her
lecture, Johnny disrupts the class by initiating conversation with one of his classmates.
The teacher walks within close proximity to Johnny, makes direct eye contact and says,
"Johnny when you disrupt the class by talking to another student during a lecture, I feel
extremely frustrated because I think this lesson is very important. I expect you to refrain
from talking for the next ten minutes so the whole class can concentrate on the material I
Anger Control Training
Training programs may be designed to teach students to control or inhibit anger and
aggressive behavior through self instruction. These programs provide information about
how anger is created, influenced and maintained. It is the individual’s perception and
interpretation of events or external provocations that create anger arousal. Anger control
procedures are purposeful modifications of self-talk as the person is thinking of the
aversive psychosocial event.
The primary goal of these training programs is to help the student regulate anger arousal.
They utilize self instruction and reflection which enables the individual to acquire
increased levels of intrinsic control. Feindler and her colleagues developed anger control
trainings which include five sequences to be taught to students.
1. Cues: the physical signals which are present which indicate anger arousal.
2. Triggers: the events and the cognitive mediation or internal appraisals of
these events that serve as provocations.
3. Reminders: self instructional statements that are used to reduce anger arousal
4. Reducers: anger reduction strategies such as deep breathing, pleasant
imagery, or imaging the long-term consequences of one's own behavior.
5. Self-evaluation: opportunity to self-reinforce or self-correct.
Goldstein and Glick (1987) have developed a ten week training program designed to
teach students to understand what makes them angry and to master anger reduction
techniques. The program utilizes modeling, role playing, and performance feedback. It
also uses a "hassle log" which is a structured questionnaire that students complete to
answer questions regarding actual provocative encounters they experience.
Johnny became angry frequently over small incidents involving his peers (they walked
too close to his desk, accidentally bumped into him, were called on by the teacher when
he had his hand up also, didn't include him when playing a game, etc...). The teacher
included him in small group instruction on the topic of anger control which included role
play and relaxation techniques. Johnny and the teacher then developed cues to help him
recognize his feelings and behaviors related to anger in the classroom. Johnny gradually
begin to be able to identify his feelings, express them more appropriately, as well as use
relaxation techniques to reduce his feelings of anger.
Many students with behavioral-emotional disabilities experience a sense of social
isolation. This isolation may result from tendencies of extreme social withdrawal,
generalized social anxiety, fear of rejection, low self-esteem or reluctance of peers to
initiate interaction due to their hostile and aggressive traits. Building trusting
relationships is sometimes very difficult due to these tendencies. The purpose in
developing the group process is to expose the students to a wide range of successful
interpersonal experiences through the establishment of common goals and collective
The problem-solving process, when used as an integral part of the group's daily activities,
can build a sense of collective responsibility. When conflict or problem situations occur
which disrupt classroom routines, a group problem solving session is initiated. All group
members help clarify the problem and generate the best alternative and mutually
acceptable solution. As participating members of a peer group, students begin to be
aware of the impact of their behavior on others. As the group is empowered to make
meaningful decisions regarding conflicts and frustrations, increased insight and
The teacher's role becomes one of facilitator and participating member of the group. S/he
assists the group in acquiring the skills used in an organized social problem solving
approach such as problem identification, generation of solutions, anticipation of
consequences, solution selection, means-end thinking, implementation and evaluation. It
is important for the teacher to not superimpose his/her solutions to the group's problems.
The teacher should model democratic leadership by allowing the group members to make
meaningful decisions and realize the consequence of their actions.
The social problem-solving approach has proven to be an effective mechanism to address
the resolution of students' interpersonal problems and conflicts. For further information
one may consider reviewing the following problem-solving programs: Spivack and
Shure's Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving, Bash and Camp's Think Aloud
Program, and Weisber and Gesten's Social Problem Solving Curriculum.
Students in the classroom were constantly missing pencils and often more than one
person would claim ownership of the same pencil. It was leading to frequent petty
arguments which disrupted the class. The group had a problem-solving meeting (assisted
by the teacher), followed the problem-solving steps and decided to have everyone carve
their initials in the top part of their pencil. A box would be kept in the writing center for
extra pencils and pencils found without a name. It was agreed that if someone did not put
their name on their pencil and there was a dispute over whose pencil it was, that it would
go into the box and be labeled with a B. Students who needed to borrow a pencil could
borrow one from the box, but it had to be returned at the end of each day. The teacher
assisted in guiding appropriate discussion and reasonable consequences, but allowed the
class to determine the final outcome. Since the whole group had agreed to the procedure,
there was less disruption concerning pencil ownership.
Group Reinforcement Response Contingency
One form of the group process is group reinforcement response contingency. The
entire group gets a reward when the group meets an arranged contingency. This is not a
punishment technique, but rather a method of applying reinforcers to groups. With the
teacher's assistance the group will set a goal and determine the criteria for success and the
following reward. Criteria can be evaluated on the total group's performance, the average
of individuals' performance or the average of performance over a specific time period.
This encourages peers to help one another in meeting the goal, as well as apply peer
pressure to individual students. The teacher must ensure that the pressure applied is
appropriate and helpful to the individual.
Occasionally one student may attempt to sabotage the group goal to gain negative
attention. It is helpful to use the group process to discuss this problem with the group and
work toward including the individual student in the process positively. The group may
come up with a solution that would not allow that student's score to sabotage the group's
score (such as excluding his score from the average). This should only be temporary and
used as a means of decreasing inappropriate attention seeking, until the student is, with
the teacher and group's help, better able to function with the group.
The group as a whole needed to keep the classroom neat and put up materials at the end
of activities. They decided to assign everyone an area to check. Each student would
daily check a specific area for neatness and either clean it up or request the individual
who last used the area to clean it. Once the area was neat s/he could get the teacher to
initial a chart. After 2 weeks if 80% of the areas were checked daily, the group would get
30 minutes free time. After 4 more weeks if 90% of the areas were checked daily, the
class would get an ice cream party.
Life Space Interview
Life Space Interviewing was proposed by Fritz Redl (1966) as a way of handling life
conflicts of the child in a timely, therapeutic manner. The purpose of the life space
interview is either to provide the child with ego-support (to help him feel better), or to
exploit the student's behavior for some educational or clinical insight. Life Space
Interviewing is a method of talking effectively with students, whether for control and
disciplinary purposes or for understanding more completely how the child feels.
Every Life Space Interview develops out of a problem incident. An adult might choose
to Life Space Interview a student for various reasons such as:
the behavior is directly related to the child's individual behavioral
the behavior exhibited is quite unusual for that particular child and
the child appears to be in a great deal of emotional pain, or
the behavior exhibited is recognized as ongoing, deviant behavior
which the child cannot manage on his own.
Another important consideration in deciding to do a Life Space Interview with a
student is time. It takes time to hear a child sufficiently so that s/he feels better,
has the problem clarified, and has a plan of action. Experience has shown that
taking the time to Life Space Interview saves time in the long run. The Life
Space Interview can help to strengthen the relationship between an adult and child
and with this additional rapport, future problem behavior can be dealt with more
rapidly. It is helpful to divide the Life Space Interview into five operational steps:
1. Hear the Feeling: The main focus of adult concern at this stage should be in
helping the child to identify and label his/her feelings. The adult must keep in
mind that the child has a right to his feelings. The purpose of the Life Space
Interview is to determine a more appropriate way to express these feelings,
not to deny the importance of these feelings. Thus, the unconditional
acceptance of feelings is important. Carl Roger's Reflective Listening or
Thomas Gordon's Active Listening are useful techniques to keep in mind
during the step.
2. Define the Problem: At this stage in the Life Space Interview, the adult
encourages the child, in a non-threatening and nonjudgmental way, to describe
the incident as he remembers it. The adult must guard against assuming that
the problem the child is experiencing is the same as the problem the adult
might have experienced. In describing the problem, the child often
experiences renewed feelings. Thus, the adult must allow the feelings and
problem steps to flow back and forth.
The interview is ready to progress to the next step when a clear statement of the problem
(as experienced by the child) can be agreed upon by both the child and adult.
3. Brainstorm Alternatives: After the problem has been clearly defined, the next
step is to brainstorm alternatives. The adult must be willing to accept all
alternatives. At this stage there should be no attempt to test the reality of any
alternative presented by the child. The alternatives should fit the problem
statement and the purpose of the Life Space Interview (either to help the child
handle the present situation, or to learn something for the future).
4. Contract for Change: This is the point in the Life Space Interview where the
adult can help the child look at the reality and consequences of the
alternatives. The goal of this step is for the adult and child to agree upon one
of the alternatives and build a clear, realistic, and honest contract. The
contract must require reasonable effort on the part of the child, remembering
that a definite change is called for and change is difficult. As the contract
develops, the adult might wish to offer assistance. This assistance can take
many forms. Two types of assistance which have been found useful are
helping the child to "practice" what he is proposing by simulating the situation
and offering to give the child a "cue" should the adult see the problem
5. Follow-through on the Contract: The final step of the Life Space Interview is
carry-through on the contract. Again, it is important to remember that change
is difficult and the child deserves recognition for his/her efforts. Praise is
crucial. Should the contract fail, the adult should think through the following
possible reasons with the child and decide upon a course of action.
a. The child might simply have forgotten and a reminder might be enough.
b. The child and adult might have chosen the wrong alternative and a
reworking of the plan is called for.
c. The real problem might not have been uncovered and a reworking of the
total Life Space Interview might be needed.
d. The child might have been "conning" the adult.
The Life Space Interview is a learning process. In working through the steps the child is
learning to identify feelings, clarify concerns, make choices and accept responsibility for
the choices. Throughout the interview it is important to let the child have the
responsibility, even if this means settling for an imperfect statement of the problem or
accepting an imperfect contract.
The teacher realizes that Sue is having a particularly bad day, which began with an
argument with her mother before she left home this morning. Sue has a long-standing
habit of rationalizing or making elaborate excuses for her obnoxious behavior. When she
begins to taunt a classmate, the classmate blows up and a near-scuffle ensues. Arriving at
the scene, the teacher may choose simply to break up the argument and talk to Sue about
her difficult day (emotional first aid) or may decide to use the event to illustrate to Sue
her habit of taking out her frustration on others and then excusing it (clinical
Human conflict is a natural and inevitable phenomenon in the lives of students with
behavioral-emotional disabilities. Avoidance and denial are two predictable human
responses to conflict. Although such responses are sometimes necessary and appropriate
in certain situations, they do very little in facilitating the resolution of the underlying
conflict. In order to teach students constructive strategies in resolving human conflict,
they must be provided an opportunity and format to address conflicting situations in
Open and honest communication is the key to effectively resolving conflict. Students
with behavioral difficulties frequently have problems communicating with others due to
failure to acquire effective listening skills or awareness of the subtle interpretations or
pragmatics of language. In order to effectively resolve interpersonal conflict and become
more socially competent, students need to learn how to express their opinion with clear
and nonthreatening statements as well as how to use active listening skills. Structured
conflict resolution activities can be powerful and effective teaching tools to address
The open expression of feelings and emotions is another necessary skill in the
problem-solving or conflict resolution process. Often students are taught either explicitly
or implicitly to deny or disguise their emotions. This is particularly true for those
students who have been subjected to emotional trauma or other psychological stressors.
Sometimes when students suppress anger, disappointment or frustration, their feelings
accumulate and later come out in a verbal outburst or physical violence when there is a
Verbal acknowledgement and expression of emotions is the initial step in the process of
non-violent problem-solving or conflict resolution. Feelings and emotions should be
validated and expressed in a non-threatening and supportive environment. Structured
conflict resolution can provide the format and design to facilitate an emotionally
Johnny complained that Mike was frequently asking to borrow pencils, paper, erasers,
etc. and often would not return them. Johnny felt angry, but did not know how to tell
Mike no or express his feelings. The teacher helped Johnny develop a "helpful hint" in
which Johnny stated how he felt, what Mike should do differently and what he was going
to do. They role played together before actually sitting down with Mike to settle the
conflict. "Mike, I feel angry when you always borrow my things and do not return them.
It would be helpful if you remembered to bring your own things or if you needed to
borrow mine it would be helpful if you returned them when you are finished. I may not
let you borrow anything else until I feel I can trust you to return my things." This gave
Johnny an appropriate way to label his feelings, express them and be assertive. Mike
understands Johnny's position, and Johnny has stood up for himself rather than
continuing to allow himself to be a victim or handling the problem inappropriately with
violence. The teacher can help the students continue the discussion until it is clear they
understand each other. The teacher may need to lend continued support to Johnny to help
him say no to Mike in appropriate ways and to support Mike to develop strategies for
acquiring the materials he needs at school.
Mediation is a process in which people settle disagreements by talking them out with the
assistance of a trained neutral mediator. A mediator is non-judgmental about who is right
or wrong and there is no attempt to impose a solution to the conflicting issue. The
mediator’s role is to facilitate open communication of the disputants’ respective positions
on the conflicting issue in order for them to better understand each other. They assist the
disputants to discuss and resolve the conflict themselves in a manner which is mutually
satisfying to both.
Johnny and Mike were working on a computer project in class. Johnny claimed that
Mike did not let him do his share of the work on the computer and Mike claimed that
Johnny constantly took over the keyboard when it was Mike's turn. The teacher sat down
with both boys and assisted them in identifying the problem and coming up with mutually
agreed upon guidelines for working together. The teacher was careful to allow both
students to share their side of the issue without interruption and have them generate the
Peer mediation is the process in which students are trained to mediate disputes or
conflicts between other students. The students are introduced to the peer mediation
program by a conflict resolution curriculum unit. Following extensive training in
negotiation skills and commitment to the process, students are selected and trained as
mediators and assigned the responsibility of providing mediation to peer conflicts as
determined by the school staff and upon request of students involved in conflict.
Johnny was showing a great deal of improvement in the self-contained classroom, but
lacked self confidence in his ability to "fit in" the regular program. He was encouraged to
attend the conflict resolution training given by the guidance counselor. After completing
the training and being called on to help mediate conflict both in the self-contained class
and in the regular program, Johnny both decreased the number of conflicts he had with
other students and increased his self confidence. He was able to begin to attend some
regular classes successfully.
Students sometimes engage in undesirable behaviors to gain the attention of the teacher.
Attention from the teacher can be reinforcing and serve to maintain undesirable behavior.
In such cases, it may be appropriate for the teacher to use planned ignoring while the
targeted undesirable behavior is displayed. In order to be successful, the teacher must
ensure that no explicit or implicit forms of reinforcement are provided during the display
of the targeted undesirable behavior and the student is positively reinforced immediately,
as soon as s/he displays desirable or appropriate behavior. In order for this strategy to
work, targeted undesirable behaviors should be mild in severity and not likely to be
imitated by others in the classroom (Morgan & Jensen, 1988).
The teacher is reading a story to a group of students. Johnny begins moving incessantly
in his seat while looking at the teacher. The teacher feels that Johnny is squirming in his
seat in order to get her attention as she usually redirects Johnny to appropriate behavior
several times during reading group. Instead of interrupting the group and providing
Johnny attention by verbally redirecting his behavior, the teacher ignores Johnny's
behavior and systematically reinforces the other students for sitting appropriately and
remaining in their assigned areas. The teacher simultaneously and discretely monitors
Johnny. She immediately reinforces his return to the appropriate behavior (sitting still)
by verbal praise.
Aggression Reducing Procedures for Crisis Intervention
The first step to avoiding aggressive behavior is to recognize that a student is possibly
becoming aggressive by identifying the student’s typical antecedent behaviors or by
observing body language and/or verbal threats. There are some steps school staff can
take to decrease the possibility of aggression and avoid escalation of a crisis situation.
1. Modeling Calmness: The teacher can serve as a model of calmness by means
of facial expression, posture, gestures, what is said, and the tone, speed and
loudness of how things are said.
2. Encouraging Talking: Help the aggressive student explain what s/he hopes
might be constructively done about the situation, rather than having the person
explain why he/she became aggressive in the first place. Effective tactics for
encouraging others to talk include asking open-ended questions (questions
beginning with "what," "why," or "how"), responding to the student with
encouragement to talk ("Tell me more," "Mm-Hmm"), and other methods
such as listening openly, showing understanding, or giving reassurance.
When asking open-ended or other questions, one should ask only one question
at a time, and be as specific as possible. The aggressive student should also
be told that, to make sure the teacher understands them, they need to talk
lower, slower, and more simply. One should also immediately reward
calmness as it is displayed, by telling the student that the frankness, openness,
and especially, calmness is appreciated.
3. Listening Openly: Pay attention to what the aggressive student is saying, and
overtly show this effort by looking squarely at the student when he/she
speaks, nodding when appropriate, leaning toward the student, avoiding
interrupting, and listening as carefully as possible to what is being said.
4. Showing Understanding: Sometimes, showing understanding is best done
very simply, for example, by saying "I see what you mean," "I understand
that," or by making similar statements. Other times, showing understanding is
shown by use of restatement of content. Often it is very effective to
concentrate on what the aggressive student is feeling rather than on the
content of what is being said, and then to let the student know that those
feelings are accurately understood. Here are a couple of examples of
restatement of content and reflection of feeling:
Aggressive student to teacher: "You shouldn't have left!"
Restatement: "You think I was wrong to have left."
Reflection: "You're really upset that I left."
Aggressive student to teacher: "Damn it, they took it and it was mine!"
Restatement: "You think you've been cheated."
Reflection: "You're really steamed, and feel cheated."
5. Reassuring the Student: Reassure the students that nonaggressive alternatives
do exist and further, that staff are willing to help them attempt such alternative
problem solutions. Reassurance can be expressed in a number of ways.
Statements can be offered such as, "It will be OK, we've worked this out
before." "I think we'll be able to handle this a step at a time." I'm really
interested in solving this with you." Reassurance is best offered warmly and
6. Helping Save Face: At times, calming a student is especially problematic
because the source of the student's aggression and the person seeking to calm
the student are one and the same. When trying to calm a student whose
aggression is being directed toward the staff person, efforts will be more
successful if the student is helped to listen openly, think objectively, and
become more willing to consider compromise or other nonaggressive problem
solutions. One means for meeting these ends involves helping the student
save face, that is, making it easier for him/her to retreat, back off, or back
down gracefully. This can be done in several ways. Avoid audiences when
talking with the student and, if necessary, provide face-saving rationalizations.
Control the pace of the student's own concession seeking and the teacher’s
concession-giving by not asking for too much too soon. Perhaps most
important to this face-saving, everyone should contribute to a compromise.
Offer the student at least some substantial part of what he/she is aggressively
demanding. In doing this, it is important to point out to the student that
getting some of what he/she wants is accomplished through compromise, not
Johnny was becoming visibly upset with Mike over something Mike was saying under
his breath. Mike sat passively, but Johnny was clenching his fists and taking a
threatening posture. The teacher positions herself so that Johnny does not feel threatened
and calmly asks Johnny to tell her what is going on. Johnny threatens Mike. The
teacher, continuing to speak calmly and listen closely, encourages Johnny to talk about
what he is feeling, asking him to speak slower so she may understand him. She reflects
what he is feeling so he will feel as if someone understands and is listening. The teacher
reassures Johnny that she wants to help him solve the problem and gives Johnny some
choices that will help him save face when she sees he has talked enough to become
somewhat calmer. "Johnny, you can either take some time to think about a solution in
the silent reading area or continue to work on your math at the table, and I will help you
and Mike work through the problem in a few minutes."
Using Reinforcement to Modify Behavior
Teachers have traditionally relied on the use of reinforcement or operant or instrumental
conditioning to reward appropriate behavior and modify the inappropriate behaviors of
students with behavioral-emotional handicaps. When effectively implemented, many of
these uses produce the desired behavioral change. Other uses have been found to be
inexact, misguided and haphazard, and frequently exacerbate the problem behaviors.
The basic principles of operant or instrumental conditioning are quite simple. A behavior
which produces reinforcement or reward is likely to be repeated and responses are
learned based on this principle. The following procedures and definitions are provided to
assist in the use of positive reinforcement to help students with behavioral-emotional
This is a procedure in which a desired behavior is contingently rewarded with a stimulus
event or object. The purpose is to increase the likelihood that the behavioral response will
be maintained or strengthened. The following should be considered.
1. Reinforce desired behavior immediately.
2. Use reinforcers that are individualized based on student performance.
3. Use a variety of reinforcers and reinforcing situations.
4. Specifically identify the behavior the student is performing well.
5. Avoid repetitious or trite phrasing of feedback.
6. Reinforce every response initially.
7. If delay of reinforcement is desired, gradually increase the delays.
8. Combine reinforcement with modeling of desired behavior.
9. Try to use social reinforcement such as positive attention, feedback or
10. Social reinforcement may be more effective if paired with tangible or overt
Schedules of providing positive reinforcements are as follows.
Continuous Schedule of Reinforcement: A schedule of reinforcement in
which each occurrence of a behavioral response is rewarded or positively
reinforced. Such reinforcement is often used to begin a teaching sequence
or to shape new behavioral responses.
Every time Johnny raises his hand to request teacher assistance, the
teacher verbally praises this behavior and provides the requested
Intermittent Schedule of Reinforcement: A schedule of reinforcement in
which some but not all of occurrences of a specific behavioral response are
awarded or positively reinforced. The purpose of intermittent reinforcement
is to make the established behavior more stable and habitual.
When Johnny raises his hand to request teacher assistance, the teacher
sometimes verbally praises this behavior.
There are basically two kinds of intermittent schedules of reinforcement -
ratio schedules and interval schedules.
ratio schedules: This is a schedule in which reward or positive
reinforcement is provided contingent upon a specific number of behavioral
The teacher verbally praises Johnny for raising his hand to request teacher
assistance every three times he does so.
interval schedules: This is a schedule of reinforcement in which,
following a specified time interval, the next occurrence of a specific
behavior is rewarded or positively reinforced.
Every ten minutes, the teacher verbally reinforces the student, who
following the interval, first raises his/her hand to request teacher
A student's behavior can be modified by providing positive reinforcement for the desired
behavioral response and no reinforcement for the undesired response. Differential
reinforcement is a behavior reduction strategy in which the teacher provides selective
reinforcement for appropriate behavior rather than focusing attention on the maladaptive or
inappropriate behavior. Since any attention has reinforcing qualities, this selective
reinforcement will likely result in increased use of the appropriate behavior. Differential
reinforcement can be effectively used by reinforcing students at certain time intervals for
refraining from using a targeted behavior, reinforcing students for using incompatible
behavior over the targeted problem behavior, or reinforcing alternative behavior when used
as a replacement for the targeted problem. It can be used to provide positive reinforcement
for a specific behavioral response in one situation or condition and not another.
Differential reinforcement can be used in the following ways:
Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors: This is a procedure in which
reward or positive reinforcement is delivered after a child has not exhibited a target
behavior during a predetermined period of time. When this procedure is used staff
should keep in mind that this strategy is more effective as a behavior reduction
strategy than behavioral increase strategy. This strategy may lead to inadvertent
reinforcement of other undesired behaviors. To maintain the behavior the interval
requirements should be gradually and progressively increased.
Johnny's targeted problem behavior is his self-stimulation by rocking in his seat.
During the targeted time period from 9:00 to 10:00 each morning, the teacher
provides Johnny specific praise statements following five minute intervals in which
she observes Johnny sitting appropriately and refraining from rocking in his seat.
Differential Reinforcement of High Rates: This is a procedure in which a reward
or positive reinforcement is given for performing some specified behavior at
increasingly higher rates.
Johnny receives a star on his point sheet following the accurate completion of five
computation problems in mathematics class. The following class period, he must
accurately complete six problems to receive his star.
Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates: This is a procedure in which reward or
positive reinforcement is provided for decreasing the frequency of an undesirable or
problem behavior. Staff should consider that this procedure is effective as a behavior
reduction strategy for behaviors which have a high rate of occurrence. Such
behaviors may be appropriate and functional except for their high rate of occurrence.
A baseline rate must be established for the targeted behavior. Reinforcement may be
provided contingent on predetermined time intervals since the targeted behavior is the
rate of occurrence.
Johnny currently presents verbally aggressive behavior at a rate of 10-12 occurrences
per week. During the initial week of intervention, he will receive a special privilege
if he reduces the frequency to eight occurrences. The following week the number of
allowed occurrences to earn the respective privilege will be seven.
Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors: This is a procedure in
which you reinforcement a behavior which is physically incompatible with the
targeted undesirable behavior. In order for this strategy to be effective it must be
physically impossible for the incompatible and the targeted undesirable behavior to
occur at the same time. Alternative and functional incompatible behaviors which
tend to be maintained by the environment must be identified and used in combination
with other behavioral change procedures.
Johnny frequently reaches over to hit students beside him when everyone is sitting
closely together, such as in the auditorium or on the floor for a small group lesson.
The teacher teaches him the replacement behavior of keeping his hands in his lap
while sitting on the floor or in the auditorium and reinforces this behavior in these
Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: This is a procedure designed to decrease
the frequency of a given behavior by ignoring that behavior and reinforcing specific
alternatives to the behavior to be decreased. This strategy will effectively increase
reinforced appropriate behavior as well as decrease inappropriate behavior. In
addition it will assist in the development of an increased repertoire of behaviors.
Students who impulsively blurt out answers to questions posed during the group
discussions are ignored and those who raise their hands are provided specific praise
statements and the opportunity to answer accordingly.
Reinforcement of Functional Communicative Behaviors: This is a procedure
designed to decrease the frequency of a specific behavior by ignoring that behavior
while reinforcing a functional communicative skill.
Johnny frequently resorts to tantrumming behavior as an avoidance of certain difficult
assignments. The teacher determines that the intent of his tantrumming is due to
frustration and avoidance purposes. The teacher then teaches Johnny a specific
strategy of taking a short break and requesting help when he experiences frustration
and positively reinforces the utilization of this strategy.
Differential Reinforcement of Another Person's Appropriate
Behavior/Modeling: This is a procedure where reward or positive reinforcement is
provided to another student who is modeling appropriate behavior in order to redirect
the inappropriate behavior of other members of the class.
Johnny is squirming incessantly in his seat. The teacher approaches Susan, sitting in
close proximity to Johnny and provides her with specific praise statement and bonus
points for sitting still and quietly in her seat.
This procedure simply generates and records data on behavioral and/or academic
performance and results in feedback and contingent reinforcement to a student during the
school day. Data are collected regularly, evaluated, and program adjustments are made
This procedure is used to develop new behaviors through the systematic reinforcement of
successive approximations toward the behavioral objective. The following should be
1. Shaping can be used to teach new behaviors and skills not already a part of the
2. Differential reinforcement is provided for intermediate behaviors which are
part of the desired terminal behavior.
3. The terminal behavior and successive approximations necessary to complete
the terminal behavior must be identified.
4. The starting point is the identification of a behavior the child already performs
which approximates the terminal behavior or is the first step to the terminal
5. Differential reinforcement is provided for each closer approximation until the
step is achieved.
6. Shape one step to the next until the behavior has been learned/shaped.
In order to get Johnny to remain in his seat, he is rewarded or positively reinforced for
entering into the classroom, then for being in proximity to his desk, then for touching his
chair and finally for being correctly seated in his chair.
This procedure is used to reinforce behavioral responses in sequence and order to form
more complex behaviors. As new behavioral links are added, only the most recent links
are reinforced. Task analysis is used to break skills down into concrete, specific, and
sequential component tasks with positive reinforcement for each respective component.
In skills where the completion of the task may be rewarding, backward chaining may also
be used. In this procedure the last component task is taught first, then the next to last and
The teacher breaks down a multiple step mathematical computation problem into
concrete, specific, and sequential component steps for Johnny. He is provided specific
praise statements following the accurate completion of each sequential step. As he
demonstrates mastery of the initial steps, he is reinforced upon the accurate completion of
an increasing number of chained responses until he has demonstrated competency in the
accurate completion of the multiple steps needed to complete the computation problem.
This procedure is the use of visual, auditory or physical cues to signal a given behavioral
When the students' voice levels are too loud for a particular situation, the teacher places
her index finger over her lips to prompt the students to lower their voice volume.
This is the gradual decrease and eventual elimination of a stimulus that controls or
maintains a specific behavioral response.
Ms. Jones teaches appropriate behavior while walking down the school hallway by
reviewing behavioral expectations to the class prior to any transition into the hallway.
Through successful repetition of this ritual and consistently appropriate behavior in the
hallway by the class members, the teacher is able to decrease and eventually eliminate
This is the withholding of reinforcement following an undesired response that was
previously reinforced. In order for this to work all reinforcers for a particular response
must be identified and withheld completely. The procedure must be continued long
enough to impact the behavior and reinforcers must be provided for other behaviors.
Johnny frequently whined and pulled at the teacher and assistant. They would then talk
to him. The teachers decided to stop talking to Johnny when he whined and pulled.
When they did this, he whined and pulled even more for two days. Gradually, Johnny
stopped whining after several days of not received attention for that behavior and
receiving attention for not whining or pulling at the teachers.
This procedure involves a withdrawal of reinforcers contingent upon an undesired
response. This is often used with a token economy program. The response cost should
be less than the total amount of reinforcers available so the student will not go into a
negative total. These procedures are often referred to as fines. The procedure must be
consistently applied and contingencies should be clearly communicated. A response cost
system allows for build up of a reserve of reinforcement and should be combined with
reinforcement of alternative behaviors.
Johnny earned 3 checks for every class in which he completed his assignment. When he
did not complete an assignment due to inappropriate behavior he lost 2 points from his
total for the day. At the end of the day he earned a specified amount of free time based
on the number of points earned.
Contracts can be a valuable tool in the management of students with behavioral issues.
Contracts help promote decision making and improved self-concept. The use of
contracting in school can be academically or socially geared. The process of developing
a contract with a student can be a valuable method of initiating a give and take process
between the teacher and student regarding problem areas. The disruptive student may
become more aware of his/her behavior's impact on others as well as see that he/she had a
part in producing positive change as a result of the process. The teacher's attitude in the
contracting situation is most important. It must be one of cooperation and patience.
When a problem arises and the teacher feels a need to do something, the student and
teacher must sit down and calmly discuss the situation. The teacher should give a
concrete reason why the behavior causes a problem. One method of doing this would be
for the teacher to provide, clear, respectful "I messages."
The teacher should express a desire to work with the problem. The teacher should next
encourage the student to express feelings and concerns from his/her perspective. At this
point the teacher and student should identify the most important thing(s) to work on to
remedy the problem. A brainstorming approach is often useful at this point. List and
consider all alternatives during this process. Include consequences such as going to the
principal and/or suspension. The student and teacher should look at all the alternatives
and come to a mutual agreement as to which one to try. A commitment must be made,
identifying what the student is willing to do.
Next the contract should be developed. Essentially this means that a mutual agreement
must be struck between teacher and student. A potentially successful contract should
include the following components (Fagen & Hill, 1977):
1. Who is involved (Names),
2. What specific behavior is affected by the contract,
3. What is the specific objective,
4. What are the criteria for successful completion,
5. What is the time period (Keep it short.),
6. For what is each person responsible, and
7. What is the reward, if it is a contingency contract?
The contract should be fair with neither student or teacher feeling abused. The teacher
and student must agree to evaluate the contract's success after a predetermined time
period. The teacher and student should also decide the consequences if the contract does
not work. The use of positive language in the wording of the contract is essential.
Periodic review and necessary adjustment of the contract by the student and teacher is
It is best to begin with easily and rapidly met written contracts. A series of short
successful contracts can help encourage active participation from the student better than
one all-or-nothing contract.
Johnny frequently was sent back to the self-contained classroom by the art teacher for
misbehavior. Johnny expressed a desire to be able to participate more frequently. The
teacher facilitated a meeting with the art teacher and Johnny concerning his expected
behavior. They wrote a contract that would be evaluated at the end of the next class. If
Johnny would stay in his designated seat and refrain from touching other's art work, the
art teacher would allow him to work on his art project after lunch. If Johnny did not
honor the contract, the art teacher would give him one warning and on the second
incident send him back to the self-contained class. This was a written contract that
This is a system of individual reinforcement in which tokens (chips, check marks, paper
money, etc.) are administered. The tokens can be turned in later for specific reinforcers.
Behavior that is already occurring as well as successive approximations of the behavior
to be established must be reinforced. A token system may not deprive a student of
rights. Individual program plans rather than group token systems must be used for
management of problem behaviors.
Point and Level System
A point and level system is an organizational framework designed to shape students'
social, emotional, and academic behaviors (Bauer, Shea & Keppler). A point and level
system offers a structure within which various behavioral interventions may be
implemented through consistent feedback. In addition to providing a feedback structure,
it also establishes a method of monitoring students' progress on behavioral and
educational goals. Points and level systems can also serve as an evaluation tool in
determining a student's readiness for transition into a less restrictive placement or setting.
The primary goal of point and level systems is to increase students' responsibility and
accountability for behavioral and academic performance. Progress through the levels is
determined by his or her measurable behavior and achievement. As the student
progresses through the levels, the privileges and the behavioral expectations are
Two examples of point and level systems are explained here briefly. The term "Level" is
defined differently in the two examples. Any point or level system can and should be
modified to meet the needs of an individual student or group.
Example 1: Daily Point System
Points are awarded to a student every 15 minutes for the following target behaviors:
1. speaking nicely,
2. following directions, and
3. being on task.
The three target behaviors are specific and observable, but allow for a sufficient
range of possible behaviors. For example, if a student makes an inappropriate
gesture, that behavior can be labeled as not speaking nicely. Although an
inappropriate gesture is nonverbal, it is still an unacceptable form of
communication, and can be categorized as not speaking nicely. Regardless of the
activity (math, recess or lunch), these target behaviors are appropriate expectations
for any student. These target behaviors must be defined by the teacher to the class
so that the students understand what is expected.
Based on the percentage of points earned daily, a student will earn a particular level
for the next day. Each day the student will have a new opportunity to earn a higher
level for the next day. With a low percentage of points, a student will earn level 1;
with a high percentage of points, a student will earn level 4 (levels 2 & 3
determined for percentages between). Level 4 allows the student increased amounts
of independence, status and mobility. Level 1 provides more restrictive structure
and limits a student's choices. (Levels 2 & 3 reflect graduated levels of
responsibility and privileges.) When the student exhibits a consistently high
standard of behavior as evidenced by the percentage of points earned over time, the
data can be used in deciding whether a change of placement to a less restrictive
setting might better serve the student’s needs.
The daily point sheet is visible and available to a student at all times. The system is
set up so that a teacher merely records behavior with checks and dots; a check
meaning the student has earned a point, a dot meaning he/she hasn't earned a point.
Points are never "lost", but are "not earned."
In this type of level system, the student's level is determined by an extended period
of behavior. The student would begin at a level appropriate to his/her abilities and
needs and gradually work up the level system. Levels are not determined daily, but
after meeting a predetermined goal of behavior. For example, if the student earns in
the highest percentage of points for 4 weeks in a row, he or she would moved to the
next level up. Each successive level would allow more privileges and choices as
well as more responsibilities and higher expectations for behavior. Gradually the
student would move up the level system, demonstrating more behaviors that would
eventually allow them to function more successfully in a less restrictive setting.
For this system, the teacher could use a point sheet similar to the one used in
example 1. As the students transition, the point sheet could be modified to reflect
less feedback. The student might only earn 3 points every 30 minutes instead of
every 15 minutes and so forth. This gradually adapts the students to being less
dependent on the point sheet and more self motivated.
There are some similarities and differences between the two examples of point systems.
The most important difference is that example 1 will tend to work out more successfully
with lower functioning students who act out frequently. These students typically have
difficulty delaying gratification and will respond to the opportunity to obtain higher
levels of privileges more immediately. Example 2 will work more successfully with
higher functioning students who are able to delay gratification for longer periods of time.
Both point and level systems have their strengths. Variables that teachers should
consider before choosing a particular system include the group's level of functioning and
the teacher's experience with different systems. Example 2 can be used successfully in
most situations. Example 1 is tailored for more difficult students because it provides
more immediate reinforcement. Short term reinforcement can be added to Example 2 to
accomplish this same purpose.
Within the two level systems there are similar components such as point sheets, levels,
privileges, target behaviors and monitoring systems with specific frequencies for
recording behaviors. These components are interchangeable. A teacher can choose those
components that he/she can modify to his/her situation. It is important to remember that
the components have to be compatible and they must all be present in order for a system
to be successful.
Suspension from school is one of the most common administrative responses to school
disciplinary problems, particularly at the secondary school level. Suspension consists of
temporary removal of the student from the regularly assigned academic environment (i.e.
in-school suspension), and /or removal of the student from the school campus (i.e. out-of-
Local school boards are charged with the responsibility of developing and adopting
policies governing the conduct of students and establishing procedures to be followed by
school officials in suspending or expelling students. The policies and procedures (i.e.
code of student conduct) must be published and made available to each student and
his/her parents at the beginning of each school year. Student codes of conduct must be
reasonable and have legitimate educational purpose. Such policies and procedures must
not be inconsistent with the rights to education and due process provisions in state and
In general removal from school in the form of suspension or expulsion has been shown to
be an ineffective behavioral intervention. Removals do not help a student learn new
behaviors. However, in some situations removing a student from school may be the only
way to keep that student and other students and school personnel safe. For information
about the special education discipline provisions go www.ncpublicschools.org/ec and
click on the link to 2007 Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities.
If a student is suspended or removed either from the classroom or for school, it is important that
there is a procedure to help the student return to the environment. Before the student returns to
the setting where the behavior occurred, a school administrator, counselor or the teacher should
discuss the behavior that led to the removal with the student. The staff person should be an active
listener and afford the student ample opportunity to express his/her thoughts, feelings and
perceptions. The student may need support in order to problem solve or to apologize with staff or
students involved in the incident. The student may need to learn and to practice appropriate and
reasonable strategies he or she might use in future similar situations. The goal is for the student
to be able to return to the setting without feeling anxious and with a plan about how to avoid a
repetition of the problem behavior.
Time-out is a behavioral reduction strategy which uses contingent withdrawal of reinforcing
stimuli thought to be maintaining an inappropriate behavior. It removes the student from the
opportunity for reinforcement for a specified amount of time. There are various methods in
which time-out may be implemented ranging from non-exclusionary time-out procedures such as
planned ignoring, withdrawal of instructional materials or inclusionary time-out, to more
restrictive or intrusive methods such as time out in another classroom or a time-out room. The
principle differentiation between inclusionary time-out and exclusionary time-out is that in using
inclusionary time-out, the reinforcing stimuli is removed from the student and in using
exclusionary time-out, the student is removed from the reinforcing stimuli. The following
explanations and considerations are limited to exclusionary time-outs.
Exclusionary time-out is recognized as an effective behavioral reduction strategy for decreasing
the frequency of severe behavioral problems such as physical aggression. Significant variables
which contribute to the effectiveness of exclusionary time-out are the rates of positive
reinforcement available in the instructional setting, the limited use of exclusionary time-out for
the most severe behaviors and the duration of the time-out period.
Exclusionary time-out is both restrictive and intrusive. It should serve a legitimate educational
function such as reducing dangerous and/or disruptive behavior, teaching appropriate behavior or
protecting the right to education of the other students in the classroom. Attempts should be made
to control the inappropriate behavior of the student by a less restrictive/ intrusive manner prior to
the use of a time-out procedure. Specific behaviors should be identified which warrant
exclusionary time-out. Parents and students must be informed of the possible use of time-out and
be provided an explicit explanation of the time-out procedure. It is recommended that the use of
exclusionary time-out procedures be included in the behavior section of the student's Individual
Education Program (IEP). A warning or visual cue should be given to the misbehaving student
indicating that if the inappropriate behavior continues, an exclusionary time-out will be
The duration of the exclusionary time-out should be specified in advance. Minimum lengths of
duration are often ineffective and too lengthy time-out periods can be overly intrusive without
producing increased benefits. The generally recommended duration of time-out periods is one
minute per year of the student’s age. Release from exclusionary time-out can be made contingent
on a student displaying appropriate behavior for a specific interval. Additional time should be
added to the time-out duration for student refusal or for physical aggressive upon request to go to
time out. However the time out period should not exceed thirty minutes for older students for any
one occurrence of the targeted behavior. In cases where students may be a danger to themselves
or others if released after the maximum times have been reached, the teacher should notify the
principal or administrator for support and assistance in diffusing the volatile behavior of the
An adult should be in the room of closest proximity to the time-out room during the entire time-
out procedure. The time-out room should never be locked and should be visually monitored by
staff at all times to ensure student safety. If the student makes a mess in the time-out room,
he/she should be expected to clean the room under adult supervision prior to returning to
classroom activities. If the student's physical aggression results in property damage, the student's
parents should be notified and consulted to make arrangements for the student to assist in
The teacher should keep a record of each instance of the use of exclusionary time-out. Include in
the record: 1) the behavior which precipitated the use of the exclusionary time-out 2) the time
and duration of the time-out procedure 3) the behavior of the student during the exclusionary
period and 4) the name of the staff member who placed the student in time-out. Such a record
should be kept and periodically reviewed by the IEP committee, building principal, and parent of
the child. The effectiveness of the utilization of these procedures should be periodically
reviewed. With input from team members, the IEP behavior management plan should be
adjusted accordingly. Failure to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the time-out
procedure in reducing the targeted inappropriate behavior is misuse of the procedure.
Many students will inevitably attempt to use time-out as an avoidance method. It is important to
ensure that once the time-out period has ended, the student is returned to the on-going classroom
activities. The teacher should make sure that the student is required to complete the task he/she
was engaged in prior to the time-out period.
Once the student has completed the assigned lesson or activity and regained an adequate degree
of self-control, the teacher should review a description of the inappropriate behavior which
precipitated the time-out. The teacher should be an active listener and afford the student ample
opportunity to express his/her thoughts, feelings and perceptions culminating in the
administration of the time-out procedure. Feedback, coaching and reinforcement should be
provided by the teacher at this time. This is an optimal opportunity for teaching appropriate and
reasonable strategies to the student to use in future similar situations.
The following guidelines are recommended for the physical structure of the time out room.
1. The room should be at least 6' x 6',
2. The room should be properly lighted,
3. The room should be properly ventilated,
4. The room should be free of fixtures and objects which could harm the child or be reinforcing,
5. The room should provide a means for visual monitoring,
6. The room should never be locked, and
7. The room should constructed sturdily.
Physical restraint should be used only as necessary and as a last resort for the protection of
persons or property. North Carolina G.S. 115C-391.1 (b) (8 )describes the following situations in
which restraint or reasonable force could be used to control or remove a person from the scene:
1. as reasonably needed to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects
on the person, or within the control of a student;
2. as reasonably needed to maintain order or to prevent or break up a fight;
3. as reasonably needed for self-defense;
4. as reasonably needed to ensure the safety of any student, employee, volunteer, or
other person present;
5. as reasonably needed to teach a skill, to calm or comfort a student, or to prevent
6. as reasonably needed to escort a student safely from one area to another;
7. if used as provided for in an IEP, Section 504, or behavior intervention plan; or
8. as reasonably needed to prevent imminent destruction to school or another
When intervening in crisis situations with students with serious emotional disabilities, it is of
utmost importance to apply only disciplinary methods and behavioral procedures which do not
undermine the dignity of the individual or the basic human rights of students. Teacher's actions
which are perceived by the student as counter-aggressive or overly controlling can significantly
damage a relationship and make the crisis situation worse. It is important always to apply the
least restrictive or intrusive behavioral intervention strategy necessary to ensure for the personal
safety of the student in crisis and those around him/her. It is equally important that the duration
of the restraint should be only as long as necessary for the student to regain control of his/her
If it is anticipated that it will be necessary to physically restrain a student with a disability, a
physical intervention plan should be included in the behavior intervention plan. This plan should
include a comprehensive analysis of the child's environment including variables contributing to
the inappropriate behavior. The plan must be developed by a team including professional and
parents/ guardians, as designated by state and federal law.
In order to reduce the chance of having to use external physical control, it is critical that the
teacher be aware of and effectively respond to student cues indicating an escalation of
frustration. These observed student behaviors which are often referred to as antecedent
behaviors, may be quite subtle such as tapping foot or may be more obvious, such as an extreme
change in behavior. The more the teacher is aware of, and actively responding to, these signs of
escalating anxiety , the greater likelihood of a successful de-escalation of the student behavior.
Except in emergency and unanticipated circumstances, the use of physical intervention should be
used by staff members trained in the proper, safe and effective use of restraint. There are several
sources of such training currently recognized and used by local education agencies in North
Any incident which requires the use of physical intervention or restraint should be carefully
documented by the staff members with a copy provided to the principal. The student's parent
should be promptly informed of this restraint and be provided, upon request, a copy of the
documentation form. The parents should be apprised of the specific behaviors requiring such
intervention, the less restrictive management procedures attempted prior to restraint and the
postvention techniques used to resolve the incident.