The Same or Different Disciplinary Strategies?
Generally, classroom teachers can use the same disciplinary practices
to manage the disruptive behavior of students with disabilities that they
use to manage the behavior of students without disabilities. Much of the
undesirable behavior exhibited by both groups is similar in nature. The
differences, however, may originate in the teacher's selection of the particular
behavioral intervention. When selecting behavior interventions for students
with disabilities, teachers should ensure that the strategies are developmentally
appropriate and take into consideration the student's disability and due
process rights. Here are 10 questions that may help you diagnostically
analyze situations that foster disruptive behavior in students with disabilities.
These discussions may provide guidance as you select behavior-reduction
Question 1. Could this misbehavior be a result of inappropriate curriculum or teaching strategies?
Inappropriate curriculum and teaching strategies can contribute to student misbehavior – but not all misbehavior is attributable to these factors. Some misbehavior may arise as a function of the teacher's inability to meet the diverse needs of all students. Consider these factors:
When there is a mismatch between teaching style and the learning styles
of students, misbehavior inevitably results. Incidents of misbehavior may
also result when students refuse to learn concepts because they are unable
to see the relationship between the skills being taught and how these skills
transcend to the context of the larger environment. In these situations,
you should employ strategies and tactics that show students how component
skills have meaning in the classroom and in the community. If you find
that the cause of the inappropriate behavior is related to the student's
lack of prerequisite skills or abilities to acquire concepts, you can use
a simple procedure known as task analysis. By using this procedure, you
can pinpoint specific functional levels of students on targeted skills
and provide sequential instructional programs that will move the student
with disabilities toward mastery of a targeted goal at a pace appropriate
for the student (Moyer & Dardig, 1978).
Question 3. Could this misbehavior be an underlying result of the student's disability?
Some disruptive behavior may be a result of the student's disability (e.g., emotional/behavioral disorders). Meanwhile, other behavior may result from deliberate actions taken by the student to cause classroom disruption. Determining the underlying cause of a student's disruptive behavior involves a careful analysis of the behavior, as follows:
Many aspects of classroom life may contribute to students' misbehavior: the physical arrangement of the classroom, boredom or frustration, transitional periods, lack of awareness of what is going on in every area of the classroom. Remember, however, that classroom climate and physical arrangements can also encourage desirable behavior. You should regularly assess your teaching and learning environment for conditions or procedures that perpetuate or encourage misbehavior. Because inappropriate behavioral manifestations of students can also stem from certain types of teaching behavior, teachers need to become more cognizant of the kinds of behavior they emit and the relationship between their teaching behavior and the resultant behavior of students. Examine your instruction and interactions with students in ongoing classroom life, as follows:
Question 5. Are there causes of misbehavior that I can control?
As a teacher, you can control many variables to thwart undesirable behavior. You may modify or change your curriculum; make adaptations in instruction to address multiple intelligences; and make changes in your communication style, attitude toward students with disabilities, and expectations of these students. Analyze how much positive feedback you give students. If you find that you use limited feedback (encouragement or praise), which accentuates positive behavior of students (and also communicates respect and promotes self-esteem and self-confidence), you may be contributing to behavior problems. Feedback (both verbal and nonverbal) is an important factor in the learning paradigm that is too often neglected, overlooked, or haphazardly orated.
Question 6. How do I determine if the misbehavior is classroom based?
This is a difficult question. Conducting a self-evaluation of teaching style and instructional practices – as in the previous questions – may provide some insight into whether the behavior is related to the disability or is classroom based. You may find a classroom ecological inventory (Fuchs, Fernstrom, Scott, Fuchs, & Vandermeer, 1994) helpful in determining cause-effect relationships of student misbehavior. The classroom ecological inventory could help you assess salient features of the learning environment of your school or classroom. In such analysis, you can gather specific information about the student, the behavior, and the environmental conditions and settings associated with the behavior (Evans, Evans, & Gable, 1989). By taking into account the learning ecology, you can be more decisive and selective in your use of resources for managing student behavior and, at the same time, obtain a more accurate and complete picture of a particular student for developing a more appropriate and comprehensive behavior-change program. Classroom ecological inventories can be useful for collecting information about a wide range of events, variables, and conditions that can influence and affect a student's behavior. Conducting a functional analysis or functional assessment can also be useful in examining cause-effect relationships of students' behavior. Functional assessments can also help you address serious problem behavior displayed by "target" students. These analyses examine the circumstances or functional relationships between, or surrounding, the occurrence or nonoccurence of the challenging behavior. The assessments can help you identify variables and events that are consistently present in those situations (Dunlap et al., 1993; Foster-Johnson & Dunlap, 1993). You may identify events, variables, and circumstances that contribute to the problem. In addition, you may devise a comprehensive, individualized approach to designing interventions logically related to the target behavior – and, in the process, better meet the student's specific needs.
Question 7. How do I teach students to self-regulate or self-manage behavior?
You can teach students to self-regulate or self-manage their behavior by teaching them to use the skills of self-management:
Question 8. How do I determine what methods of control are appropriate without violating the rights of students with disabilities mandated under P.L. 105-17?
Determining which behavior-reduction methods to use with students with disabilities is not as difficult as you may think. As mentioned previously, the behavioral interventions typically used with students without disabilities can also be used with students with disabilities – with a few exceptions. Yell and Shriner (1997) provided a comprehensive account of major issues effecting the discipline of students with disabilities addressed in Section 615 K of P.L. 105-17 (the IDEA Amendments of 1997):
Question 9. How do I use reinforcement strategies to reduce disruptive behavior?
Teachers can use many types of reinforcers to teach desirable behavior. Madsen and Madsen (1983) identified five categories of responses available for teaching desired behavior: the use of words, physical expressions, physical closeness, activities, and things used as rewards or positive feedback (see box, "Positive Feedback"). Remember that the effectiveness of such reinforcers is contingent on continuous, systematic use across time. Also, consider the appropriateness of each response for your individual students. Other reinforcement-based intervention strategies may also be effective: differential reinforcement of low rates of responding (DRL); differential reinforcement of other behavior(s) (DRO), also referred to as differential reinforcement of zero responding; differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI); and differential reinforcement of alternative behavior(s) (DRA). Many teachers have found such strategies effective in developing alternative response behavior to inappropriate, disruptive, or undesirable behavior. Even though these procedural alternatives use a positive (reinforcement) approach to behavior reduction, teachers have found both advantages and disadvantages in the use of such procedures. In deciding whether to use differential reinforcement procedures, you should review the works of Alberto and Troutman (1995) and Schloss and Smith (1994).
Question 10. Is it appropriate for me to use punishment?
Punishment, the most controversial aversive behavior management procedure, has been used and abused with students with disabilities (Braaten, Simpson, Rosell, & Reilly, 1988). Because of its abuse, the use of punishment as a behavioral change procedure continues to raise a number of concerns regarding legal and ethical ramifications. Although punishment is effective in suppressing unacceptable behavior, it does have some limitations:
There is no "one plan fits all" for determining how teachers should respond to the disruptive behavior of students with disabilities in inclusion settings. An initial starting point would include establishing classroom rules, defining classroom limits, setting expectations, clarifying responsibilities, and developing a meaningful and functional curriculum in which all students can receive learning experiences that can be differentiated, individualized, and integrated. Many publications describe effective classroom-based disciplinary strategies (Carter, 1993; Schloss, 1987), but few (Ayres & Meyer, 1992; Carpenter & McKee-Higgins, 1996; Meyer & Henry, 1993; Murdick & Petch-Hogan, 1996) address effective classroom-based disciplinary strategies for students with disabilities in inclusion settings. Classroom teachers can use a variety of strategies to discipline students with disabilities in inclusion settings. The approaches most likely to be successful combine humanistic and cognitive behavioral attributes and take into consideration the teacher's diagnostic-reflective thinking and choice-making skills regarding the following:
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Vera I. Daniels (CEC Chapter #386), Professor, Institute for the Study and Rehabilitation of Exceptional Children and Youth, and Department of Special Education, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.
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