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Managing Student Misbehavior in Adapted Physical Education by Good Teaching Practices.

Good teaching practices today include instructional strategies matched to each student's learning style, curriculum appropriate for that student, and applying good reinforcement practices. These are proven teaching techniques for maximizing student learning.

Interestingly, these practices are the same sound teaching strategies stressed in an 1840 publication by Horace Mann, On The Art of Teaching (Mann, 1989 edition). For more than 150 years, applications of these practices confirmed their soundness. Values of these teaching practices in managing misbehavior of students, however, have often been overlooked. These teaching practices, at their root, help to manage student misbehavior, such as tantruming, yelling, scratching, physical resistance, so instruction of planned curriculum may occur.

Focus of this article is on utilizing good teaching practices to reduce or eliminate occurrences of behaviors that interfere with student learning. Before looking at use of such teaching practices to manage misconduct, it is necessary to be aware of a critical component in their utilization--good observational skills. Thus, this author begins by reviewing observation as a skill for the teacher. After introduction to observational skills, the following are discussed--(a) instructional strategies matched to learning style, (b) curriculum appropriateness, and (c) reinforcement practices, each followed by sample questions that need to be asked in each of these areas for successfully managing misbehavior. Examples of applications of these questions to specific disruptive behaviors in adapted physical education are displayed in Table format following each section. Examples are based on the author's personal teaching experiences.


Importance of observational skills is generally recognized when assessing and monitoring a student's education program. Initial observations are important to find out present levels of performance. The teacher assesses a student's strengths and weaknesses in relation to the skill/activity to be taught. From information gathered, the teacher develops an individual education program.

The second major area of observation is monitoring the student's responses to instruction. Here feedback is critical to correct errors and promote learning. Major stumbling blocks occur for the teacher, however, when the student misbehaves. At this point, it is common for instruction to stop. Typical responses by the teacher include--student does not want to learn; student cannot learn; I don't have necessary skills to manage student misbehavior; student is misbehaving just to make my life miserable--ad infinitum.

It must be emphasized, however, that the physical educator is capable of managing most student misbehaviors. The skills are at his/her fingertips, and it all begins through expanding uses of observation skills to help determine a possible cause of misbehavior. The three teaching areas of instructional strategies, curriculum, and reinforcement must be addressed. Questions are formulated to assist in determining a possible cause of misbehavior; answers to such questions then provide a hunch as to cause of the misconduct. In turn, this information leads to a best guess for redesigning the student's educational program. Therein options for change are found as the teacher looks at his/her teaching practices to manage the student's misconduct. Once the change or changes have been made and implemented, the observational process is repeated.

Teaching Practices Instruction

Strategies a teacher uses to deliver instruction can have significant impacts on a student's behavior. Clarity of directions, effective demonstration, appropriate physical assistance, and provision for feedback are all associated with effective student learning. Each individual's path to learning is his/her own. The key is to match an instructional strategy or strategies with each student's style of learning. When a student misbehaves he/she may be telling the teacher that one or more of instructional practices being used is not working. If misbehavior seems related to method of instruction, some examples of questions follow that may be used to help identify the problem area and lead to a best guess as to a possible solution.

Examples of questions related to instruction--

* Does the student understand the word or words used to describe the skill?

* Were too many/few words used?

* Does the individual comprehend the concept being taught?

* Did the demonstration seem to cause the misconduct?

* Did the student resist physical assistance?

* Was too much help provided? Or, was too little assistance given?

More common instructional strategies for adjustment typically focus on changing verbal (or sign) prompts and directives, and altering the amount of physical assistance provided the student. When the student seems confused and agitated with the verbal (or sign) directive, the challenge for the physical educator is to find a word or words (or signs) that still focus on the desired skill, and have meaning for the student. Often it is through trial and error that the physical educator is able to find the right match. In other cases, it is necessary for the instructor to teach a new word or words (or signs) for the skill being emphasized.

Changes related to physical assistance often center around providing more help to assure a sense of security and confidence; sometimes, however, giving less help is the key because the level of guidance irritates the student. In some cases it is obvious an adjustment in level of assistance is needed; however, in other cases it is not. The physical educator must then make a best guess where the change is needed, and then observe the student's response (see Table 1 on page 44).

Table 1 Examples of Applications Related to Instruction
 Used and
 During Instruc-
Student Activity/Skill tion

John, age 14 Basketball-- Verbal directions
autism shoot a basket- and actual
 ball demonstration of
 the skill; student
 was inattentive;
 if teacher
 attempted to
 redirect attention,
 student would

Jim, age 17 Archery--shoot Verbal directions,
multi-handicaps an arrow demonstration,
 and physical
 student was
 reluctant to
 irritated, and was
 verbally abusive,

Joyce, age 9 Tumbling-- Verbal directions
blindness and perform a front and physical
developmental roll assistance;
delay student refused
 to attempt the
 skill; she would
 try to scratch
 teacher if he
 repeated instruc-

Ron, age 8 Apparatus Verbal directions,
emotional activity--propel demonstration,
difficulties self on scooter and physical
 board assistance;
 student would
 pull away and

 Hunch relined-
 ing Problem Beat Guess as to
Student (Cause) Solution

John, age 14 Verbal directions Increase use of
autism and demonstra- action words'
 tion may be with dramatic
 inadequate, gestures to get

Jim, age 17 Student had More assistance
multi-handicaps difficulty needed for
 stabilizing bow student to
 arm and pulling succeed; an aide
 back bow string would support
 even with the student's bow
 teacher's help. arm while
 teacher assisted
 pulling the bow

Joyce, age 9 Student did not Student would
blindness and fully understand better understand
developmental instructions, if tactile explora-
delay tion (feel the skill
 being demon-
 strated) is used.

Ron, age 8 Unruliness Eliminate
emotional seemed to occur physical assis-
difficulties when teacher tance and
 physically emphasize key
 assisted, words and

Student Observation

John, age 14 Student complied
autism with this change
 in approach.

Jim, age 17 The immediate
multi-handicaps success by the
 student resulted
 in a more
 positive response
 to the skill; in
 time all assis-
 tance was

Joyce, age 9 Student was
blindness and receptive to try
developmental the skill follow-
delay ins tactile

Ron, age 8 Changes were
emotional successfully used
difficulties to encourage use
 of scooter board.

Teaching Practices--Curriculum

The student's response to learning is greatly affected by activities and skills presented. Critical elements of the curriculum include activities/skills that are age-appropriate and consistent with a student's needs; instructional material and equipment that is within the student's capabilities; and environmental conditions conducive to learning. As with instructional strategies, if the student misbehaves, he/she may be signaling that something in his/her education plan is upsetting. If the physical educator believes the problem could be related to the curricular area, the following examples of questions may help to focus on the cause of the problem and provide insight as to the best guess for solving the concern.

Examples of questions related to curriculum--

* Is the skill within the student's ability? Is the skill too difficult? Is the skill too easy?

* Is the activity age-appropriate?

* Is equipment appropriate for the student? Or, does equipment need modifying? Is another piece of equipment needed?

* Does location of instruction seem to cause the misbehavior?

Curricular strategies used most often to help manage misbehavior focus on adjustment of skills or activities and modifications of equipment or environment. For example, if it appears the .cause of the inappropriate behavior is related to inability to execute a skill, two options may be considered. First is allowance for acquiring and utilizing an alternative skill; second is task analysis of the existing skill (French & Lavay, 1990; Lieberman & Cowart, 1996; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). In the second case, the instructor adds a step or steps to a skill sequence. Typically, this adjustment through task analysis is done in combination with instructional and reinforcement strategies. The result is reducing or eliminating of the problem behavior and consequent learning success.

If the misbehavior, however, is possibly related to inability to utilize existing equipment or facilities, modification is then made (Grosse, 1991; Lieberman & Cowart, 1996; Paciorek & Jones, 1989). Game rules are also considered for modification, enabling the student to participate within his/her ability in a chronological, age-appropriate, and functional skill (see Table 2).

Table 2 Examples of Applications Related to Curriculum
 Used and
 During Instruc-
Student Activity/Skin tion

Kim, age 17 Boating--boat Communicated
deaf-blind rowing by manually
 moving student's
 hands and
 physical assis-
 tance; student
 cried and

Eric, age 8 Apparatus Simple words
visual impair- activity--climb a and
ment and ladder physical assis-
emotional tance; student
retardation tantrumed.

Gary, age 6 Apparatus Verbal directions
cerebral palsy activity--propel and physical
(moderate lower self on Turtle assistance;
leg involvement) student would lie
 on floor and
 refuse to get on
 the Turtle.

Tony, age 10 Apparatus Simple words,
visual impair- activity--walk demonstration,
meat and forward on 4' and physical
developmental wide balance assistance;
delayed beam placed on student screamed
 the floor and resisted

 Hunch regard-
 ing Problem Beat Guess as to
Student (Cause) Solution

Kim, age 17 Though student Explore a row-
deaf-blind had been in boat on shore--
 rowboats on a i.e., enter, move,
 number of sit.
 (according to
 dad), it was
 obvious she was

Eric, age 8 Seemed appre- Add steps to
visual impair- hensive during sequence, allow
ment and instruction. more time for
emotional learning each
retardation step--i.e.,
 student place one
 foot on lowest
 rung, remove
 foot, reinforce;
 place one foot
 and then the
 other, step off,

Gary, age 6 Student could If foot rest is
cerebral palsy use Turtle, but adapted to secure
(moderate lower his feet would student's feet, he
leg involvement) occasionally would use it
 slide off foot without miscon-
 rest. duct.

Tony, age 10 Seemed tearful Add steps to
visual impair- of being on the instructional
meat and balance beam. sequence, i.e.,
developmental step on beam, off
delayed beam, reinforce;
 when student
 was comfortable
 with this, move
 sideways across
 the beam.

Student Observation

Kim, age 17 Student did not
deaf-blind resist entering a
 boat from the
 dock; began
 learning to row.

Eric, age 8 These changes
visual impair- resulted in
ment and reduction of
emotional misconduct and
retardation development of
 climbing skill.

Gary, age 6 Student excitedly
cerebral palsy moved about
(moderate lower gym on the
leg involvement) Turtle.

Tony, age 10 Reduced
visual impair- misbehavior, and
meat and student learned
developmental to walk forward
delayed on the balance

Teaching Practices --Reinforcement

Positive feedback or reinforcement is another factor contributing to learning success of students. Providing a student with positive reinforcement for making progress often leads to increased achievement. When students are reinforced for improving their performances, their negative behaviors tend to diminish. If instruction or curriculum practices seem appropriate, but misbehavior continues, change in the reinforcement strategy may be the answer. The following examples of questions are helpful to determine if the reinforcement program needs to be adjusted.

Examples of questions related to reinforcement--

* Am I sufficiently, positively reinforcing the student for completing a task?

* Is specific feedback/reinforcement given at the appropriate time?

* Is there something the student really likes? Can it be used as a reinforcer?

* If misbehavior does not seem related to instruction or curriculum, what reinforcement strategy can be used to manage the misbehavior?

The Premack principle (French & Lavay, 1990; Lavay, French, & Henderson, 1997; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991) is the reinforcement strategy used most frequently for dealing with student misbehaviors. This is where the physical educator, during his/her observations, notes what the student really likes to do during instruction, play, or free time. For some, it is using a particular piece of equipment; for others, it may just be being left alone. Once the activity, task, piece of equipment is identified, it can be used to reinforce a skill the student has not wanted to perform. As the student develops the skill, the reinforcement may be reduced and eventually eliminated. For a few students, use of the Premack principle is not effective. In these incidences, a more complex behavior management approach is needed (French, Henderson & Howat, 1992; French & Lavay, 1990; Lavay, French, & Henderson, 1997) (see Table 3).

Table 3 Examples of Applications Related to Reinforcement
 Used and
 During Instruc-
Student Activity/Skill tion

Joe, age 9 Apparatus Verbal directions
blindness and activity-- and physical
severe behavior climbing assistance;
problems apparatus student pulled
 away and

Susan, age 17 Swimming/ With signs and
non-verbal deaf- fitness--use demonstration,
blindness with student's swim encouraged
some vision and strokes to student to swim
severe behavior develop and back and forth
problems maintain physical across pool;
 fitness student did not
 respond; further,
 if teacher was
 close to the
 student, she
 would try to
 scratch him.

Chris, age 7 Movement Verbal directions
blindness and pattern--jump and physical
emotional forward assistance;
disturbance student
 scratched, and
 would bite.

Norm, age 5 Swimming-- With verbal
visual impair- front crawl directions and
ment and severe physical assis-
behavioral tance, attempted
problems to teach rhythmic
 student had no
 interest in
 response was to
 whistle, burp,

 Hunch Regard-
 ing Problem Best Guess as to
Student (Cause) Solution

Joe, age 9 Student did not Use student's
blindness and want to do the desire to be let
severe behavior task; preferred alone as a
problems being alone. reinforcer,
 student would be
 left alone after a
 short period of

Susan, age 17 Student had Repeat instruc-
non-verbal deaf- skills to do tional program
blindness with activity but chose using behavior
some vision and not to. While management
severe behavior observing student program of
problems in her classroom, classroom
 it was noted teacher.
 teacher had an
 effective behav-
 ior management
 teacher offered it
 for use in swim

Chris, age 7 It seemed clear Allow student to
blindness and student could do play on apparatus
emotional the skill with after short
disturbance instruction; be periods of
 was determined instruction,
 to do what he
 wanted, which
 was to climb on
 some indoor

Norm, age 5 It seemed clear Teacher encour-
visual impair- student was aged three
ment and severe receiving more students not to
behavioral positive rein- respond to
problems forcement for misbehavior;
 misbehavior than student would be
 for doing class ignored when
 work. misbehaving.
 When he
 performed as
 teacher immedi-
 ately gives
 positive rein-

Student Observation

Joe, age 9 Student under-
blindness and stood he would
severe behavior be left alone if he
problems performed the
 designated skill;
 in time the skill
 became part of
 his repertoire of

Susan, age 17 Student re-
non-verbal deaf- sponded immedi-
blindness with ately; over a
some vision and period of weeks
severe behavior student increased
problems number of laps

Chris, age 7 Student under-
blindness and stood conse-
emotional quence for
disturbance performing
 designated skills,
 he became a
 more cooperative

Norm, age 5 Over a period of
visual impair- time the proce-
ment and severe dure began to
behavioral work and
problems misbehavior was
 reduced signifi-


When a student misbehaves it is usual for physical educators to choose to ignore the student, blame the student, not recognize the real problem, or believe he/ she does not have training to manage inappropriate student behaviors. However, these educators do have skills at their fingertips to provide effective educational programs and manage inappropriate student behavior, as well. Examples of important questions to ask have been iterated and discussed. With effective observation, and using these questions in conjunction with good teaching practices in planning, implementing, and reinforcing a student's educational program, the teacher can manage student misbehaviors and therein maximize his/her students' learning.

Selected References

French, R. & Lavay, B. (Editors) (1990). A Manual of Behavior Management Techniques for Physical Educators and Recreators. Kearney, NE: Educational System Associates, Inc.

French, R. W., Henderson, H. L., & Howat, M. (1992). Creative Approaches to Managing Student Behavior. Park City, UT: Family Development Resources, Inc.

Grosse, S. (Editor) (1991). Sports Instruction for Individuals with Disabilities: The Best of Practical Pointers. Reston, VA: AAHPERD.

Lieberman, L. J., & Cowart, J. F. (1996). Games for People with Sensory Impairments. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lavay, B. W., French, R., & Henderson, H. L. (1997). Positive Behavior Management Strategies for Physical Educators. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Mann, H. (1989). On the Art of Teaching, Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, Inc.

Paciorek, M. J., & Jones, J. A. (1989). Sports and Recreation for the Disabled. Indianapolis, IN: Benchmark Press, Inc.

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Mayer, G. (1991). Behavior Analyses for Lasting Change. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Reinhart and Winston.

Jim Cowart is a retired adapted physical educator. He taught individuals with multiple disabilities for 36 years before his retirement.
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Author:Cowart, Jim
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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