Teachers across the country experience times where student behavior can be especially difficult. Because our classrooms are changing, our resource needs
are also changing. What teacher burn out is not only affected by low salaries, assessment practices, and rising insurance costs; many do not feel they have the resources needed to manage the increasing intensity of problematic student behavior. Sometimes even the most seasoned teachers don’t realize our actions can quickly escalate a situation. I wanted to share some techniques I learned as a new teacher.
The most important lesson I learned about behavior is that it is ultimately communication of an unmet or met need. We either reinforce a specific behavior, or we do not. Based on the function of a student’s behavior, different techniques can be used. For example, a student who continuously clowns around during instruction distracting other students is usually to either avoid an undesired task or gain peer/adult attention. We sometimes inadvertently reinforce the behavior by reprimanding the student, which gives the student attention, thereby reinforcing the behavior (student got what they wanted).
Attention seeking -
- At the beginning of class provide 30 seconds to 1 minute of time for the student to share something school appropriate with his/her peers. This provides the attention needed by the student but does not take away extended amounts of time and focus for the rest of class.
- An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) technique called Extinction can also be useful. Extinction is primarily planned to ignore. You ignore the behavior and continue with your instruction/activity. This will increase the undesired behavior temporarily (called a burst). However, because the behavior is not being reinforced, it will usually cease. This is especially true if a reinforcer for positive behavior is provided.
Power struggle/control- The student is frustrated with outside factors that make them feel as though they have no control over anything. Consequently, they argue with authority figures and refuse to complete assignments, follow the rules, or directives. Some techniques that work well in this case include:
- Forced choices - ‘You may sit at this table or that desk.’ Forced choices are options that are acceptable for the student to choose either of them. It makes them feel like they have some control over in their situation, but you essentially set the parameters.
- Use body language that is not confrontational. For example, when addressing an escalated student, do not face them directly. Position your feet facing away from them or to the side. Body language will convey respect for their personal space. Give them a directive in a calm voice. If the student attempts to argue, do not get drawn in; continue to repeat the directive calmly. The first time you give them a directive, walk away. This shows the student you expect them to comply. Allow wait time to respond. Then repeat.
Avoidance- Sometimes the function of a behavior is to avoid a non-preferred task or place (assignment). In this case, behavior looks like refusal, sleeping, whining, attempting to leave, trying to get an office referral, and more. Allowing a student to leave the classroom to avoid a task is reinforcing their behavior. Next time they want to get out of doing something the response will return and increase in intensity.
- Using a transition activity sometimes helps with avoidance. Using an interest inventory, give the student a preferred task for 3-5 minutes and transition them into their non-preferred task. (I’ve had students read their favorite book, complete a classroom job, help the teacher, etc.)
- Sequencing the task into steps and offering a reinforcer(i.e., tickets, points) for each step completed.
Sensory- Many students have sensory needs related to a disability, ADD/ADHD, or individual development. Students who routinely lay across their chair upside down is getting a sensory payoff. Ideas to support sensory needs-
- Velcro- ADD/ADHD students need sensory stimulation to ease their fidgetiness. Ask the child which side they prefer (soft side, or brittle). Then take a strip and place on the underside of their desk to run their hand across for tactile input.
Meltdowns- A student with or without an identified exceptionality/disability who has a meltdown or emotional outburst can be challenging to address. This is especially true if the antecedent(cause) is unknown.
- The first response would be to use a distraction technique to interrupt their thinking process. I have used something as simple as a cup and different colored highlighters. (I hold the cup while handing the items to the student. The student identifies the item/color, then drops it in the cup.) Any activity could be helpful.
- Don’t immediately try to talk about what is bothering the student. At this point, it would perpetuate the problem. Another technique that can be used is the Green Span pacing. Pacing the student looks like matching their voice level, or energy level. If they are screaming, raise your voice too. This gets their attention. Slowly start to lower your voice or pace, and they will usually lower theirs as well. This pacing technique is very effective. Most times the student does not realize they are calming down.
I was blessed to have several types of discipline training including CPI-nonviolent crisis intervention prevention, ABA training, Boy’s Town, Common Sense, PRIDE, and conscious discipline. The most important thing to remember is if one technique doesn’t work, try a different one. Keep your head up and don’t take their behavior personally.
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