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Behavior Interventions

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Least Intensive Interventions
Moderate/Intensive Interventions

Least Intensive Interventions

Response-Cost Lottery

Designed to be time effective for teachers, this strategy can be used with individual students or small groups.


  • Index card, tape
  • Colored slips of paper (different color for each student)


  • Develop a reward menu for each student targeted for this intervention.
  • Select 1-3 behaviors that you wish to reduce in the targeted student(s) and write out concrete definitions for each.
  • Decide on a time period during the instructional day that the Response Cost Lottery program will be in effect (e.g., 30 minutes during math class). NOTE: You may want to limit the length of the monitoring period at the start of the intervention, to increase the odds of student success. As the intervention proves successful, you can extend the monitoring period.
  • Decide how many points (i.e., paper slips) you will award to students at the outset of each monitoring period. (NOTE: For short monitoring periods, you may want to start with 4-5 points/paper slips.)
  • Prepare the lottery tickets. Use a different color paper for each student’s tickets, so that you can tell them apart from one another. Or type blanks on student tickets onto which the recipient can write in his or her name and the date that the ticket was awarded.
  • Choose how frequently you will hold lottery-ticket prize drawings. NOTE: Many teachers find that once per week is sufficiently motivating to make the intervention effective. For students with more intense or severe levels of misbehavior, however, you may want initially to hold prize drawings more frequently (e.g., daily) and as students’ behaviors improve, gradually extend intervals between drawings

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:

Step 1: Introduce the Response Cost Lottery Program to Targeted Students.

  • Explain that students will have the chance to earn rewards for good behavior.
  • Review with students the negative behaviors that you would like them to reduce. Use demonstration and modeling to ensure that students clearly know (a) the negative behavior(s) that should be avoided and (b) positive behavior(s) that they can engage in instead. Post the definitions that you have written for behaviors that are to be reduced.
  • Tape an index card on three sides onto the top of each student’s desk. Under the untapped corner of the index card, slip the pieces of paper assigned to that student-so that about half the slip is visible.
  • Tell students that the slips of paper represent behavior points. Let them know that every time that they show a negative behavior during the monitoring period, you will remove one of the slips of paper from their desk. At the end of the monitoring period, any slips that remain will be placed into a lottery ticket container.
  • Inform student that at the end of each week, you will hold a drawing for one or more prizes. Emphasize that students who hold onto more tickets through the week stand a greater chance of winning prizes.

Step 2: Start the Response Cost Lottery Intervention.

Consider reminding students at the start of each day’s monitoring period of your positive behavioral expectations (e.g., “We are going to start our lottery game now. Be sure to give me your best attention, raise you hand to get permission to speak, and do your best work!”). If you must remove a student’s lottery slip because of misbehavior, do so quietly and without drawing undue attention to him or her. If the student does not appear to understand why you are removing a slip, provide a brief explanation in a neutral voice and move on.

Step 3: Hold a Lottery-Ticket Drawing.

At the end of each week (or alternative time interval that you have selected), hold a lottery ticket drawing and permit students whose colored slips were drawn to select a prize from their reward menu. Empty the tickets from the lottery-ticket container and start over.

Hints for Using Response-Cost Lottery:

Use Bonus Tickets. You can increase motivation by telling students that they can earn an extra bonus ticket each day that they manage to hold onto all of their allocated slips throughout the entire observation period. These bonus tickets are placed in the lottery-ticket container along with the student’s other earned tickets.

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Behavior Contracts

The behavior contract is a simple positive-reinforcement intervention that is widely used by teachers to change student behavior. The behavior contract spells out in detail the expectations of student and teacher (and sometimes parents) in carrying out the intervention plan, making it a useful planning document. Also, because the student usually has input into the conditions that are established within the contract for earning rewards, the student is more likely to be motivated to abide by the terms of the behavior contract than if those terms had been imposed by someone else.

For example, a goal may be stated in the contract that a student “will participate in class activities, raising his hand, and being recognized by the classroom or specials teacher before offering an answer or comment.” Art, gym, or library instructors would then rate the student’s behaviors in these out-of-class settings and share these ratings with the classroom teacher.

Steps in Implementing This Intervention
The teacher decides which specific behaviors to select for the behavior contract. When possible, teachers should define behavior targets for the contract in the form of positive, pro-academic or pro-social behaviors. For example, an instructor may be concerned that a student frequently calls out answers during lecture periods without first getting permission from the teacher to speak. For the contract, the teacher’s concern that the student talks out may be restated positively as “The student will participate in class lecture and discussion, raising his hand and being recognized by the teacher before offering an answer or comment.” In many instances, the student can take part in selecting positive goals to increase the child’s involvement in, and motivation
toward, the behavioral contract.

The teacher meets with the student to draw up a behavior contract. (If appropriate, other school staff members and perhaps the student’s parent(s) are invited to participate as well.) The teacher next meets with the student to draw up a behavior contract. The contract should include:

  • A listing of student behaviors that are to be reduced or increased. As stated
    above, the student’s behavioral goals should usually be stated in positive, goal-oriented terms. Also, behavioral definitions should be described in sufficient detail to prevent disagreement about student compliance. The teacher should also select target behaviors that are easy to observe and verify. For instance completion of class assignments is a behavioral goal that can be readily evaluated. If the teacher selects the goal that a child “will not steal pens from other students,” though, this goal will be very difficult to observe and confirm.
  • A statement or section that explains the minimum conditions under which
    the student will earn a point, sticker, or other token for showing appropriate behaviors. For example, a contract may state that “Johnny will add a point to his Good Behavior Chart each time he arrives at school on time and hands in his completed homework assignment to the teacher.”
  • The conditions under which the student will be able to redeem collected stickers, points, or other tokens to redeem for specific rewards. A contract may state, for instance, that “When Johnny has earned 5 points on his Good Behavior Chart, he may select a friend, choose a game from the play-materials shelf, and spend 10 minutes during free time at the end of the day playing the game.”
  • Bonus and penalty clauses (optional). Although not required, bonus and penalty clauses can provide extra incentives for the student to follow the contract. A bonus clause usually offers the student some type of additional pay-off for consistently reaching behavioral targets. A penalty clause may prescribe a penalty for serious problem behaviors; e.g., the student disrupts the class or endangers the safety of self or of others.
  • Areas for signature. The behavior contract should include spaces for both teacher and student signatures, as a sign that both parties agree to adhere to their responsibilities in the contract. Additionally, the instructor may want to include signature blocks for other staff members (e.g., a school administrator) and/or the student’s parent(s).

Hints for Using Behavior Contracts:
Behavior contracts can be useful when the student has behavioral problems in school locations other than the classroom (e.g., art room, cafeteria). Once a behavior contract has proven effective in the classroom, the instructor can meet with the student to extend the terms of the contract across multiple settings. Adults in these other school locations would then be responsible for rating the student’s behaviors during the time that the student is with them.

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Working With Defiant Kids:
Communication Tools for Teachers

Teachers cite conflicts with defiant and non-compliant students as being a primary cause of classroom disruption. In many schools, staff believe that student misbehavior is so pervasive that it seriously interferes with effective instruction. This article outlines important communication tools that teachers can use to defuse (or even prevent!) confrontations with students.

How to Use Active Listening to Interrupt an Upset Student Without
Here is a useful tip for using active listening. When a student is quite upset and talking very quickly, you can safely interrupt him or her, take control of the conversation, and still seem supportive by using an active listening phrase (Thompson, 1993). For example, you might interrupt a student by saying, “Whoa, just a minute! You’ve covered a lot of ground. Let me just try to sum up what you said so that I know that I am understanding you!”

Why do classroom conflicts between teachers and students seem to occur so

Conflicts are social power struggles and must always involve at least two parties. As conflicts between students and teachers appear to be so widespread, it might help to examine what factors tend to push each party into these power struggles.

Students who are prone to conflict often do poorly in school. They may act out in part to mask their embarrassment about their limited academic skills. These students may also lack basic pro-social strategies that would help them to work through everyday school difficulties. For example, students may become confrontational because they do not know how to ask for help on a difficult assignment, lack the ability to sit down with a peer and calmly talk through a problem, or are unable to negotiate politely with a teacher to get an extension on an assignment.

Students can also sometimes adopt defiance toward teachers as a deliberate strategy because, in the past, this confrontational behavior seems to have paid off for them in the form of reduced expectations for schoolwork or improved social standing with peers. The longer that a student has engaged in habitual confrontational behavior, the more time and energy a teacher will probably need to invest in specific strategies to turn that behavior around.

Teachers who get pulled into power struggles with students may not realize that they are often simply reacting to student provocation. For each step that the student escalates the conflict (e.g., raising his or her voice, assuming a threatening posture), the teacher matches the step (e.g., speaking more loudly, moving into the student’s personal space). In other words, a teacher allows the student to control the interaction.

Furthermore, if an instructor has already decided that a student is generally defiant, the teacher may be overly quick to jump to conclusions, interpreting any ambiguous behavior on the part of the student (e.g., muttering in frustration during a test) as intended to be deliberately confrontational (Fisher et al., 1991). The instructor may then reprimand or criticize the student, triggering a confrontation.

What is the most important point to keep in mind when working with a defiant or non-compliant student?

The cardinal rule to keep in mind in managing conflicts with students is to stay outwardly calm and to maintain a professional perspective. For example, it is certainly OK to experience anger when a student deliberately attempts to insult or confront you in front of the entire classroom. If you react with an angry outburst, though, the student will control the interaction, perhaps escalating the conflict until the student engineers his or her desired outcome. If you instead approach the student in a business-like, neutral manner, and impose consistent, fair consequences for misbehavior, you will model the important lesson that you cannot be pulled into a power struggle at the whim of a student.

Instructors who successfully stay calm in the face of student provocation often see two additional benefits:

    1. Over time, students may become less defiant, because they no longer experience the reward of watching you react in anger;
    2. Because you now deal with student misbehavior impartially, efficiently and quickly, you will have more instructional time available that used to be consumed in epic power struggles.

How do I deliver a teacher command in a way that will minimize the chance of a power struggle?

You can increase the odds that a student will follow a teacher command by:

  1. approaching the student privately and using a quiet voice
  2. establishing eye contact and calling the student by name before giving the command
  3. stating the command as a positive (do) statement, rather than a negative (don’t) statement.
  4. phrasing the command in clear and descriptive terms (using simple language that is easily understood) so the student knows exactly what he or she is expected to do (Walker & Walker, 1991).

There are several ways that you might use to deliver a teacher command. The table below presents two sequences for teacher commands, one brief and one extended (Thompson, 1993; Walker & Walker, 1991). Your choice of which to use will depend on your own personal preference and your judgment about how a particular student will respond to each.

Teacher Command Sequence (Brief)

Teacher Command Sequence (Extended)

1.  Make the request.  Use simple, clear language that the student understands.  If possible, phrase the request as a positive (do) statement, rather than a negative (don’t) statement.  (E.g., “John, please start your math assignment now.”)  Wait a reasonable time for the student to comply (e.g., 5 to 20 seconds).

1.  Make the request.  Use simple, clear language that the student understands.  If possible, phrase the request as a positive (do) statement, rather than a negative (don’t) statement.  (E.g., “John, please start your math assignment now.”)  Wait a reasonable time for the student to comply (e.g., 5 to 20 seconds).

2.  [If the student fails to comply] Repeat the request.  Say to the student. “You need to…” and restate the request.  (E.g., “John, you need to start your math assignment now.”)
Take no other action.  Wait a reasonable time for the student to comply (e.g., 5 to 20 seconds).

2.  [If the student fails to comply] Repeat the request as a 2-part choice.  Give the student two clear choices with clear consequences.  Order the choices so that the student hears a pre-selected negative consequence as the first choice and the teacher request as the second choice.  (E.g., “John, you can refuse to participate in the math assignment and receive a referral to the principal’s office, or you can start the math assignment now and not be written up.  It’s your choice.” 
Take no other action.  Wait a reasonable time for the student to comply (e.g., 5 to 20 seconds).

3.  [If the student fails to comply] Impose a pre-selected negative consequence.  As you impose the consequence, ignore student questions or complaints that appear intended to entangle you in a power struggle.

3.  [Optional – If the student fails to comply]  Offer a face-saving out.  Say to the student, “Is there anything that I can say or do at this time to earn your cooperation?” (Thompson, 1993).
4.  [If the student fails to comply]  Impose the pre-selected negative consequence.  As you impose the consequence, ignore student questions or complaints that appear intended to entangle you in a power struggle.

Are there other effective communication strategies that I can use with defiant students?

There are a number of supportive techniques that teachers can use to establish rapport and convey their behavioral expectations clearly to students, including:

  • Active Listening. Active listening, or paraphrasing, is the act of summarizing another person’s ideas, opinions, or point of view in your own words. Students who are chronically hostile and confrontational often believe that nobody truly listens to them. When upset, they frequently interrupt the teacher because they believe that the instructor does not understand their point of view. Active listening is powerful because it demonstrates beyond a doubt that you have not only heard the student’s comments but that you have grasped his or her opinions so clearly that you can repeat them back to the satisfaction of the speaker. Note, though, that active listening does not imply that you necessarily agree with the student’s point of view. Rather, it shows that you fully comprehend that viewpoint. Students tend to view teachers who practice active listening as being empathic, respectful, and caring individuals. Here are some statements you can use when paraphrasing student comments:
    1. “Let me be sure that I understand you correctly…”
    2. “I want to summarize the points that you made, so that I know that I heard you right…”
    3. “So from your point of view, the situation looks like this…”

Once you have finished summarizing the student’s point of view, give that student the opportunity to let you know how accurately he or she thinks you paraphrased those views: “Does what I just said sound like your point of view?” And don’t be surprised if the student clarifies his or her position at this point. (“Well, teacher, I don’t think that you really meant to pick on me when I walked into class late, but when you called me by name and drew attention to me, I got really embarrassed!”) Though a simple communication technique, active listening can transform a potential classroom conflict into a productive student/teacher conversation.

  • I-Centered Statements. When we tell oppositional students that they are engaging in inappropriate behaviors, we run the risk of having them challenge the truth of our statements or of taking offense at being criticized for their conduct. An instructor’s use of I-centered statements can reduce the potential that teacher criticism will lead to student confrontation. Because I-centered statements reflect only the instructor’s opinions and viewpoints, they are less incendiary and open to challenge than more global statements that pin blame for misbehavior on the student. For example, rather than telling a student, “You are always disrupting class with your jokes and fooling around!,” you may say, “Zeke, I find it difficult to keep everybody’s attention when there are other conversations going on in the classroom. That’s why I need you to open your book and focus on today’s lesson.”
    • Pairing of Criticism With Praise (Adapted from Thompson, 1993). Sometimes you have no choice but to let a student know directly and bluntly that his or her classroom behaviors are not acceptable. Many oppositional students, though, have experienced a painful history of rejection in personal relationships and lack close ties with adults. No matter how supportively you present behavioral criticism to these students, they may assume that you are in fact rejecting them as individuals and react strongly to this perceived rejection. One strategy to reassure the student that you continue to value him or her as a person is to (a) describe the problem behavior that you would like to see changed, (b) clearly outline appropriate behavioral alternatives (b) praise the student about some other aspect of his or her behavior or accomplishments, and finally (c) state that you value having the student as a part of the classroom community.

    Here is a demonstration of this communication strategy:

      1. Description of problem behavior: “Trina, you said disrespectful things about other students during our class meeting this morning. You continued to do so even after I asked you to stop.”
      2. Appropriate behavioral alternative(s): “It’s OK to disagree with another person’s ideas. But you need to make sure that your comments do not insult or hurt the feelings of others.”
      3. Specific praise: “I am talking to you about this behavior because know that you can do better. In fact, I have really come to value your classroom comments. You have great ideas and express yourself very well.”
      4. Affirmation statement: “You are an important member of this class!”

What are some conflict pitfalls that I should watch out for?

Communication is never easy, especially when you work with students who can be defiant. You can maximize your chances for successful communication, though, if you:

  1. Avoid a mismatch between your words and nonverbal signals. Students are quick to sense when a speaker’s body language and tone of voice convey a different message than his or her words. If the student reads your nonverbal signals as being disrespectful or confrontational, conflict may result. If a teacher speaks politely to a student, for example, but has his fists clenched and uses a sarcastic tone, that student is likely to discount the instructor’s words and focus instead on his nonverbal signals. Be sure that you convey sincerity by matching your verbal message with your nonverbal cues.
  2. Take time to plan your response before reacting to provocative student behavior or remarks. It is easy to react without thinking when a student makes comments or engages in behavior that offends or upsets you. If you let anger take over, however, and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, you may end up making “the greatest speech that you’ll ever live to regret” (Thompson, 1993, p. 32). A teacher’s angry response can escalate student misbehavior, resulting in a power struggle that spirals out of control. When provoked, take several seconds to collect your thoughts and to think through an appropriate, professional response before you take action.
  3. Do not become entangled in a discussion or argument with a confrontational student (Walker & Walker, 1991). Some students are very skilled at dragging teachers into discussions or arguments that turn into power struggles. When you must deliver a command to confront or discipline a student who is defiant or confrontational, be careful not to get hooked into a discussion or argument with that student. If you find yourself being drawn into an exchange with the student (e.g., raising your voice, reprimanding the student), immediately use strategies to disengage yourself (e.g., by moving away from the student, repeating your request in a business-like tone of voice, imposing a predetermined consequence for noncompliance).
  4. Do not try to coerce or force the student to comply. It is a mistake to use social pressure (e.g., reprimands, attempting to stare down students, standing watch over them) or physical force to make a confrontational student comply with a request (Walker & Walker, 1991). The student will usually resist and a power struggle will result. In particular, adults should not lay hands on a student to force compliance, as the student will almost certainly view this act as a serious physical threat and respond in kind.

What are proactive steps that I can take to head off or minimize conflict with students?

The best way to handle a student conflict is to prevent it from occurring altogether: Some ideas to accomplish this are to:

Offer the student face-saving exit strategies.
According to Fisher, et AL. (1993), “face-saving reflects a person’s need to reconcile the stand he takes in a negotiation or agreement with his principles and with his past words and deeds” (p. 29). When a potential confrontation looms, you can give a student a face-saving way out by phrasing your request in a way that lets the student preserve his or her self-image even as the student complies. 

A teacher, for example, who says to a student, “Rashid, take out your book now and pay attention — or I will send you to the office!” backs the student into a corner. The student cannot comply without appearing to have done so merely to avoid the threatened disciplinary consequence (that is, prompt compliance would probably result in Rashid’s losing face with his peers). The teacher might instead use this face-saving alternative: “Rashid, please take out your book now and pay attention. We need to make sure that you do well on the upcoming test so that you continue to be eligible to play on the lacrosse team. They need your talent!”

Act in positive ways that are inconsistent with the student’s expectations (Fisher, et al., 1991).
Because they have experienced so many disappointments in school, confrontational students may believe that teachers do not take a personal interest in them or value their classroom contributions. You can surprise these students and begin to forge more positive relationships by showing through your actions that you do indeed value them.

You might, for example, occasionally bring in articles from popular magazines on topics that you know will interest the student, set aside time for weekly individual conferences to be sure that the student understands and is making progress on all assignments, or take a couple of minutes each day to engage the student in social conversation. Each ach small random act of kindness will probably not instantly change a teacher-student relationship. Over time, however, such acts will demonstrate your empathy and caring--and are likely to have a cumulative, powerful, and positive impact on the student.

Select fair behavioral consequences in advance (Walker & Walker, 1991). When you are face-to-face with a confrontational student, it can be a challenge to remain impartial and fair in choosing appropriate consequences for misbehavior. Instead, take time in advance to set up a classwide menu of positive consequences for good behaviors and negative consequences for misbehavior. Be sure that all students understand what those consequences are. Then be consistent in applying those consequences to individual cases of student misbehavior.

Avoid making task demands of students when they are upset.
Students will be much more likely to become confrontational if you approach them with a task demand at a time when they are already frustrated or upset. When possible, give agitated students a little breathing room to collect themselves and calm down before giving them commands (Walker & Walker, 1993).

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Mystery Motivator

This reward system intrigues students because it carries a certain degree of unpredictability. The strategy can be used with an entire class or with individual students.


  • Mystery Motivator Chart
  • Special watercolor markers (including ‘invisible’ marker)*


  • Develop a reward menu for the individual or class targeted for this intervention.
  • Select 1-3 behaviors that you wish to reduce or increase in the targeted student(s) and write out concrete definitions for each.
  • Decide on a time period during the instructional day that the Mystery Motivator program will be in effect (e.g., during math class, all morning, throughout the school day).
  • Decide on the minimum behavioral criteria that the student must meet in order to earn a chance to fill in a blank on the Mystery Motivator Chart (e.g., all homework turned in; fewer than 2 teacher reminders to pay attention during reading group)
  • Prepare the Mystery Motivator Chart.
  • First, decide how frequently you want students to be able to earn a reward (a good rule of thumb is to start with a frequency of 3-4 times per week and then to reduce the frequency as student behaviors improve).
  • Next, randomly select as many days of the week on the chart as you plan to reward students. For each day that you select on the chart, write the letter “M” into the chart blank with the invisible-ink pen.
  • Finally, come up with guidelines for the student or class to earn bonus points (e.g., if the student or class earn the chance to fill out at least 3 of the five chart spaces in a week, they will be given the bonus points that appear in the Bonus Points box on the Mystery Motivator Chart). Each week, you will write a different number of bonus points (e.g., between 1 and 5) into the bonus points box. If the student or class earns these points, they will be able to redeem them for a prize from the reward menu.

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:
Step 1: Introduce the Mystery Motivator program to students:

    1. Explain that students will have the chance to earn rewards for good behavior.
    2. Review the behaviors that you have selected with students. Use demonstration and modeling to ensure that students clearly know either (a) the negative behavior(s) that should be avoided or (b) the positive behavior(s) that should be increased. Post the behavioral definitions that you have written.
    3. Introduce the Mystery Motivator Chart. Tell students that they can earn a chance to fill in the blank on the chart for the current day to uncover a possible reward-but only if they first are able to show the appropriate behaviors. Specifically, inform students of the behavioral criteria that they must meet and the time period each day that the program will be in effect (e.g., “If you turn in all of your classwork assignments by 2 p.m., you will be allowed to color the daily blank on the chart.”)
    4. Let students know that the magical letter “M” (for Mystery Motivator) has been secretly placed in some (but not all) of the chart squares. If the student reveals the “M” as he or she fills in the chart, the student can select a reward from the reward menu.

Step 2: Start the Mystery Motivator intervention.
At the end of the daily monitoring period, inform the student or class whether they have earned the chance to fill in the Mystery Motivator Chart. Permit the student or class to color in the chart blank for the current day, using the special markers.

    1. If the magic letter “M” appears, the student or class can select a prize from the prize menu.
    2. If the magic letter “M” does not appear, congratulate and praise the student or class for their good behaviors. Let them know that they will have another chance to fill in the Mystery Motivator Chart tomorrow.

Step 3: Award Bonus Points.
At the end of each week, determine whether the student or class has met criteria to fill in the Bonus Points box. Award any points that appear in the box and let the student or class redeem them for corresponding prizes from the reward menu.

Hints for Using Mystery Motivator:
Substitute Paper Slips for Special Markers. Students find it very motivating to color in chart blanks to uncover a hidden prize symbol. However, the teacher who does not have special “invisible ink” markers readily available can substitute envelopes and folded slips of paper. At the start of the week, the teacher takes five envelopes and writes one of the days of the week on the back of each. The teacher then takes five slips of paper. For each day (e.g., 3) that child can earn a reward, the teacher writes the letter “M” on the slip. The remaining slips are left blank. The teacher then folds all slips in half, randomly mixes them up, seals them into the envelopes, and stores them securely. Whenever the student or class meets the behavioral criteria, the teacher retrieves the envelope with the current day written on it and hands it to a student to open. If the letter “M” appears on the slip inside, the student or class can choose a reward from the reward menu.

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Breaking the Attention-Seeking Habit:
The Power of Random Positive Teacher Attention

Some students misbehave because they are trying to attract teacher attention. Surprisingly, many students who value adult attention don’t really care if it is positive (praise) or negative attention (reprimands) — they just want attention!

Unfortunately, instructors with students who thrive on teacher attention can easily fall into a reprimand trap. The scenario might unfold much like this: First, the student misbehaves. Then the teacher approaches the student and reprimands him or her for misbehaving. Because the student finds the negative teacher attention to be reinforcing, he or she continues to misbehave-and the teacher naturally responds by reprimanding the student more often! An escalating, predictable cycle is established, with the student repeatedly acting-out and teacher reprimanding him or her.

Teachers can break out of this cycle, though, by using random positive attention with students. Essentially, the instructor starts to ignore student attention-seeking behaviors, while at the same time randomly giving the student positive attention. That is, the student receives regular positive teacher attention but at times unconnected to misbehavior. So the student still gets the adult attention that he or she craves. More importantly, the link between student misbehavior and resulting negative teacher attention is broken.

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:
Step 1: Select How the Teacher Will Show Positive Attention to the Student.
The key to this intervention strategy is that the teacher will be giving the student regular positive attention at times of his or her choosing. It is important, then, for the teacher to put together a list of ways to deliver positive attention that (a) can be done quickly, without disrupting classroom instruction, and (b) the student actually finds rewarding. Here are just a few ideas for giving positive attention:

    1. Pat the student on the shoulder
    2. Make eye contact and smile at the student
    3. Check in with the student about how he or she is progressing with an assignment
    4. Call on the student in class (when you are pretty sure that he or she knows the answer!)
    5. Pass the student a note with a cheerful comment, specific praise, or compliment
    6. Give brief, specific praise about the student’s work or behavior (e.g., “I really like to see how carefully you are drawing that map, Joanna!”)
    7. Give the student a few words of encouragement
    8. Invite the student to summarize for the group the main points of a classroom discussion
    9. Converse briefly with the student
    10. Select the student to carry out a classroom task (e.g., passing out papers) that he or she likes

Step 2: Decide How Frequently the Teacher Will Give Random Positive Attention to the Student During a Class.
The teacher now needs to figure out how often during a class period he or she will approach the student to give positive attention. Generally, this intervention works best if the teacher is able to give the student a fairly high level of positive attention, at least at the outset.

One good way for the teacher to estimate how frequently to provide positive attention is to observe a student across several class periods. The instructor keeps track of how frequently (e.g., once every 5 minutes) the student tries to capture the teacher’s attention with problem behaviors. When the teacher has a good idea of how often the student typically seeks attention, he or she can plan to counter the misbehavior by giving the student random positive attention at the same rate. Note: A teacher can simply estimate the student’s rate of attention-getting behavior based on past experience with him or her.

Step 3: The Teacher Chooses the Time(s) and Setting(s) in Which to Use Random Positive Attention.
If the target student engages in attention-seeking during only certain times of the day or in particular locations (e.g., just after lunch in math class), the teacher can limit this intervention to just those time periods. If the student seems to be attention-seeking most of the time and in most locations, however, the teacher may want to use the random attention strategy across a greater part of the school day.

Step 4: Start the Random Attention Intervention.
Unlike some intervention ideas, random teacher attention does not require that the student be formally trained in its use. Just start the intervention! There are just two simple rules:

    1. Rule 1: Whenever the student inappropriately tries to get the teacher’s attention, the instructor either (a) ignores the student or (b) in a neutral manner, quietly and briefly redirects the child to task. The teacher then continues teaching.
    2. Rule 2: During a given class session, whenever the student is due for positive teacher attention, the teacher observes the student. If the student is not engaged in attention-seeking behavior when the teacher glances at him or her, the instructor immediately approaches the student and briefly delivers positive attention (using a choice from the list developed in Step 1). Then continue teaching. Otherwise, the teacher simply ignores the student’s attention-seeking behavior and continues teaching.

Step 5: Fade the Successful Intervention Over Time.
Once the teacher finds that random positive attention has significantly reduced or eliminated the student’s attention-seeking behavior, the instructor can gradually fade the intervention. Each week, the instructor reduces the number of times that he or she approaches the student with positive attention--until the teacher is only occasionally providing that attention. If at any point in the fading process, the teacher discovers that the student begins again to act in an attention-seeking manner, the teacher can temporarily increase the rate of random positive attention until the student’s behavior improves. Then the teacher continues fading the attention.

Hints for Using The Power of Random Positive Teacher Attention:
Teach other instructors to use random attention. After you have experienced success with this strategy, teach other educators who work with the child to use the intervention. Share with them your list of positive ways to show random attention to the student.

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Preventing Graffiti and Vandalism:
Enlisting the Power of Classrooms

Graffiti and vandalism can cost a school a great deal of money in repairs. They also may contribute to a perception that the school is not well cared for and is an unsafe environment for students and staff. Because the writing of graffiti and acts of vandalism are usually carried out in secret, schools may discover that these types of misbehavior are difficult to curb. One intervention idea to reduce misbehavior directed against school property is to have classrooms of students adopt various school locations and to reward them for each day that these locations are kept in good repair (Watson, 1996). When student bystanders are given a personal stake in the maintenance of school property, they can quickly send a message to potential vandals that defacing or destroying property is not cool!

Encourage Classrooms to Help to Implement the Program.
Teachers can tap student creativity and strengthen their classroom’s commitment to the location-adoption project by having students assist in carrying out the program. Students, for example, might design their own site-adoption posters or visit their adopted location on a daily basis to evaluate its appearance (using a quality checklist of their own creation). Students might also be enlisted in a service-learning project to make repairs or improvements to a school setting. A classroom responsible for a wall on the exterior of the school that is a popular target for graffiti, for example, might solicit a small grant from a local foundation, use the money to purchase paint from a neighborhood hardware store, and work together under the art teacher’s supervision to cover the wall with an inspirational mural.

Use Public Announcements and Newsletters to Build Interest.
A school can deepen student investment in the adopt-a-location program in inventive ways. A building may make daily announcements over the public address system, for example, of classrooms who earned prize points because of the good condition of their adopted locations or deliver weekly reports of those five classrooms with the longest string of uninterrupted days of having prize points awarded. The same information can be written up for school newsletters.


  • Copies of Adopt-A-School-Location poster

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:
Step 1: Select Locations Vulnerable to Vandalism or Misuse.
Schools first should select those areas of the school that tend to be singled out for vandalism or other types of misuse. Student bathrooms, for instance, are often targets for property destruction and graffiti. Custodial staff are an excellent source for identifying vulnerable school locations. Schools might also survey staff and students, asking them which locations they would most like to see be cleaned up.

Step 2: Collect Baseline Information About the Extent of the Vandalism Problem and Set Goals for Improvement.
For a week or two, visit the selected clean-up locations around the school each day For each location, determine what kinds of problems are occurring (e.g., graffiti, trash strewn on the floor, property damage), how frequently they happen, and how severe they are. Keep daily notes on each location. For example, a custodian may visit a student bathroom at the end of a school day and record: “Graffiti written in ink on four spots on walls. Drawing scratched into metal bathroom stall. Numerous paper towels thrown on floor around trash receptacle.”

Step 3: Determine Minimum Quality Standards for Adopted Locations.
Once school staff have collected baseline information about the degree of vandalism, graffiti, and neglect that occurs in locations selected for this intervention, they must agree on minimum daily quality standards expected for each location. (These standards will serve as the criteria that the classrooms that have adopted various locations must meet in order to be awarded daily prize points.) For example, a school may set the daily quality standards for a student bathroom as follows: “No more than two pieces of trash are found outside of the trash receptacles, no fresh graffiti has been written, and no destruction of property has occurred.”

Step 4: Assign Classrooms to Adopt School Locations.
Classrooms are next assigned school locations to adopt. Here are teacher guidelines for presenting the adopt-a-location program to students:

    1. The teacher opens the classroom discussion by asking students how they can tell-using only the cues in their physical environment-that they are in a place where people are respected. (e.g., “Floors are kept clean,” “Walls are freshly painted,” “Blown light bulbs are replaced”) The teacher writes student contributions on the board.
    2. The teacher next names a specific site in the school (e.g., the school cafeteria). At this point, only the teacher knows that this location was picked because it is so often targeted for vandalism or graffiti. Students are instructed to review the posted list of indicators of a quality environment that they have just generated. They are asked: Does this particular location’s daily appearance suggest to visitors that people are respected there? If not, why not?
    3. The teacher announces that the classroom will be adopting the school location discussed by the group. The instructor informs students that the class will earn a certain number of points (e.g., 5) for each day that their adopted school location is kept free of litter and graffiti and in good repair. Students also learn that when their class has accumulated a certain number of points (e.g., 120) they will earn a group prize (e.g., video and popcorn party, field trip, etc.).

Step 5: Begin the Intervention.
Adoption posters are displayed in each selected location and updated daily. As the intervention is put into effect, a poster is placed in each adoption location. The poster should:

    1. identify the classroom adopting it
    2. indicate the number of prize points the classroom will receive for each day that the location is kept clean and in good repair
    3. remind visitors to treat the setting with respect
    4. show the number of uninterrupted days that the location has met minimum quality criteria. (NOTE: Because the uninterrupted days figure is changed daily, teachers may want to laminate the poster and use a dry-erase marker to update this information more easily.)

During the intervention, each adopted location should be examined at about the same time each day. If the location meets its own minimum quality criteria (Step 3), the classroom teacher assigns the agreed-upon number of prize points to the classroom total. When the classroom has collected sufficient points to redeem for the agreed-upon group reward, the teacher makes sure that the reward is delivered within a reasonable amount of time. Then the points accumulate again toward another possible group prize.

Hints for Using Preventing Graffiti and Vandalism: Enlisting the Power of Classrooms:
Build student excitement with an assembly. If multiple classrooms will be participating in the Adopt-a-School-Location program, schools can introduce the program in an assembly to generate greater visibility and enthusiasm for the initiative.

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Response Effort

The amount of effort that a person must put forth to successfully complete a specific behavior has a direct impact on the frequency that the person will engage in that behavior. As the response effort required to carry out a behavior increases, a person is generally less likely to show that behavior; conversely, as the response effort decreases, a person will be more likely to engage in that behavior. To use one example, a student will probably read more frequently if a book is stored in his or her school desk than if the child must walk to a different floor of the school building and get access to a locked cabinet whenever the student wants to read a book.

Teachers are the managers of their students’ learning. By assessing their children’s academic capabilities and work-styles, instructors can often make modest adjustments in the student’s academic program (e.g., reading group level, amount of homework assigned, etc.) that can positively affect the student’s school performance.

As a behavior-management tool, response effort seems like simple common sense: We engage less in behaviors that we find hard to accomplish. Teachers often forget, however, that response effort can be a useful part of a larger intervention plan. To put it simply, teachers can boost the chances that a student will take part in desired behaviors (e.g., completing homework or interacting appropriately with peers) by making these behaviors easy and convenient to take part in. However, if teachers want to reduce the frequency of a behavior (e.g., a child’s running from the classroom), they can accomplish this by making the behavior more difficult to achieve (e.g., seating the child at the rear of the room, far from the classroom door).

Steps in Implementing This Intervention
The teacher selects either an undesirable behavior to decrease or a desirable behavior to increase. By varying response effort required to complete a behavior, the teacher can influence the frequency of a child’s targeted behavior, making it likely to appear more often or less often. First, however, the teacher must select a behavioral target to increase or decrease.

(Optional) If necessary, the teacher breaks the behavioral target into more manageable sub-steps. Some school behavioral goals are global and consist of many sub-steps. For instance, a goal that “the student will complete all school assignments during seatwork time” could be further sub-divided into: (1) The student will organized her work materials prior to starting seatwork, (2) If she encounters a work item that she does not understand, the student will use independent problem-solving skills prior to approaching the teacher for help; and several other key sub-steps. Breaking larger behavior goals into smaller steps will make it easier for the teacher to decide how to manipulate the response effort required to carry out each sub-step.

The teacher chooses ways to alter the response effort required to complete each selected behavior or behavior sub-step. This final step is best demonstrated through examples:

    • Increasing response effort to reduce the rate of an undesirable behavior. Putting a physical barrier between a student and an activity, imposing a wait-time before a student can take part in an activity are examples of an increase in response effort.

    Example: A teacher finds that one of her students sits down at a computer in her room whenever he can find an opportunity to use a spelling-word program that presents lessons in a game-like format. While the teacher is happy to see that the student enjoys using the academic software, she finds that his frequent use of the computer interferes with his completion of other important schoolwork. She has already broken down the student’s behavior, “using the computer,” into two sub-steps, “sitting down at the computer” and “starting the spelling software program.” While observing the student, though, the teacher notes that the computer is left on in the classroom during the entire school day, making it very convenient for the student to use it at inappropriate times. The teacher decides to increase the response effort needed to use the computer by leaving it turned off when not in use. The student must now switch on the computer and wait for it to boot up before he can use it, a procedure that takes about 2 minutes. Several days later, the teacher notes that the student’s rate of unauthorized computer use has dropped significantly because the effort (increased wait-time) to use the computer has increased.

    • Reducing response effort to increase the rate of a desirable behavior. Putting instructional supplies within convenient reach and having an older peer help a child to organize study materials are examples of a decrease in response effort.

    Example: The instructor wants to encourage children in his classroom to read more. After analyzing the current opportunities that children have for getting and reading books in school, the instructor realizes both that students do not have comfortable places to read in the classroom and that, with the current schedule they can get the school library only once per week. The teacher creates a reading corner in his room, with an old but serviceable couch, reading lamps, and a shelf with paperback titles popular with his class. The teacher also arranges with the school’s library media specialist to allow his students to drop by daily to check out books. By creating both a more comfortable reading location and easier access to books, the teacher is able to lower the threshold of effort needed to read. As a result, his students read more in the classroom.

Hints for Using Response Effort
In order for students to be successful in academics, it is crucial that they be placed in instructional material that challenges them to achieve but does not leave them floundering with work too difficult to complete. Instructional match can be thought of as an example of response effort.

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Strategies for Working With
Emotionally Unpredictable Students

Stage 1:  Frustration
      Warning Signs: The student may…

    • bite nails or lips.
    • grimace.
    • mutter or grumble.
    • appear flushed or tense.
    • seem ‘stuck’ on a topic or issue.

     Strategies to prevent or reduce the intensity of student frustration:

    • Antiseptic bounce: Send the student from the room on an errand or task.
    • Permit student to go to quiet spot within or outside of classroom on a respite break (brief cool-down period).
    • Teach the student appropriate ways to seek help when stuck on academic assignment.
    • Spend 5 minutes talking through issue with student (or send student to another caring adult).
    • Give student an IOU to meet with adult to talk over issue at more convenient time.
    • Teach student to recognize signs of emotional upset and to use self-calming strategies.
    • Teach the student how to negotiate with instructors about assignments or work expectations.
    • Use motivation strategies to make learning more inviting.

Stage 2: Defensiveness
      Warning Signs: The student may…

    • lash out verbally at others.
    • withdraw (emotionally or physically).
    • challenge the authority of the instructor or other adult.
    • refuse to comply with adult requests or to follow classroom routines.
    • project blame onto others.

     Strategies to prevent or reduce the intensity of student defensiveness:

    • Avoid discussions of “who is right” or “who is in control.”
    • Approach the student privately, make eye contact, address the student in a quiet voice about his or her behavior.
    • Use humor to defuse conflict situation.
    • Consider an apology if you have inadvertently wronged or offended the student.
    • Impose appropriate consequences on peers if they are provoking the student through teasing, taunts, verbal challenges, or physical horseplay.
    • Help the student to identify appropriate range of responses for the situation and to select one.
    • Permit student some leeway on assignment or classroom expectations (as an acknowledgement of the life or situational stress that they might be experiencing).
    • Teach the student non-stigmatizing ways to get academic help and support in the classroom.
    • Direct the student to write down the main points of his or her concerns. Promise that you will read through the student’s account and meet individually to discuss the problem.
    • Use effective teacher commands to direct the student: (1) keep each command brief, (2) state command directly rather than in “Could you please…” format, (3) use businesslike tone, avoiding anger and sarcasm, (4) avoid lengthy explanations for why you are making the request, (4) repeat command once if student fails to comply, then follow up with pre-determined consequences.
    • Use planned ignoring (NOTE: This strategy works best when the student lacks an audience).

Stage 3: Aggression
      Warning Signs: The student may…

    • make verbal threats.
    • use abusive language.
    • assume threatening posture (e.g., with fists raised).
    • physically strike out at peers or adults.

Strategies to react to, prepare for or respond to student verbal or physical aggression:

  • Remove other students or adults from the immediate vicinity of student (to protect their safety and eliminate an audience)
  • Adopt a supportive stance: step slightly to the side of the student and orient your body so that you face the student obliquely at a 45- to 90-degree angle.
  • Respect the student’s personal space. Most people interpret the distance extending outward from their body to a distance of 2-1/2 to 3 feet as a bubble of personal space. To both ensure your physical safety and reduce the student’s sense of threat, always stand at least a leg’s length away from the student.
  • Use supportive paraverbal and non-verbal communication. Children are adept at reading our moods and feelings through non-verbal signals such as facial expressions, and body language. Maintain a calm tone of voice and body posture to project acceptance and support for the student.
  • Do not block the door. Unless you have a compelling reason to do so (e.g., with very young children), try not to block the upset child’s access to the door as you approach the student. The student may interpret a blocked exit as a threat and attempt to go around or even through you to escape.
  • Deliver a clear statement of choices. Here is a 3-step approach for making requests to upset students:
    1. Give the student two clear choices with clear consequences. Order the choices so that the student hears the teacher-preferred choice last e.g., “John, you can refuse to participate in the math assignment and be written up for detention or you can start the math assignment now and not be written up.” Make sure above all that you can enforce any consequences that you present to the student.
    2. If the student fails to comply in a reasonable amount of time to Step 1, state clearly and firmly what you want the student to do. Include a time limit for student compliance and specify a location if necessary. For example, a teacher may tell the student, “John, I want you to return to your desk [location] now [time-frame] and begin your math assignment [requested behavior].”
    3. If the student still fails to comply with your request, enforce alternative consequences that you have selected in advance.

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Teacher Behavioral Strategies: A Menu

Here is a sampling of strategies that teachers can use either to head off or to provide consequences for low- to medium-level student misbehaviors.  This menu contains strategies that teachers can use proactively to head off behaviors before they occur.  It also provides a range of consequences that teachers can select from after a student misbehaves.

Prior to Occurrence of Behavior(s):
Break Student Tasks Into Manageable Chunks:
Students may misbehave to escape activities that they find too hard or tedious. Consider breaking a larger task into smaller or easier chunks that the student will more willingly undertake. If the student must complete a large number of subtasks, include an occasional fun break.

Increase Adult Supervision/Surveillance:
When the student’s misbehavior is covert (hidden), increase the adult supervision in the area. Be sure that all adults supervising a particular school setting agree on what behaviors to single out for positive or negative consequences and know how to get additional assistance if student behaviors get out of hand.

Increase Reinforcement Quality of Classroom:
If a student is acting out to be ejected from a classroom, it may be that student does not find the classroom setting and/or routine to be very rewarding. The teacher can make the classroom environment more attractive in a number of ways, including by posting interesting instructional materials (e.g., bulletin board displays), boosting the pace of (and degree of student interaction in) class lecture or discussion, and including additional instructional activities of high interest to students.

Offer Choices:
When students are offered opportunities to make simple but meaningful choices in their classroom routine, their behaviors can improve. Examples of choices include permitting students to select who they work with on a project, negotiate when an assignment will be due, and choose what book to read for an assignment.

Offer Help Strategies:
Misbehavior may occur when students are stuck on a work assignment and do not know how to quickly and appropriately request help without drawing undue attention to themselves. Teachers can address this problem by teaching the entire class how to request assistance in a non-disruptive way. A teacher may, for example, instruct students with questions during seatwork to post a help-signal and continue working on other assignments or approach a peer-helper for assistance.

Preview Rules/Behavioral Expectations:
Some students misbehave because they are impulsive and do not always think through the consequences of their misbehavior before they act. These students can benefit from having the teacher briefly review rules and/or behavioral expectations just before the students go into a potentially challenging situation or setting (e.g., passing through the halls; going to an assembly). If the instructor has a classroom reward system in place, he or she can strengthen the rules preview by reminding students that the class can win points for good behavior.

Preview Schedule:
Having the teacher preview a student’s schedule daily (or even more frequently) can help those children who seem to misbehave because they do not respond well to unexpected changes in schedule or cannot remember what their schedule is.

Provide Skills Instruction:
If the teacher determines that a child engages in inappropriate behaviors because the student lacks alternative replacement skills, the instructor should set up a plan to provide the child with the necessary skills. Any skills instruction should include plenty of examples to illustrate the skill-set being taught, demonstration (e.g., modeling, role-play) and a checkup (e.g., student demonstration and verbal walk-through of steps to skill) to confirm to the teacher’s satisfaction that the student has acquired the skill.

Rearrange Student Seating or Classroom Setup:
If elements of the classroom setting appear to contribute to the student’s behavior problems, consider changing the student’s seating or the classroom setup to reduce these problems. For example a student who is distracted by peers may benefit from having his or her seat moved to a more private corner of the room.

Teach Student to Take Calm-Down Break:
Students who frequently become angry at peers or who may be set off by the excitement of large groups may be taught to (1) identify when they are getting too tense, excited, or angry, and (2) take a short break away from the setting or situation until they have calmed down sufficiently.

During and After Occurrence of Behavior(s):
Apologies are one way that humans repair the social fabric after a conflict. The student may be asked to apologize to the offended party (e.g., teacher, student, principal) in writing or in person. It is important, though, that the offending student accept blame for the incident and demonstrate authentic regret in offering the apology, or neither party will be satisfied with the outcome.

Behavioral Contract:
The student and teacher hammer out a written agreement that outlines: specific positive behaviors that the student is to engage in (or specific negative behaviors that he or she is to avoid), the privileges or rewards that the student will earn for complying with the behavioral contract, and the terms by which the student is to earn the rewards (e.g., staying in his or her seat during independent reading period for three consecutive days).

When the student displays a problem behavior, the teacher ignores the behavior (that is, the teacher does not give the student attention for the behavior).

Loss of Privileges:
The child is informed in advance that he or she can access a series of privileges (e.g., access to games to play, the opportunity to have 5 minutes of free time) if his or her behavior remains appropriate. The instructor instructs the student about what kind and intensity of problem behavior may result in the loss of privileges, and for how long. After this introductory phase, the instructor withdraws privileges as agreed upon whenever the student misbehaves.

Modeling (Vicarious Learning):
While the target child is observing, the teacher gives specific public praise to children other than the target student when they show appropriate behaviors. When praising these behaviors, the teacher clearly describes the praiseworthy behaviors. When the target child imitates the same or similar appropriate behaviors, the teacher immediately praises him or her.

Office Referral:
The instructor writes up a referral documenting the student’s misbehavior and sends both the referral and student to the principal’s office for intervention.

The student is required repetitively to practice a skill that will replace or improve upon an inappropriate or problem behavior. For example, a student who wanders the halls without permission when taking an unsupervised bathroom break may have to stay after school one afternoon and take multiple practice trips to the school bathroom. In this example, the instructor might accompany the student to monitor how promptly the student walked to, and returned from, the bathroom and to give the student feedback about how much this target behavior has improved.

Parent Contact:
The teacher calls, sends a note home to, or e-mails the student’s parent(s) regarding the behavioral problems. The parent may be asked for advice on how the teacher can better reach and teach the child at school. The teacher may offer suggestions for appropriate parent involvement. (e.g., “You may want to talk with your child about this incident, which we view as serious.”)

Peer Consequences:
If the teacher finds that classmates play (or could play) an important role in influencing a target child’s behavior(s), the teacher may try to influence the target child’s behaviors indirectly by providing consequences for selected peer behaviors.  For example, if classmates encourage the target student to make inappropriate comments by giving positive social attention (e.g., laughing), the teacher may start a group response-cost program and deduct points from the class total whenever a peer laughs at inappropriate comments. Or a teacher who wants to increase the social interactions that a socially isolated child has with her peers may reward selected peers with praise each time that they approach the isolated child in a positive manner.

When the student engages in a positive behavior that the teacher has selected to increase, the teacher praises the student for that behavior. Along with positive comments (e.g., “Great job!”), the praise statement should give specifics about the behavior the child demonstrated that is being singled out for praise. (e.g., “You really kept your attention focused on me during that last question, even when kids around you were talking!”)

Private Approach to Student:
The instructor quietly approaches the student, points out the problem behavior and how it is interfering with classwork or interrupting instruction. The instructor reminds the student of the academic task in which he or she should be engaged. The student is given an opportunity to explain his or her actions. The student is politely offered the choice to improve behavior or accept a negative consequence. Privately approaching a student can help him or her to save face and reduce the likelihood that the student will become defensive or defiant.

The instructor approaches the misbehaving student and informs him or her that the student has behaved inappropriately. The teacher asks the student to state an appropriate alternative behavior that he or she should have followed. The teacher then requests that the student promise the instructor (verbally or in writing) that he or she will not engage in this misbehavior again.

The teacher interrupts problem behavior by calling on the student to answer a question, assigning him or her a task to carry out, or otherwise refocusing the child’s attention.

Reflective Essay:
The student is required to write and submit to the teacher a brief composition after displaying behaviors. At minimum, the composition would state: (1) what problem behavior the student displayed, (2) how the student could have acted in an alternative, more acceptable manner, and (3) a promise from the student to show appropriate behaviors in similar situations in the future. NOTE: Some teachers use a pre-printed structured questionnaire containing these 3 items for the student to complete.

In the typical reprimand, the instructor approaches the student, states that the student is misbehaving, and instructs the student to stop the misbehavior immediately. Reprimands should be used sparingly, as students may become defiant if confronted by an angry teacher in a public manner. When used, reprimands should be kept short, to avoid arguments with the student.

Response Cost:
Usually, response cost programs first award a student a certain number of tokens with no conditions attached. Throughout the monitoring period, the student has a token withdrawn whenever he or she displays a behavior that is inappropriate. (These behaviors would usually have been agreed upon in advance.) The student is permitted to cash in any points that he or she still retains at the end of the monitoring period or may be allowed to bank the points toward a future reward or privilege.

The student engages in an activity that actually or symbolically restores the environment, setting, or social situation that his or her misbehavior had damaged. For example, a student who marks up a wall with graffiti may be required to work after school under supervision of custodial staff to wash the wall and removing the offending markings.

Rewarding Alternative (Positive) Behaviors:
The instructor calls on the student or provides other positive attention or incentives only during those times that the student is showing appropriate social and academic behaviors. The same positive attention or consequences are withheld during times when the student misbehaves or does not engage in academics.

Rules Review:
The teacher approaches the misbehaving student and (a) has him or her read off the posted class rules, (b) asks the student which of those rules his or her current behavior is violating, and (c) has the student state what positive behavior he or she will engage in instead.

Timeout/Detention/Inschool Suspension:
The student is removed from the classroom because of a behavioral infraction. In timeout, the student’s exclusion from the classroom may be very short (3-5 minutes). With in-school suspension, the student may be removed from instruction for longer periods (e.g., half a day). Detention may require that the student spend time in a non-rewarding setting but that consequence may be deferred until after school to prevent loss of learning.

Hints for Using Teacher Behavioral Strategies: A Menu
Teachers are always looking for additional ideas for managing challenging student behaviors. This listing of classroom behavioral strategies was developed based on feedback received from teachers in workshops who shared what behavioral approaches they typically use.

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Time Out From Reinforcement

Time-out from reinforcement (“time-out”) is a procedure in which a child is placed in a different, less-rewarding situation or setting whenever he or she engages in undesirable or inappropriate behaviors.

Pair Off With Colleagues as Time-Out Buddies.
Instructors may want to enlist other teachers as time-out partners, so that either teacher can use the other’s classroom as a safe, supervised time-out location for their students when needed. Teachers who collaborate in this way might even agree to create a single, uniform time-out program, teaching the procedures and expectations to all students in both classrooms.

Typically, time-out is used in tandem with positive discipline techniques. For example, time-out might be employed to reduce the frequency of a student’s negative behaviors (e.g., loud confrontations with teaching staff) while an individualized reward system might be put in place to increase the frequency of appropriate student behaviors (e.g., quickly and courteously complying with teacher requests).

Teachers should keep in mind important ethical considerations when using time-out. Because one consequence of time-out is that children may be excluded, even if briefly, from their instructional settings, the approach should be used only when less intrusive behavioral interventions have been tried and found to be unsuccessful. Also, students obviously cannot be deprived of lunch, bathroom breaks, or extended periods of classroom instruction just because they are placed in time-out.

Because time-out is intended to reduce the frequency of a target behavior, it is classified (in the technical sense) as a punishment procedure. As with other types of punishment, the use of time-out can result in unintended negative effects on the student. Therefore, students should be carefully monitored when time-out is being used. All incidents in which the student is timed out should be recorded in writing. Consider discontinuing any behavior management strategy if the student shows a strong, sustained negative reaction to it. (Refer to What Every Teacher Should Know About…Punishment Techniques and Student Behavior Plans for a review of aversive approaches to discipline and their possible unintended effects.)

Because use of time-out in the classroom can impact a student’s inclusion with peers and access to instruction, Yell (1994) advises that teachers take the following precautionary steps in preparing for and using time-out:

    • Verify that the state and school district permit the use of student time-out as a behavior management strategy.
    • Get signed parent permission to use time-out with students (particularly if using either the exclusion or isolation/seclusion forms of time-out).
    • Log all incidents in which time-out are used as a behavioral consequence. Note key information about time-outs, including the date and time of each time-out incident, the student who was timed out, and the location and the duration of the time-out.

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:
Step 1: Decide whether a particular student would benefit from time-out.
While time-out generally is effective in reducing problem behaviors, some children will not respond well to a time-out procedure. If your assessment of a student’s behavioral difficulties suggests that the child is using negative behaviors to escape an unpleasant situation, the use of time-out may actually increase that child’s problem behaviors (because by giving the student time-out as a behavioral consequence, you are unintentionally helping him or her to achieve the goal of escape). Keep in mind, too, that some students have skill deficits that contribute to their disruptive behavior and interfere with their learning more positive behavioral strategies. (For example, a student who does not know how to ask politely to join a game may get into trouble because he simply pushes his way into the group.) If you suspect a skill deficit, you should first be sure that the student has learned the appropriate skill(s) before you select time-out as a behavioral consequence.

Step 2: Select the type of time-out to be used.
Teachers can choose from several time-out options that differ in the degree to which they exclude children from the instructional and/or social setting.  When choosing a form of time-out, you should try to pick the option that is least restrictive (i.e., keeps the child within the classroom and engaged in learning) whenever possible (Yell, 1994).

    1. Non-Exclusionary Time Out. The child remains in the instructional setting but is temporarily prevented from engaging in reinforcing activities. Examples include planned ignoring, and removal of reinforcing objects or activities.
    2. Exclusionary Time Out: Contingent Observation. The student is removed from the instructional setting to another part of the classroom. The student is instructed to continue to watch the instructional activities but cannot otherwise participate in them.
    3. Exclusionary Time Out: Exclusion. The student is removed from the instructional setting to another part of the classroom. The student is prevented from watching or otherwise participating in group activities. (NOTE: An adult must supervise the student at all times during exclusion time out.)
    4. Exclusionary Time Out: Isolation/Seclusion. The student is removed from the instructional setting to a separate time-out room. (NOTE: An adult must supervise the student at all times during isolation/seclusion time out.)

Step 3: Decide on other elements of the time-out program.
When putting together a time-out plan, you must decide:

    • how long each time-out period will last. Generally, a short (3-5 minute) time-out period is a good interval to start with, as there is no research to suggest that longer time-outs are any more effective than shorter ones.
    • if the student is to receive a single warning before being sent to time-out. A teacher-delivered warning allows the child an opportunity to improve his or her behaviors and thus avoid being timed out. Warnings can take the form of verbal statements or non-verbal signals (e.g., eye contact with the student, a checkmark on the blackboard, etc.).
    • what activities the student will engage in while in time-out. While you have considerable latitude in selecting what the student will do in time-out, keep in mind that time-out activities should never be more rewarding than what is going on in the classroom. Appropriate time-out activities might include completing class assignments, copying classroom rules, or writing a brief account of both the problem behavior that resulted in the time-out and more appropriate behaviors that would have helped the student to avoid time-out.
    • how to judge that the student is ready to rejoin the class after time-out. In most cases, the child will behave appropriately in time-out and simply return to the classroom activity when the time-out period is over. However, if the student continues to be disruptive during time-out, you can simply reset the timer to zero and tell the student that he or she must act appropriately for a set interval of time (e.g., 5 minutes) before the student can return to the class activity. The timer is reset at each additional outburst until the child complies.

Step 4: Train the student in the time-out procedures.
Prior to putting the time-out program into effect, sit down with the student and review the time-out procedures. The student should:

    • know what type(s) of inappropriate behaviors will earn him or her a time-out.
    • have a clear understanding of the steps in the time-out process, including the use of a teacher warning (if selected), the agreed-upon signal that the student must go to time-out, the location of the time-out site, appropriate student behavior expected during time-out, and the length of time that time-out will last.
    • understand how to reenter the classroom appropriately after time-out.

You will probably also want to walk the student through a typical time-out sequence to ensure that the child clearly understands the process.

Hints for Using Time Out
Use time-out as a classwide strategy. A well-crafted time-out program can be taught to an entire class, not just to one or several students. A classwide use of time-out avoids singling out (and possibly stigmatizing) specific children as time-out targets.

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What Every Teacher Should Know About
Punishment Techniques and Student Behavior Plans

In everyday terms, people use the word punishment to describe negative consequences imposed on people when they misbehave. Often, the term has moral overtones, suggesting that those being punished deserve that punishment because their actions violate a rule, law, or social expectation. In the field of behavior management, though, punishment has a more narrow (and morally neutral) definition: the presentation or removal of events that leads to a reduction in a target behavior (Kazdin, 1989). According to this definition, events that serve to decrease an individual’s behaviors are considered to be punishers. Teachers should understand the pros and cons about using punishment in the classroom, as schools frequently build punishing, or aversive, consequences into plans designed to help manage student behaviors.

An important point about possible punishers is that they affect different people in different ways. Imagine a scenario, for example, in which a teacher uses time-out as a behavioral intervention for two students who frequently call out in the classroom. One student stops calling out almost immediately. For this student, time-out is clearly a punisher. The second student persists in calling out, despite being placed repeatedly in time-out. For that student, time-out has no effect and is not a punisher at all.

Punishment can take various forms in classroom discipline programs. Sometimes an event is presented whenever the student shows an undesired behavior. A teacher may reprimand a student, for example, each time that the student leaves her seat without permission. In another form of punishment, the student may temporarily be removed to a less-reinforcing setting (e.g., by being sent to a time-out room for a 10 minute period of seclusion) whenever she displays a negative behavior. In a type of punishment known as response-cost, a student has rewards, tokens, privileges, or other positive reinforcers taken away whenever he or she engages in a problem behavior. An example of response cost is a student who earns stickers for good classroom conduct having one sticker removed from her sticker chart for each episode of misbehavior.

Teachers sometimes find punishment to be effective as a classroom behavior management tool, especially in the short term. Because punishment tends to rapidly stop problem behaviors, the teacher in turn is positively reinforced for using it (Martens & Meller, 1990). On the surface, then, punishment may appear to be a powerful and attractive behavior management strategy. But this power can come at a significant cost.

Research indicates that punishment is sometimes accompanied by significant negative side effects. Students who are regularly the object of punishment may over time show a drop in positive attitudes toward school (resulting in poor attendance and work performance), have a more negative perception of teachers, and adopt a more punitive manner in interacting with peers and adults (Martens & Meller, 1990).

What to Consider Before Using Punishment Techniques.
Simply put, punishment techniques of any kind are strong behavioral medicine and should be used with care and compassion. Before using any punishment techniques, the teacher should consider whether:

  1. the student’s behavioral problems are caused by a skill-deficit. From an ethical standpoint, students should never be punished for behaviors that they cannot help. For example, a student who is chronically disorganized and always arrives late to class with no writing materials may well need to be taught organization skills rather than be punished for his lack of preparedness.
  2. positive techniques alone will adequately improve problem behaviors. Instructors have a range of positive behavior intervention strategies to draw on when shaping student behaviors. These positive approaches might include the structuring of the student’s classroom experience to avoid behavioral triggers that lead to problems or the use of praise and other reinforcers to reward the student for engaging in appropriate, learner-friendly behaviors. Punishment techniques, particularly strong forms of punishments such as isolation/seclusion time-our from reinforcement, generally should be considered only when the range of positive strategies have not been successful in improving the student’s conduct.

What to Think About When Setting Up a Behavior Program That Includes Punishment Techniques.
Teachers who include punishment as one element of a behavior plan are most likely to experience success if their plan follows these guidelines:

Punishment is paired with positive reinforcement.
The power of punishment techniques is that they can rapidly decrease a student’s rate of problem behaviors. But merely suppressing unacceptable behaviors is not enough. The student should also be encouraged to adopt positive classroom behaviors to replace them. When planning a behavioral program then, it is always a good idea to complement negative consequences for inappropriate behaviors with a positive-reinforcement system that rewards a child’s positive behaviors. In fact, for some children (e.g., those with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the positive reinforcement program (e.g., sticker chart) should be put into place first. Only when that positive program begins to show results should a mild punishment component (e.g., response-cost) be added.

The plan uses the mildest punishment technique that is likely to be effective.
When selecting a punishment technique, start off with less intensive interventions. Consider moving to a more intensive or restrictive form of punishment only if the milder alternative proves ineffective. A teacher may first decide, for example, to try in-class time-out (with the student remaining in the classroom during time-out and watching but not otherwise participating in academic activities) before moving to a more intensive form of isolation time-out in which the student is sent to a special time-out room for misbehavior.

The student is not deprived of key opportunities to build social and academic skills.
When selecting negative consequences to impose for student misbehavior, the teacher should carefully consider possible harmful effects of that consequence before implementing it. For instance, reducing recess time as a consequence for misbehavior may not be the best approach if the student already has few friends and limited social skills. Missing unstructured free time with her peers may in fact only worsen the student’s social isolation. Similarly, teachers may want to rethink placing students with academic deficits into seclusion time-out or in-school detention, as such a consequence would deprive those children of opportunities for academic instruction that they badly need.

The student provides input as the behavior plan is being developed.
One potential unintended effect of punishment techniques is that the target child may feel powerless – a situation that could erode the child’s investment in learning. Whenever possible, the teacher should give the student a voice in the design of the behavior management plan. For example, a teacher designing a response-cost program might ask the student to come up with a secret sign that the instructor might use to signal a warning to the student that he is on the verge of having a point deducted from his Great Study Behaviors chart.

The behavior plan is congruent with state regulations and school district policies and has parent support.
The use of punishment procedures to manage student behaviors is an issue of growing debate in school discipline. Instructors should take care that all elements of a behavior plan, including punishment procedures, fall within disciplinary guidelines both of the state education department and their school district. Parents, too, should be informed of any behavior plan being put into place for their child and asked to sign off on it prior to that plan being implemented. (It is particularly important that parents approve behavior plans if those plans contain punishment procedures such as use of time-out.)

The teacher monitors the effects of the behavior plan.
Because punishment procedures can in some cases lead to unintended negative effects on student performance and attitudes toward school, behavior plans that include a punishment component should be closely monitored. Monitoring should include collection of information both about whether the student’s problem behaviors are improving under the plan and whether the child is showing any negative reaction to the behavior plan itself.

Troubleshooting Behavior Programs That Include Punishment Techniques:
Here are some ideas to think about if problems arise when using punishment techniques as part of a larger behavior plan:

The student reacts negatively to the behavior program.
Whenever a new behavior plan is put into place for a student, teachers can expect that the student may initially test the limits of the program. Such testing behavior may include loud complaining, or the student’s refusing to follow teacher requests. Often, such behaviors subside when the program has been in place and consistently enforced for a short time.  If the student reacts to the program, though, with more serious behavioral outbursts that suggest a safety risk to self or others, the teacher should consider substantially revising or discontinuing the plan immediately. Also, if the student begins to show other negative reactions sometimes associated with use of punishment (e.g., reduced investment in learning, increased hostility toward teaching staff, etc.), the teacher should heed these potential warning signs and revise the behavior plan as necessary.

The student accepts the program but shows little behavioral improvement.
If a student fails to show significant behavioral improvements within a reasonable amount of time, a plan that contains a punishment component should be revised or discontinued. (Teachers should be particularly careful not to regard a behavior plan as effective merely because it makes the student easier to manage. While an instructor, for example, may like a time-out intervention because it offers her an occasional break from a problem student, that intervention should be regarded as useless or even harmful to the student if it fails to bring about a speedy improvement in that child’s behaviors in the classroom.)

Punishment techniques gradually lose their effectiveness.
It is not uncommon for punishment to lose its effectiveness over time as the recipient of that punishment becomes acclimated to it. In such cases, the problem is usually that the teacher has become overdependent on using punishment techniques alone to manage the student’s behaviors.  An instructor may find after her intervention has been in place for a month, for instance, that she has to reprimand a student more often and more insistently to get that student to comply with a request. (Remember that reprimands serve as a kind of punishment.) Upon reflection, the teacher realizes that she has been overusing reprimands. Furthermore, she finds that her loud reprimands distract other students from their classwork.

So the instructor revises the behavior plan.
She starts the student on a sticker chart for positive behaviors, giving the child a sticker each half-hour if the student completes and turns in all class assignments (positive reinforcement). The teacher also tells the student that she can have five extra minutes of free time at the end of each day to spend in the book corner, a place that the student likes to visit. However, whenever the student fails to comply with a teacher request within 5 seconds during the day, the teacher deducts a single minute from the student’s extra free time (response-cost). The final behavior plan, then, combines both positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors (sticker chart) and punishment for inappropriate behaviors (loss of free time for failure to comply with teacher requests). The teacher finds that this revised plan is actually easier to administer, since she no longer feels that she has to nag the student. Furthermore, the teacher discovers that the new plan retains its effectiveness over time.

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