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"They just won't listen to me": a teacher's guide to positive behavioral interventions.

After rounding the corner, I could hear loud voices and giggles coming from down the hall. As I drew closer, I heard a woman's voice shout, "Boys and girls ... if you don't quietly begin to work, we won't go outside later." I peeked into the classroom and saw that the class was out of control.

"Miss Brown, you said that yesterday, and we still went outside," said a little girl. Just then, the teacher turned her attention to a group of students screaming loudly behind her.

"Stop it! I mean it! We won't go outside!"

Down the hallway, I heard footsteps rounding the corner. It was Mrs. Michaels, a relief aide who worked in the building. She would take charge of the class, while Miss Brown and I met to discuss the note she left in my mailbox. Without saying a word, Mrs. Michaels walked into the classroom. Suddenly, I heard a child say, "Shhhhhh ... Mrs. Michaels is here." Amazed, I watched the children scramble to their desks, clean up their areas, and sit quietly. With a sigh of relief, the teacher greeted Mrs. Michaels and said, "I am so glad to see you."

Later, as Miss Brown entered the faculty room to meet with me, tears welled up in her eyes as she said, "I don't know what to do. I have tried everything! They just won't listen to me."

As a teacher of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities and an active member of my school's special needs pre-referral team, both general and special education teachers often ask my advice on how to handle disruptive behaviors in their classrooms. While teachers must establish their own methods of classroom management, I am often in a position to provide helpful suggestions to teachers who, like Miss Brown, are experiencing difficulties.

It has been estimated that as much as 20 percent of the school population may have some form of unidentified emotional or behavioral disorder; at some point in time, nearly all children exhibit problem behaviors (Kauffman, 2005). These behaviors often interfere with the learning environment and make it nearly impossible for teaching and learning to take place until stability and control are established.

This article discusses five strategies for dealing with classroom behavior problems demonstrated in the elementary grades. While these strategies are far from exhaustive in nature, they might provide elementary teachers with ideas for more effective classroom management.

Management Strategies

Classroom Rules. One of the most powerful tools for a classroom teacher is the establishment of classroom rules. It is recommended that the whole class develop the rules and create a contract indicating the classroom rules, appropriate behaviors, and consequences for following or breaking classroom rules (Nissman, 2000). In addition to reflecting the diverse student population within the classroom (Wood, Davis, Swindle, & Quirk, 1996), the rules also should "reflect the philosophy of fair and equal treatment and mutual respect among students" (Stainback & Stainback, 1992, p. 8).

Depending on the children's developmental levels, the teacher can either guide the children to develop and word the rules in a positive manner or request students' feedback on previously written rules using positive language. Nissan (2000) states, "A positive statement offers a goal to work toward rather than a veiled threat to avoid" (p. 20). For example, instead of using the rule "Don't speak out of turn," teacher and children could word it positively: "Raise your hand and wait for permission before speaking." Further, it is important to create a limited number of rules, preferably no more than five. As Strout (2005) argues, "When classroom expectations are too numerous, complicated, or confusing, students will have a difficult time remembering and appropriately following them in the classroom" (p. 4). When the students present numerous ideas, the teacher should try to combine the ideas to create fewer rules.

In addition to being consistent in addressing consequences when a student chooses to break a classroom rule, teachers should reinforce students who choose to follow the rules (Polloway, Patton, & Serna, 2001). When combined with the students' perception of the rules being fair, consistency in reinforcing both positive and negative consequences will result in more appropriate behaviors (Meese, 1996).

Individual Contracts. Developing an individual contract might be required when a student is having recurring problems (Nissman, 2000). This contract provides a systematic way for teachers to individually set' behavioral goals in which a specific behavior is identified, the type of reward is stated, and the date upon which the reward will be given is specified (Alberto & Troutman, 2003). The contract should be developed between the teacher and the student, and be based on a dialog detailing what the teacher expects, as well as on questions that the student may have. In an individual contract, it is best to focus on one problem at a time (Bauer & Shea, 1999). If too many problems are addressed in a contract, the student may feel overwhelmed and display even more behavioral problems.

Positive Reinforcement. Teachers sometimes tend to give more attention to inappropriate behaviors and devote less attention to the behaviors that they deem appropriate for the classroom. By acknowledging the inappropriate behaviors, teachers reinforce their occurrence. Therefore, in order to increase the appropriate behaviors, teachers must positively reinforce desirable classroom behaviors. This positive reinforcement will be most effective if it is delivered to the student immediately following the desired behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 2003). Generally, three types of reinforcers--social, activity and tangible reinforcers--are recommended to increase appropriate behaviors (Polloway et al., 2001).

Social reinforcers, including praise, smiles, and thumbs-up gestures, are the easiest for teachers to use. Praise, the most commonly used social reinforcer, should be combined with positive feedback in order to make the praise meaningful. As Wood et al. (1996) note, "Positive feedback and praise from adults are essential if the adults hope to foster a student's participation in positive ways" (p. 131).

With activity reinforcers, students earn the right to participate in a particular activity (e.g., drawing, playing a game) other than the typical ones of a school day (e.g., center time, lunch, silent reading). Thus, the appeal of these activities should be enough to motivate students to behave in certain ways (Alberto & Troutman, 2001).

Tangible reinforcers, such as food or stickers, are usually paired with social reinforcers (Polloway et al., 2001). When food is used as reinforcement, it should be both nutritional (e.g., fruit) and provided in small portions.

Planned Ignoring. Teachers should not devote a large amount of their attention to inappropriate behaviors. In other words, they should rely on a certain amount of "planned ignoring." Before a teacher knowingly chooses to utilize planned ignoring, however, she/he should be aware of the difficulties associated with its use and know how to replace the inappropriate behavior with a more appropriate one. First, a teacher must be consistent. Second, a teacher should identify and reinforce appropriate behaviors. For example, if a student calls out answers during a group lesson without being called upon, the teacher should ignore the student's response. When the student does raise his/her hand and wait to be called upon, the teacher should be sure to praise this behavior and provide positive feedback. Third, the rate or duration of the inappropriate behavior may increase when planned ignoring is first implemented. Nevertheless, to help eliminate the inappropriate behavior, it is important for the teacher to remain consistent. Even after the student no longer engages in the inappropriate behavior, it is possible that the behavior may temporarily recur. The teacher must continue to ignore the behavior; otherwise, the student might chose to engage in the behavior more frequently (Alberto & Troutman, 2001).

Students sometimes engage in minor misbehaviors in order to gain peers' attention. While a teacher can instruct the other students to ignore the inappropriate behaviors, this can be difficult for young children to do. Planned ignoring should only be used when the behavior is tied to the student's desire to gain the teacher's attention.

Also, planned ignoring only should be used when the student's behavior does not have the potential to negatively affect the student's safety or the safety, of the other classmates, staff members, or the environment (e.g., fighting, carving into furniture, poking others). If the behavior has not been identified as a safety concern (e.g., pencil tapping, talking without being called on, and interrupting adult conversations), then the teacher can further analyze the behavior to identify what is prompting it and make a final decision as to whether or not to implement planned ignoring.

Redirection. One of the most underutilized management strategies is redirection. Wood et al. (1996) define redirection as helping a student "choose a more acceptable behavior." When a teacher notices a child engaged in an activity that only makes the student increasingly frustrated or has the potential to become worse, the teacher can use redirection to prevent inappropriate behaviors or decrease the escalation of inappropriate behaviors. Further, redirection can be used to help students regain control of their behaviors or prevent the escalation of behaviors by redirecting their energies away from the problem.

A teacher can guide the student back to the activity by asking questions and offering assistance. For example, a teacher may notice that a student is becoming frustrated while trying to put a puzzle together, suddenly pushing the puzzle to the floor. The teacher may ask the student if he tried to find the outside pieces first, then help the student by picking the outside pieces off the floor and putting them together. By doing this, the teacher might motivate the student and give him new ways of solving the problem. Another way of redirecting students' behavior is by temporarily taking them away from the activity or situation that has the potential to cause them stress. For example, a teacher may notice that two students are engaged in a conversation during breakfast and that one of the students appears to be upset. The teacher could ask the student to run an errand, clean the boards, water the plants, or pass out papers. By doing this, the student is removed from the stressful situation and engaged in a constructive activity, which provides time to calm down.

Final Thoughts

Teachers are encouraged to seek out other strategies that they can use to address discipline problems. Further valuable information can be obtained through other teachers, teacher's assistants, personal care aides, building administrators, and, most important, from the students themselves. Strategies that may work with one group of students may not work as effectively with another group; therefore, individualized treatment of the behavioral problem is essential. In addition, teachers should continuously readjust their approaches to make strategies more responsive to their students" diverse needs.

Recommended Resources

* About.Inc--http://specialed. and_Discipline_Strategies.htm

* Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children With Challenging Behavior--http://

* Education Reform--

* National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities (NICHY)


Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2003). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bauer, A. M., & Shea, T. M. (1999). Inclusion 101: How to teach all learners. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Kauffman, J. M. (2005). Characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders of children and youth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Meese, R. L. (1996). Strategies for teaching students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/ Cole Publishing.

Nissman, B. S. (2000). Teacher-tested classroom management strategies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Polloway, E. A., Patton, J. R., & Serna, L. (2001). Strategies for teaching learners with special needs (7th ed,). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Stainback, S., & Stainback, W. (Eds.). (1992). Curriculum considerations in inclusive classrooms: Facilitating learning for all students. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Strout, M. (2005). Positive behavioral support at the classroom level: Considerations and strategies. Beyond Behavior, 14(2), 3-8.

Wood, M. M., Davis, K. R., Swindle, F. L., & Quirk, C. (1996). Developmental therapy-developmental teaching: Fostering social-emotional competence in troubled children and youth (3rd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Lisa A. Rafferty is a special education doctoral candidate, Department of Learning and Instruction, State University of New York at Buffalo.
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Title Annotation:teaching strategies
Author:Rafferty, Lisa A.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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