Disorders: Focus on Change
EC Digest #E518 June 1993
Focus on Behaviors That Need to Be Changed
Students who are referred to as having "conduct
disorders" and students who are referred to as having "emotional
disabilities," "behavioral disorders," "serious
emotional disturbances," or "emotional and behavioral disorders"
have two common elements that are instructionally relevant: (1) they
demonstrate behavior that is noticeably different from that expected
in school or the community and (2) they are in need of remediation.
In each instance, the student is exhibiting some form
of behavior that is judged to be different from that which is expected
in the classroom. The best way to approach a student with a "conduct
disorder" and a student with a "behavioral disorder"
is to operationally define exactly what it is that each student does
that is discrepant with the expected standard. Once it has been expressed
in terms of behaviors that can be directly observed, the task of remediation
becomes clearer. A student's verbally abusive behavior can be addressed,
whereas it is difficult to directly identify or remediate a student's
"conduct disorder," since that term may refer to a variety
of behaviors of widely different magnitudes. The most effective and
efficient approach is to pinpoint the specific behavioral problem and
apply data-based instruction to remediate it. (Lewis, Heflin, &
DiGangi, 1991, p.9)
Identify New Behaviors to Be Developed
Two questions need to be addressed in developing any
behavior change procedure regardless of the student's current behavioral
difficulty: "What do I want the student to do instead?" and
"What is the most effective and efficient means to help the student
reach his or her goals?" Regardless of whether the student is withdrawn
or aggressive, the objective is to exhibit a response instead of the
current behavior. We may want the student to play with peers on the
playground instead of playing alone. We may want the student to play
appropriately with peers on the playground instead of hitting peers
during games. For both behavior patterns, we have identified what we
want them to do instead of the current problem behavior. (Lewis, Heflin,
& DiGangi, 1991, p.14)
Using effective teaching strategies will promote student
academic and social behavioral success. Teachers should avoid focusing
on students' inappropriate behavior and, instead, focus on desirable
replacement behaviors. Focusing behavior management systems on positive,
prosocial replacement responses will provide students with the opportunity
to practice and be reinforced for appropriate behaviors. Above all else,
have fun with students! Humor in the classroom lets students view school
and learning as fun. Humor can also be used to avoid escalating behaviors
by removing the negative focus from the problem. (Lewis, Heflin, &
DiGangi, 1991, p.26).
Provide Opportunities to Practice New Behaviors
If we expect students to learn appropriate social skills
we must structure the learning environment so that these skills can
be addressed and practiced. We need to increase the opportunity for
students to interact within the school environment so that prosocial
skills can be learned. If all a student does is perform as a passive
participant in the classroom, then little growth in social skill acquisition
can be expected. Just as students improve in reading when they are given
the opportunity to read, they get better at interacting when given the
opportunity to initiate or respond to others' interactions.
It is necessary to target specific prosocial behaviors
for appropriate instruction and assessment to occur. Prosocial behavior
includes such things as
- Taking turns, working with partner, following directions.
- Working in group or with others.
- Displaying appropriate behavior toward peers and
- Increasing positive relationships.
- Demonstrating positive verbal and nonverbal relationships.
- Showing interest and caring.
- Settling conflicts without fighting.
- Displaying appropriate affect. (Algozzine, Ruhl,
& Ramsey, 1991, pp. 22-23)
Treat Social Skills Deficits as Errors in Learning
Social skills deficits or problems can be viewed as
errors in learning; therefore, the appropriate skills need to be taught
directly and actively. It is important to base all social skill instructional
decisions on individual student needs. In developing a social skill
curriculum it is important to follow a systematic behavior change plan.
During assessment of a student's present level of functioning,
two factors should be addressed. First, the teacher must determine whether
the social skill problem is due to a skill deficit or a performance
deficit. The teacher can test the student by directly asking what he
or she would do or can have the student role play responses in several
social situations (e.g., "A peer on the bus calls you a name. What
should you do?").
- If the student can give the correct response but
does not display the behavior outside the testing situation, the social
skill problem is probably due to a performance deficit.
- If the student cannot produce the socially correct
response, the social skill problem may be due to a skill deficit.
More direct instruction may be required to overcome
the skill deficits, while a performance deficit may simply require increasing
positive contingencies to increase the rate of displaying the appropriate
social response. During assessment, it is important to identify critical
skill areas in which the student is having problems.
Once assessment is complete, the student should be provided
with direct social skill instruction. At this point, the teacher has
the option of using a prepared social skill curriculum or developing
one independently. It is important to remember that since no single
published curriculum will meet the needs of all students, it should
be supplemented with teacher-developed or teacher-modified lessons.
Social skill lessons are best implemented in groups
of 3 to 5 students and optimally should include socially competent peers
to serve as models. The first social skill group lesson should focus
on three things:
- an explanation
of why the group is meeting,
- a definition
of what social skills are, and
- an explanation
of what is expected of each student during the group. It may also
be helpful to implement behavior management procedures for the group
(i.e., contingencies for for compliance and non-compliance).
It is important to prompt the students to use newly
learned skills throughout the day and across settings to promote maintenance
and generalization. It is also important to reinforce the students when
they use new skills. (Lewis, Heflin, & DiGangi, 1991, pp.17-18)
Teach Students to Take Responsibility for Their
Often overlooked is the need to increase student independence
in learning. Students with BD may be particularly uninvolved in their
learning due to problems with self-concept, lack of a feeling of belonging
to the school, and repeated failures in school. Instructional strategies
involving self-control, self-reinforcement, self-monitoring, self-management,
problem solving, cognitive behavior modification, and metacognitive
skills focus primarily on teaching students the skills necessary for
taking responsibility and showing initiative in making decisions regarding
their own instruction. These strategies, typically used in combination
or in a "package format" that incorporates extrinsic reinforcement,
have shown promise for enhancing student learning and independence.
(Gable, Laycock, Maroney, & Smith, 1991, p.24)
Focus on Functional Skills That Will Have Broad
Essential in a curriculum for students with behavioral
problems are skills that can directly improve the ultimate functioning
of the student and the quality of his or her life. The concept of functional
skills is not limited to the areas of self-help or community mobility,
but also include skills such as those required to seek and access assistance,
be life-long independent learners, respond to changes in the environment,
succeed in employment, be adequately functioning adults and parents,
and achieve satisfying and productive lives. The concepts of the functional
curriculum approach, the criterion of ultimate functioning, and participation
to the highest degree possible in life must be extended to students
with BD, many of whom will otherwise fail to fulfill their potential.
(Gable, Laycock, Maroney, & Smith, 1991, p.28)
This digest was developed from selected portions of
three 1991 ERIC publications listed below. These books are part of a
nine-book series, "Working with Behavioral Disorders." Stock
Algozzine, B., Ruhl, K., & Ramsey, R. (1991). "Behaviorally
disordered? Assessment for identification and instruction." Reston,
VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. (ED No. 333660). Stock No.
Gable, R. A., Laycock, V. K., Maroney, S. A., &
Smith, C. R. (1991). "Preparing to integrate students with behavioral
disorders." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. (ED
No. 333658). Stock No. P340.
Lewis, T. J., Heflin, J., & DiGangi, S. A. (1991).
"Teaching students with behavioral disorders: Basic questions and
answers." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. (ED
No. 333659). Stock No. P337.
Brolin, D. E. (1992). "Life centered career education:
Personal-social skills." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional
Children. Stock No. P368.
Evans, W. H., Evans, S. S., & Shmid, R. E. (1989).
"Behavior and instructional management: An ecological approach."
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
McIntyre, T. (1989). "The behavior management handbook:
Setting up effective behavior management systems." Boston: Allyn
Meyen, E. L., Vergason, G. L., & Whelan, R. J. (Eds.)
(1988). "Effective instructional strategies for exceptional children."
Denver, CO: Love Publishing.
Morgan, D. P., & Jenson, W. R. (1988). "Teaching
behaviorally disordered students: Preferred practices." Columbus,
Morgan, S. R., & Reinhart, J. A. (1991). "Interventions
for students with emotional disorders." Austin, TX: ProEd.
Rockwell, S. (1993). "Tough to reach, Tough to
teach: Students with behavior problems." Reston, VA: The Council
for Exceptional Children. Stock No. P387.
Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated,
but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under contract no. RI88062207. The opinions
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272