Supporting Appropriate Behavior
Supporting Appropriate Behavior PDF
Guinness, K., Detrich, R., Keyworth, R. & States, J. (2019). Overview of Supporting Appropriate Behavior. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/classroom-appropriate-behaviors.
Supporting appropriate behavior by students in the classroom is important for helping students to be successful. Academic learning time (i.e., the time in which students are actively engaged in academic instruction) is correlated with stronger academic outcomes (Fisher et al., 2015). Engagement in academic instruction includes a variety of prerequisite behaviors such as paying attention, remaining on task, and following directions. Other appropriate behaviors that educators may want to support include hand raising/appropriately gaining attention, asking for help, and prosocial behavior. When students do not engage in appropriate behavior, they limit access to academic instruction for themselves and their peers. Office disciplinary referrals have been correlated with decreased standardized test scores and grade point averages (McIntosh, Flannery, Sugai, Braun, & Cochran, 2008; McIntosh, Horner, Chard, Boland, & Good, 2006).
The levels of inappropriate behavior and appropriate behavior in the classroom are inherently linked: if inappropriate behavior is occurring, appropriate behavior is likely not occurring, and vice versa. Responding to inappropriate behavior will be discussed more thoroughly in the decreasing disruptive behavior overview, but it is important to note that resorting to negative consequences or efforts to discourage inappropriate behavior can result in negative side effects including emotional reactions, aggression, avoidance, and undesirable modeling (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Increasing appropriate behavior is a critical component of decreasing inappropriate behavior. In the Institute of Education Sciences practice guide, Epstein, Atkins, Cullinan, Kutash, and Weaver (2008) identified a strong evidence base for teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior to reduce behavior problems in elementary school classrooms. Further, the U.S. Department of Education (2014) stated that the first guiding principle for addressing school climate and discipline is to utilize evidence-based strategies to prevent challenging behavior and promote positive behavior. This overview focuses on proactive strategies to support appropriate behavior in school settings.
How to Increase Behavior: Reinforcement
Reinforcement occurs when something happens immediately after a behavior and the behavior increases in the future under similar circumstances (Cooper et al., 2007). Behavior only continues to occur if it is reinforced; thus, an increase in appropriate behavior in the classroom requires reinforcement of appropriate behavior. Terms such as “reward,” “incentive,” and “acknowledgment” have been used to refer to a reinforcer; in this overview, the terms “reward” and “reinforcer” are used interchangeably. While the term “reward” usually suggests a physical item such as a prize, other reinforcers such as attention, activities, special privileges, or a break from work are also ways to acknowledge positive behavior. It is important to note that reinforcers differ across individuals; what works as a reinforcer for one student may not work as a reinforcer for another student.
External Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation
Whether external rewards impact intrinsic motivation is an issue that has been debated for decades (Akin-Little, Eckert, Lovett, & Little, 2004). Extrinsic rewards may include praise, prizes, snacks, free time, or special activities earned by students for engaging in specific behaviors. Intrinsic motivation implies that there is no visible reward for a student’s behavior. Some researchers suggest that external rewards are a detriment to intrinsic motivation (e.g., Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999), and others suggest that external rewards do not decrease intrinsic motivation (e.g., Cameron, Banko, & Pierce, 2001; Cameron & Pierce, 1994).
It is challenging to interpret the research surrounding this controversial issue. Akin-Little et al. (2004) emphasized that the assumption that students who were not engaging in appropriate behavior should be intrinsically motivated to engage in these behaviors is unlikely to result in effective action to increase behavior. Therefore, if a student or a group of students are not engaging in appropriate behavior, external rewards may be necessary to initially engage those students without resorting to negative consequences, which potentially carry challenging side effects (Cooper et al., 2007).
Multitiered Systems of Support
As reinforcers are different across students, different levels of intervention intensity may be required to support appropriate behavior for all students. These levels can be achieved via a multitiered system of support (MTSS). Tier 1 utilizes universal strategies with all students across a school community to prevent challenging behavior and promote appropriate behavior. Tier 2 provides additional instruction and feedback to classes or groups of students who experience challenges despite tier 1 interventions. Tier 3 involves more intensive support for individual students who experience challenges beyond tiers 1 and 2. To the extent that effective tier 1 interventions are in place, fewer students will require more intensive interventions.
Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Supports. A multitiered system of support, schoolwide positive behavior supports (SWPBS) includes several components to promote a positive school climate and prevent challenging behavior. SWPBS involves (1) initial teaching of appropriate behaviors, (2) reminders, (3) rewards for appropriate behavior, (4) corrective consequences for inappropriate behavior, (5) consistent implementation, and (6) targeted support for students with persistent challenging behavior (Taylor-Greene et al., 1997). Targeted support is the second tier in the three-tiered system of support that is the essence of SWPBS.
SWPBS has been implemented in rural, suburban, and urban elementary, middle, and high schools (Chitiyo, May, & Chitiyo, 2012). In a randomized trial of 37 elementary schools, SWPBS resulted in decreased disruptive behavior and concentration problems and increased emotional regulation and positive behaviors according to teacher reports (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, & Leaf, 2012).
Reinforcement-Based Interventions to Support Appropriate Behavior
Researchers have explored a number of different interventions based on reinforcement for supporting appropriate behavior in school settings including (1) behavior-specific praise, (2) self-management, (3) peer-mediated interventions, and (4) packaged interventions.
Behavior-specific praise (BSP) is a low effort, tier 1 intervention that involves noting vocally or in writing the specific behavior of the student along with how it created a positive outcome or met an expectation. BSP should reference behaviors that the student can control instead of intrinsic characteristics (e.g., “You did a great job with spelling this week. I can tell you have been practicing” versus “You did a great job with spelling this week, you’re so smart”) and should be sincere (Royer, Lane, Dunlap, & Ennis, 2019).
Delivering BSP. There are a number of ways to deliver BSP. It can be given vocally and publicly, that is, in front of other students. BSP presented in this manner can also serve as a reminder of expectations for other students. Alternatively, vocal BSP can be delivered privately (e.g., Houghton, Wheldall, Jukes, & Sharpe, 1990), an option some students may prefer.
Written BSP can also be delivered. For example, a study by Wheatley et al. (2009) evaluated the effects of praise notes on littering, running, and inappropriate sitting (i.e., any position with “back pockets off the seat”) in an elementary school lunchroom. Teachers and school staff delivered praise notes (small slips of paper with signature lines for the student and teacher) and specific verbal praise for appropriate behavior. Students submitted praise notes into a drawing for small prizes. This intervention resulted in substantial decreases in the three targeted inappropriate behaviors. However, it is unclear if these effects can be attributed to the BSP or to the possibility of earning a prize.
Strategies for Supporting Educators in Delivering BSP. Even if teachers receive training on delivering BSP, additional strategies may help the teachers deliver higher levels of BSP over time. One strategy is the use of prompts or reminders. Reminders can be visual, tactile, or auditory. One study (Haydon & Musti-Rao, 2011) placed a document with guidelines and examples of praise statements beside the overhead projector in the classroom as a visual reminder, then delivered a vibratory cue using a MotivAider (a small electronic device worn on the hip that vibrated at prescribed times). Another study (van der Mars, 1989) delivered auditory reminders to a physical education teacher via a headset. This study took place several decades ago, and more modern technology such as smart phones could be applied in a similar way. Rewards for teachers can also increase use of BSP. In the praise note system, the Wheatley et al. study (2009) called for both the student and the teacher to sign each praise note and enter it in a raffle. If the note was selected, both the student who earned the praise note and the teacher who wrote it received small prizes.
Ultimately, just as students may require varying levels of support to engage in appropriate behavior, teachers may require varying levels of support to effectively deliver BSP. A study by Myers, Simonsen, and Sugai (2011) utilized a multitiered system of support to train teachers to deliver BSP. All teachers participated in initial training on SWPBS (including instruction on how to deliver BSP) as the tier 1 intervention. Teachers who did not meet predetermined performance criteria proceeded to tier 2, which involved a brief consultation, reviewing before and after data on praise delivery, and weekly praise from the researchers if the teachers improved. Tier 3 included additional meetings with the researchers, reminders in the classroom, and vocal and written feedback after each observation. Teachers moved between tiers 2 and 3 as needed based on their performance.
Teachers who have to attend to large numbers of students can find it challenging to deliver praise or rewards frequently enough to maintain appropriate behavior. One strategy for mitigating this concern is self-management, which involves students monitoring, evaluating, rewarding, and recording their own behavior and may be used as a tier 2 or 3 intervention (Briesch & Chafouleas, 2009). Ideally, students will be involved in the development of a self-management program by choosing and defining the target behaviors, choosing the rewards they want to earn and helping decide on the criteria for earning rewards, and prompting themselves to engage in the target behaviors (Fantuzzo, Polite, Cook, & Quinn, 1988). For example, a study with students with autism in a general education classroom used photographs of the participants self-modeling on-task behavior as cues for self-management (Cihak, Wright, & Ayres, 2010).
Once the desired behaviors have been identified, the criteria for reinforcement defined, and reinforcers identified, students observe and record their own behavior. For example, a study by Moore, Prebble, Robertson, Waetford, and Anderson (2001) called for students to fill out a worksheet by answering the question, “What does the teacher want me to do?” at various points throughout the lesson. One way to remind students to record their behavior is with an audio tone; when it sounds, the students record what they are doing at that moment (e.g., Lloyd, Bateman, Landrum, & Hallahan, 1989; Moore et al., 2001). Another key component is to involve students in determining when they have met their goals. This may involve some additional teaching; for example, the Lloyd et al. study (1989) taught students in a special education classroom to identify productive versus nonproductive behavior prior to implementing self-monitoring. Lastly, students graph or chart their own behavior and obtain rewards when they have met their goals (e.g., DiGangi, Maag, & Rutherford, 1991).
The level of teacher involvement in self-management interventions can vary across programs. Briesch and Chafouleas (2009) reviewed 30 self-management studies and found that students primarily attended to some components, with teachers more often managing others. For instance, students were primarily responsible for observing and recording their own behaviors and prompting themselves to engage in the defined appropriate behavior, while adults were primarily responsible for selecting and defining target behaviors, setting performance goals, and delivering rewards.
While self-management may involve an up-front effort in teaching students to monitor their own behavior, it is possible to gradually remove elements of the intervention that require more effort while maintaining appropriate behavior. Moore et al. (2001) observed substantial increases in on-task behavior with a self-management program in which students recorded and graphed their own behavior. Later, they introduced goal setting and removed the recording sheet and graphs. High levels of on-task behavior continued despite this change.
Teachers responsible for large groups of students may not be able to deliver reinforcement often enough to sustain appropriate behavior. Another way to support appropriate behavior with less teacher involvement is through peer-mediated interventions (PMI), which involve peers providing prompts and reinforcement for one another’s behavior. PMI has been used effectively as a tier 3 intervention to teach social skills, communication skills, and appropriate classroom behavior of individual students with and without special education classifications (see Dart, Collins, Klingbeil, & McKinley, 2014, for review).
PMI can also be used in the classroom as a tier 1 intervention. “Tootling” (a fusion of “tattling” and “tooting one’s horn”) is a peer-mediated intervention in which students anonymously report their peers’ prosocial behavior (Skinner, Cashwell, & Skinner, 2000). The first step in a tootling program is teaching students how to tootle. This can be achieved by providing correct and incorrect examples of prosocial behavior, having students generate their own examples, and providing feedback on examples (Cihak, Kirk, & Boon, 2009; Skinner et al., 2000). Initial teaching can be brief; the Skinner et al. study completed initial tootling training in two, 15-minute sessions at the beginning of the school day.
After providing students with index cards or slips of paper to record tootles and designating a place to deposit them (e.g., a box on the teacher’s desk), the next key component of this program is public display of the number of tootles written. This can be achieved in a number of ways; in one study, the teacher announced the number of tootles each day and moved a marker on a ladder visual (Skinner et al., 2000). In another study, tootles were placed in a clear container so students could see the box fill up (Cihak et al., 2009). Alternatively, technology can be used to post the number of tootles written. In their study, McHugh Dillon, Radley, Tingstrom, Dart, and Barry (2019) used ClassDojo, a free online tool that allows teachers to record student behavior via a computer, smartphone, or tablet and project real-time feedback.
Rewards are provided both for prosocial behavior and for writing tootles, and can also vary in the manner of delivery. One option is to establish a group goal: when the whole class reaches a certain number of tootles, everyone earns a reward (Cihak et al., 2009; McHugh Dillon et al., 2019; Skinner et al., 2000). Another strategy is random selection. For example, Lum et al. (2019) called for drawing a few tootles from the box at the end of each class period. Three students who had tootles written about them and two students who had written tootles selected small prizes.
Lastly, tootling emphasizes collaboration with students in designing the intervention and can be adapted for use with elementary, middle, and high school students. For example, the Lum et al. (2019) study implemented tootling with high school students and allowed the students to decide what to call the tootles (e.g., brags, kudos, shout-outs). Also, students can nominate reasonable rewards they would be interested in earning, such as free time, extra recess time, or small snacks (McHugh Dillon et al., 2019).
Package interventions include multiple components of the interventions described above as well as other elements. These packages can be implemented as tier 1, 2, or 3 interventions within a multitiered system of support.
Good Behavior Game. One example of a tier 1 package intervention is the good behavior game. This intervention begins by splitting the class into two or more teams. In the original application, the teacher delivered points to teams for inappropriate behavior, and the members of the team with the lowest number of points (or all students, if both teams had less than five points) received a reward (Barrish, Saunders, & Wolf, 1969). Since then, a number of variations have been used (see Tingstrom, Sterling-Turner, & Wilczynski, 2006, for review), including awarding points for appropriate behavior, which is more consistent with a model of SWPBS and positive reinforcement.
Multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses have reported the good behavior game’s effectiveness across dozens of studies (Bowman-Perrott, Burke, Zaini, Zhang, & Vannest, 2016; Flower, McKenna, Bunuan, Muething, & Vega, 2014). The good behavior game has been applied across diverse student populations, including general and special education classrooms, in grade levels from kindergarten through high school, and in several different countries in North America and Europe (Nolan, Houlihan, Wanzek, & Jenson, 2014).
Mystery Motivator Game. Another tier 1 package intervention is the mystery motivator game. The teacher sets behavioral goals with the students and then selects specific times or lessons unknown to the students during which the mystery motivator game will be played. A mystery motivator chart shows days of the week or month. The teacher marks random days in a way that the students cannot see (e.g., under a piece of paper, with invisible ink). Each day, at the end of the designated mystery motivator time, the teacher asks a student to remove the piece of paper or use a magic marker to reveal the invisible ink. If the chart indicates that it is a mystery motivator day (e.g., marked with an “M”), the teacher provides the students with a surprise or “mystery” reward. If the chart does not reveal a mark, the teacher simply provides praise (Kowalewicz & Coffee, 2014).
The mystery motivator game has been utilized to increase homework completion and accuracy (Madaus, Kehle, Madaus, & Bray, 2003; Waguespack, Moore, Wickstrom, & Witt, 1994) and on-task behavior (Kraemer, Davies, Arndt, & Hunley, 2012). Further, Robichaux and Gresham (2014) compared delivering mystery rewards and student-selected rewards; both variations resulted in substantial decreases in challenging behavior.
Check-in/Check-out. An example of a tier 2 intervention is check-in/check-out (CICO). At check-in each morning, the participating student meets with a mentor (a member of the school staff) to review schoolwide expectations and to set a goal. The mentor provides the student with a daily progress report (DPR) document, which the student uses to recruit feedback from adults throughout the school day. At check-out, the student and mentor meet again to review the DPR. The mentor delivers rewards based on the student’s performance, and the student takes the DPR home to review with a caregiver (Wolfe et al., 2016).
The effectiveness of CICO can vary based on what works as a reinforcer for each student. For example, Campbell and Anderson (2008) modified the CICO procedures for two students who did not respond to initial procedures. Functional behavior assessments suggested that peer attention was more valuable to these students than adult attention. The procedural modification had these two students earn rewards such as choosing whom to sit with at lunch or checking out together instead of individually, and resulted in greater decreases in challenging behavior than the original CICO procedures. These individualized modifications may make this version of CICO a tier 3 intervention.
Classwide Function-Related Intervention Teams. Another intervention package incorporating multiple strategies for supporting appropriate behavior is classwide function-related intervention teams (CW-FIT), initially implemented as a tier 2 intervention for classrooms that were not engaging in appropriate behavior with SWPBS alone (Kamps et al., 2011). The program teaches appropriate behavior to replace inappropriate behavior (e.g., raising a hand to gain the teacher’s attention instead of calling out). It also calls for reviewing skills at the beginning of lessons where skills may be needed. Rewards for appropriate behavior can include behavior-specific praise, points or tokens to be traded for prizes, or group contingencies in which the class is split into teams and rewards delivered based on the performance of the whole team. Teachers also remove potential reinforcers for inappropriate behavior (e.g., withhold attention for calling out).
An additional component of CW-FIT is self-management, which can be added for students who continue to engage in disruptive behavior. For instance, if the class is split into teams and one student’s behavior negatively affects the whole team, self-management is introduced for that student. A miniature version of the class goals chart is placed on the student’s desk. When a tone sounds, the student awards points to himself or herself for engaging in appropriate behavior while the teacher awards points to the teams (Kamps et al., 2011). This additional level of individualization is characteristic of a tier 3 support.
CW-FIT has been primarily applied in elementary schools in culturally diverse urban communities (Kamps et al., 2015) but has also been utilized in self-contained, special education classrooms (Weeden, Wills, Kottwitz, & Kamps, 2016).
Key Components of Reinforcement-Based Interventions
Supporting appropriate behavior is critical for helping all students access a safe and productive learning environment. The aforementioned interventions for supporting appropriate behavior highlight a few key components of all effective programs.
- Teach appropriate behavior. To support appropriate behavior, students first must be taught to engage in appropriate behavior (e.g., Kamps et al., 2011; Taylor-Greene et al., 1997). Specifically, it may be helpful to teach appropriate replacements for potentially disruptive behavior (e.g., raising a hand instead of calling out, asking for help instead of refusing to complete a difficult task) and to provide ample reinforcement for these alternatives. Moreover, if using self-management or peer-mediated interventions, students must be taught to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior before recording their own or their peers’ behavior (e.g., Lloyd et al., 1989; Skinner et al., 2000). Defining appropriate behavior likely varies across environments, and some students may need separate instruction in these different situations (e.g., Campbell & Anderson, 2008). Therefore, choosing a few behaviors to teach in one context may be a good place to start before extending to additional environments.
- Provide reinforcement for appropriate behavior. Once students learn appropriate behavior, they must receive reinforcement or rewards so they continue to engage in that behavior. Rewards do not have to be expensive or complex. Behavior-specific praise can be delivered publicly or privately, and can be vocal or written (Houghton et al., 1990; Wheatley et al., 2009). Small prizes might include stickers, pencils, or small snacks. Additional free time or recess can also be used as a reward. Moreover, points or tokens can be collected and traded for a larger reward (e.g., lunch with the teacher, a pizza party). Rewards can be delivered to individual students or to a group. That is, a small group of students or the whole class may be required to meet a goal for all students to receive the reward (Cihak et al., 2009; McHugh Dillon et al., 2019; Skinner et al., 2000), or of all the students who engage in appropriate behavior, a few may be randomly selected to receive a reward (Lum et al., 2019; Wheatley et al., 2009).
- Involve students. There are a number of ways for students to provide input in the development of a reward system. Creating a list of class expectations and goals is an initial way to collaborate with students (e.g., Hollingshead, Kroeger, Altus, & Trytten, 2016). Soliciting student input on rewards they would like to earn is another approach (McHugh Dillon et al, 2019; Lum et al., 2019). Teaching students to monitor their own behavior is yet another method (see Self-Management) or monitor the behavior of peers (see Peer-Mediated Interventions).
Using Reinforcement Effectively
Strategies for supporting appropriate behavior are based on the principle of reinforcement. That said, there are some additional considerations for using reinforcement effectively.
- Act immediately. Rewards for appropriate behavior should be delivered immediately after the behavior occurs (Cooper et al., 2007). If there is a delay between the time the behavior happens and the reward is delivered, other behavior may occur during that delay, and the student will lose the connection between the appropriate behavior and the reward.
- Be sure it’s a reinforcer. Just because something looks like a reinforcer does not mean that it is. We can only know that something is a reinforcer if the behavior that follows increases. For example, a teacher provides praise for on-task behavior, but on-task behavior does not increase. In this case, praise may not be an effective reward for that student or group of students, and a different reward should be tried. Seeking student input on desired rewards is a good place to start, but it is also important to note that student reports may not always lead to effective reinforcers (Northup, 2000). Pay careful attention to whether or not the target behavior is increasing when determining the effectiveness of reinforcers.
- Set students up for success. The effort required to engage in appropriate behavior should be less than the effort required to engage in inappropriate behavior. Set achievable criteria for rewards when implementing a reward system; this will help students experience reinforcement as soon as possible. As students maintain success, the criteria to earn rewards can gradually increase (Heward, 1980). For example, a teacher is trying to increase hand raising in a classroom where hand raising is occurring only about five times a day. The teacher could begin by providing a reward if hand raising occurs six times a day so the students gain experience with the reward system quickly. Then as students continue to raise their hands consistently, the teacher may increase the requirement for reinforcement to seven times a day, eight times a day, and so on.
- Start strong, then plan for the long term. Reinforcement must be provided frequently enough for behavior to increase and maintain. Therefore, at the outset, provide a reward for every instance of the behavior. As students maintain high levels of appropriate behavior, gradually provide reinforcement for some but not all instances of the behavior (Hanley, Iwata, & Thompson, 2001).
Behavior-Specific Praise. BSP costs nothing to deliver, but teachers may require training and feedback to effectively implement this intervention (see Cavanaugh, 2013, for a review). After initial training, tools to remind teachers to deliver BSP may carry additional costs. A written document with guidelines or examples placed in the classroom is a low-cost option, while technology used to delivery vibratory or audio cues may be more expensive.
Other Rewards. Small prizes like stickers, pencils, or folders (Wheatley et al., 2009) are relatively low cost. When students nominate rewards they are interested in earning, sometimes their suggestions (bonus points, homework passes, snacks, extra recess or free time) are also low to no cost (Lum et al., 2019; McHugh Dillon et al., 2019). Extra recess or free time costs nothing to deliver, although attention should be paid to the potential loss of instructional time.
Large-Scale Interventions. Package interventions implemented at the school or district level involve multiple components and therefore more complex cost considerations. For example, Blonigen et al. (2008) conducted an economic analysis assessing the cost of implementing SWPBS. The costs associated with implementation included (1) development of a leadership team, (2) initial training of trainers and coaches, (3) initial training of teachers, and (4) maintenance costs including day-to-day implementation, data collection, additional training, and rewards for students. The first three elements are fixed costs, or will be incurred only once at the outset of the program. Therefore, the analysis by Blonigen et al. revealed that SWPBS involved a high cost for one school, but the cost per school decreased as the number of participating schools increased. For example, the cost for implementing SWPBS in one school was $172,050. If 10 schools participated, the cost per school would be $66,235; if 25 schools participated, the cost per school would be $59,194. Further, the costs associated with implementing SWPBS were substantially lower than the costs associated with school dropout. Swain-Bradway, Lindstrom Johnson, Bradshaw, and McIntosh (2017) indicated that “…every $1 invested in SWPBS resulted in a fiscal savings of $104.90, solely from reducing dropout by way of reducing suspensions” (p. 5).
Conclusions and Implications
Supporting appropriate behavior is essential for promoting a positive school environment and preventing challenging behavior. While responding effectively to disruptive behavior is also important and will be discussed in the decreasing disruptive behavior overview, resorting to negative consequence procedures can result in a number of unwanted effects. Because behavior only increases when it is reinforced, appropriate behavior must be reinforced for it to maintain at school. What works as reinforcement, however, varies across students or groups of students. While some students may be intrinsically motivated to engage in appropriate behavior, others may not. A multitiered system of support can address this challenge by applying universal strategies, then adding supplementary interventions for students who require more intensive support.
Rewards for appropriate behavior can include praise, small items, snacks, free time, or a special activity. Rewards can be earned by individual students, a random selection of students who displayed appropriate behavior, or groups of students working as a team. Appropriate behavior can be monitored and reinforced by teachers, peers, or the students themselves via self-management. However, determining whether or not the appropriate behavior is increasing is critical for assessing the effectiveness of a reinforcement system.
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