This entry contains the following:
Valerie A. Evans, Nina C. Wilde, Saul Axelrod
Rosetta F. Sandidge
T. Steuart Watson, Tonya S. Watson, Sarah Gebhardt
Robert F. Putnam, Marcie W. Handler
Tonya N. Davis, Mark O'Reilly, Giulio Lancioni, Jeff Sigafoos, Wendy Machalicek
Edmund T. Emmer
Teacher enthusiasm, organization, and technical skill of instruction are almost all of the characteristics of an effective classroom leader. Almost. It is sophistication regarding classroom management that makes educated and enthusiastic teachers Classroom management encompasses all the components that impact upon the smooth delivery of education to students. These components include teacher behavior, student behavior, and the classroom's physical features. This entry reviews the most common factors that
may provoke problem behaviors for individual students or for an entire class, describes methods for determining why the problems are occurring, and suggests how to intervene effectively.
CHOOSING AND DEFINING BEHAVIORS TO MODIFY
Assessment and treatment of student behavior is time-consuming. Before a behavior is deemed a target for change, the teacher must first determine whether it is worth the time and effort to collect data, analyze function, and implement a treatment plan. If the behavior is a threat to the safety of the students, it should be addressed promptly. Examples of dangerous behavior are bullying, throwing furniture, running around the classroom, and engaging objects in a dangerous manner.
The impact of the behavior on the learning environment as a whole is another important consideration when deciding if a behavior is worth the time it takes to intervene. If the behavior is disruptive to the entire class (e.g., call-outs) or is incompatible with student participation (e.g., note-passing), then it warrants attention on the basis that the behavior is preventing the classroom from achieving its educational objectives. Once a behavior is chosen as a target for analysis and intervention, it must first be defined in specific and observable terms. The definition must be technical enough so that anyone may walk into the classroom, read the definition, and recognize whether the behavior of concern is occurring. Disruptive behavior, for example, is a broad behavior category in which many behaviors may be included. Out-of-seat behavior is much more specific and is very simple to define and measure. Specific definitions also make it easier for the student to understand, which should prove to be helpful during the intervention stage. Finally, it is important that the teacher prioritize treatment. Rather than feel overwhelmed by the immediate desire to have a classroom of orderly students, the teacher should focus on one problem at a time and set realistic expectations.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
Teachers have many tasks to attend to each day. So they might wonder about the worth of adding another task, such as collection of data. Whether a teacher has chosen to work on an individual student's behavior or to work on class-wide performance, tracking progress allows the teacher to make informed decisions regarding whether intervention is necessary, and if so, if the intervention is resulting in desired outcomes. When a teacher identifies a target behavior to change, the teacher should begin with an initial assessment of behavior rates. This type of data is referred to as baseline. Before baseline data may be collected, the teacher must first choose which method ofdata collectionisappropriate, given the nature of the behavior. There are measurement techniques that track the frequency, duration, rate, and latency of behavior (see Figure 1). The chosen data collection method should be both appropriate for the nature of the behavior and practical for the teacher to use.
During the baseline phase, another type of data should be gathered to further assess the variables correlated with the target behavior. These variables may be time of day, type of activities, and availability of certain preferred items (see Figure 2). Analysis of these data will provide the teacher with naturally occurring patterns that may indicate consistent precursors of behavior. For example, if students are reliably aggressive mid-morning, it may be due to hunger, the difficult math lesson that is presented at 10:00 each day, or agitation from being seated all morning. The effectiveness of intervention is highly correlated with the teacher's ability to critically analyze behavior trends with the data that were collected.
CONSEQUENCES OF STUDENT BEHAVIOR
In order to effectively treat students' behavior, the teacher must first understand it from the students' perspective. The
teacher must always remember that the behavior of concern is adaptive and useful; otherwise, the students would not engage in it. Students engage in a particular behavior because it provides them with some valuable reinforcer. The reinforcer is any consequence that increases the probability or rate of the response in the future (Skinner, 1938). A consequence is anything that follows a behavior.
Consequences may be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. When the outcome of a behavior is something desirable, individuals are likely to engage in the behavior again. The pay-off, or reinforcer, for engaging in the behavior may not be readily apparent to others, but that does not mean it does not exist. “He just does it to annoy me” is a popular attitude of exasperated teachers, which is sometimes, but not always true. Concluding that “This is just a rambunctious group of students who cannot be controlled” will make any teacher feel better about not being effective but will do nothing to improve the situation for either teacher or students.
In order to improve the situation, the analysis of antecedents (events that occur before a behavior) and consequences of behavior will reveal the factors maintaining the undesired behavior and lead the educator toward effective intervention strategies. Understanding why students engage in the problem behavior (the function of the behavior) will indicate treatment options. For example, if disruptive students continually interrupt the lesson, it is likely that they are being disruptive to access attention from the teacher and peers. So in this case, the function is attention. An effective treatment will use attention as the reinforcer, as that is what motivates the students' behavior.
Understanding what motivates behavior is also useful in preventing accidental reinforcement of that behavior. For example, ifstudents act upat school because they do not like attending school and the consequence is they are suspended for three days, the acting-out behavior was likely reinforced. It is very likely that these individuals will engage in the same undesirable behaviors in the future because it was those behaviors that gave them access to the desired consequence. In this case, if the school administrators referred to the suspension as a punisher, they would be mistaken.
Punishment is any consequence of behavior that decreases, rather than increases, the likelihood a behavior will occur again (Skinner, 1938). Both reinforcement and punishment are highly individualized per student and behavior. In the case of a student who acts out for peer and teacher attention, if the teacher were to give this student stage timeat the end of the day for appropriate behavior, this would likely be an effective reinforcer. However, if stage time were given to a shy student, it would most likely act as a punishing consequence. These examples highlight why accurate assessment of the variables that maintain behavior are necessary before effective treatment may be designed and implemented.
Some classroom problems may be influenced by physical characteristics of the environment or by the established teaching patterns and class schedule. According to Smith, Neisworth, and Greer (1978), a number offactors should be considered when arranging the instructional environment. These include several elements ofphysical design and organization, such as lighting, temperature, noise, visual distractions, colors, furniture, displays, and shelving. The seating arrangements, desks, and work and play areas should be designed so that the teacher is able to observe all the students in the room. This organization will allow the teacher to determine which students might need assistance, as well as what types of social interactions are occurring (Stainback, Stainback, & Froyen, 1987). A well-managed classroom also has a schedule and established classroom rules. These rules should be clearly stated and be visually accessible to the students throughout their school day. In addition, teachers should discuss with the students the consequences for both
rule following and rule breaking. The majority of teacher-student interactions should involve positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior. The teacher should move about the room, rather than remain seated at the desk. Doing soallows the teacher to deliver immediate prompts and reinforcers for appropriate behaviors. When students are actively engaged in instruction, they are less likely to exhibit be problematic behaviors.
Classroom schedules are another important consideration. Difficult or repetitive academic tasks should alternate with activities that are naturally reinforcing to the students. Minor classroom management problems might be addressed by making alterations in these areas, although it is important to note that these changes alone may not be sufficient to establish classroom order. Persistent issues with poor instructional control in the classroom will likely require some degree of more direct assessment of student and teacher performance and intervention by the teacher.
The most effective protocols directly address the function of the target behavior. Just as the students learned to achieve their goals with an inappropriate behavior, they now learn how to achieve their goals with a socially acceptable behavior. The new socially acceptable way of achieving reinforcement is defined as an equivalent response; it serves the same function as the inappropriate behavior (Carr, McConnachie, Levin, & Kemp, 1993) but is an appropriate behavior. Simultaneously, the way in which teachers respond to the undesirable behavior may also need to change. The treatment plan is, simply, a protocol for changing the behavior patterns of both teacher and students. If the plan is a success, the teacher will learn to reinforce appropriate student behavior and withhold reinforcement when undesirable behaviors occur.
The students will, in turn, learn to respond differently, based on the teacher's allocation of reinforcement. For example, if certain students shout out during class to gain the teacher's attention, the teacher will need to identify an equivalent response for gaining teacher attention. Hence, if the teacher instructs the students to raise their hands when they want attention, the teacher will need to provide more immediate and higher quality reinforcement for hand-raises than for call-outs. The students will quickly learn that hand raising is the most efficient way to receive attention from the teacher and will use hand raising in place of the call-outs. When a teacher chooses an appropriate equivalent response for a student, the new behavior must be at least as easy to perform for the student as the undesirable behavior. Hand raising is an appropriate equivalent response for call-outs. Writing a note to the teacher in place of call-outs would not be an appropriate equivalent response since writing notes is much more laborious than calling out. In the beginning of teaching equivalent responses, it is important that the teacher reinforce every appropriate response. As the student learns to raise his hand, the rate of reinforcement may be gradually thinned and the delivery of reinforcement can become less frequent and less immediate. Any effective intervention requires an investment of time and effort in the beginning stages, but soon pays off when the classroom comes under control.
The data collection process should continue throughout intervention in order to monitor progress and to make informed decisions regarding intervention efforts. It is important to collect data and to display it in a graph that will allow the teacher to easily see progress or the lack of it. A visual display of data permits the teacher to see changes in behavior that may not have been expected or may not have otherwise been noticed. Graphing of data helps the teacher avoid over or underestimating behavior change. The simplest method of graphing is to draw a line graph by hand. The quantity of behavior(s) should be placed on the y-axis (ordinate), and time, such as days or weeks on the x-axis (abscissa) (Figure 3). It is important to depict baseline and intervention data on the same graph. A vertical line should be inserted between all changes in condition. This arrangement allows the teacher to quickly scan graphs for treatment effects. Once the baseline and intervention data are graphed, the teacher may observe the effects of intervention. If the behaviors fail to respond to teacher interventions, it may be necessary to obtain assistance from a qualified behavior analyst.
Classroom management is an ongoing process that requires continual monitoring and adjustment. Knowledge of reinforcement and keen analytic skills are the most important tools for effectively managing a classroom. Many classroom problems may be prevented with careful attention to physical design and scheduling. When problems arise, analysis of the sequence of events leading up to and immediately following the behavior of concern will indicate strategies for effective treatment. Successful interventions are carefully planned and based upon the function of target behaviors. The time spent improving one's classroom management is an important investment toward a pleasant and productive working and learning environment for teachers and learners.
Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2006). Applied behavior analysis for teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Axelrod, S., & Matthews, S. C. (Eds.). (2003). How to improve classroom behavior series. Austin, TX: ProEd.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from, http://www.bacb.com.
Carr, E. G., McConnachie, G., Levin, L., & Kemp, D. C. (1993). Communication-based treatment of severe behavior problems. In R. Van Houton & S. Axelrod (Eds.), Behavior analysis and treatment (231–267). New York: Plenum Press.
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Skinner, B. F. (1938). Behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton Century Crofts.
Smith, R. M., Neisworth, J. T., & Greer, J. G. (1978). Evaluating educational environments. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.
Stainback, W., Stainback, S., & Froyen, L. (1987). Structuring the classroom to prevent disruptive behaviors. Teaching Exceptional Children 19(4), 12–16.
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Assertive discipline is a structured, teacher-centered system designed to help educators manage student behavior in the classroom. Armed with the belief that teachers were ill prepared to address behavioral problems in their classrooms, Lee and Marlene Canter proposed a new discipline model in their 1976 book, Assertive Discipline: A Take-Charge Approach for Today's Educators. A straightforward model that was easy to understand and implement, assertive discipline gained rapid acceptance among teachers throughout the United States. The widespread popularity of the model became more evident with the growth of Canter and Associates, a firm designed to market books and resources on assertive discipline and provide assertive discipline training for school districts and educators across the country. It is estimated that well over 1 million teachers have received training in this packaged behavior management system since its inception in 1976 (Canter & Canter, 2002).
Over the years, the Canters published additional books that focused on assertive discipline for parents (1982) and assertive discipline strategies for difficult or challenging students (1993). The system was modified slightly over time as the Canters further developed aspects of the model. Perhaps the most notable change came with the publication of the third edition of Assertive Discipline: Positive Behavior Management for Today's Classrooms (2002), which stressed the importance of teachers building a caring and trusting relationship with students in addition to providing the classroom structure that was advocated in earlier works.
The overall premise of assertive discipline is that teachers must act assertively to ensure that their rights as teachers are met. The Canters believed that, traditionally, teachers had focused on student needs, in keeping with earlier theories espoused by Thomas Gordon (1918–2002), Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), Rudolph Dreikurs (1897– 1972), and William Glasser (1925–), and ignored their own needs in the classroom (Canter & Canter, 1976, 1992). According to the Canters, teachers have the right to establish a classroom environment that facilitates student learning, determine expectations for student behavior in the classroom, expect student compliance with these expectations, and seek the support of parents and school administrators in implementing this system. Similarly, students have the right to have teachers who set boundaries for student conduct, provide support for appropriate behavior, and identify and enforce consequences for inappropriate behavior.
The Canters posit that teachers respond to student behaviors in an assertive, nonassertive, or hostile manner (Canter & Canter, 1992). To ensure that teacher and student needs are addressed, teachers must learn to respond assertively in the classroom. Assertive teachers clearly communicate their expectations to students and quickly administer positive recognition for appropriate student actions and consequences for inappropriate behaviors. Nonassertive teachers fail to specify to their students the behaviors they will or will not accept, threaten students with punishment for inappropriate behavior but do not follow through with their threats, and often ignore inappropriate behaviors altogether. Hostile teachers address students in an abusive manner, making sarcastic, demeaning, or mean-spirited comments that create feelings of embarrassment, fear, intimidation, and anger among their students.
PROCEDURES IN ASSERTIVE DISCIPLINE
Central to the assertive discipline model is a classroom discipline plan that is created by the teacher and implemented at the beginning of the school year or academic term. The plan includes three major components: a set of classroom rules, types of positive recognition for students who obey the rules, and a hierarchy of consequences for students who disobey the rules.
The Canters (1992) provide specific guidelines regarding the establishment of the classroom rules, the first component of the discipline plan. They recommend that teachers develop a limited number of rules, with five as a guideline, to allow students to easily learn and remember these expectations. These rules should focus on observable student behaviors and should apply at all times in the classroom. The rules should deal with behavior only and not address academic issues, such as homework.
The second component of the discipline plan includes identification of strategies for recognizing students who abide by the rules. The Canters (1992) believe that positive recognition of students who obey the rules encourages appropriate behavior, increases self-esteem, creates a positive learning environment, and establishes positive relationships within the classroom. Examples of positive recognition include praise, positive phone calls or notes sent home to parents or guardians, tangible rewards, and special privileges. In addition to individual student recognition, the Canters suggest that teachers also consider a classroom recognition system, which allows students to earn class-wide rewards for their on-task behaviors. When a predetermined number of points are earned by students in the class, the class is rewarded with a special party or event.
The third component of the discipline plan involves the development of a hierarchy of consequences that is administered to students who disobey the rules. The hierarchy includes approximately five consequences, with the first consequence a warning followed by additional consequences, which increase in severity. The more severe consequences involve referral to parents or guardians and school administrators. The hierarchy also identifies a severe clause specifying that students who commit serious infractions be referred immediately to the school principal. The Canters (1992) recommend that teachers select age-appropriate consequences that students do not enjoy. Teachers should have a system in place to easily track the level of consequence for each student and administer the consequences calmly and quickly. To ensure that students learn from their previous mistakes and to motivate them to stay on task, each day the teacher begins administering the consequences at the lowest level of the hierarchy to give students a fresh start.
To ensure that students are familiar with the plan, the Canters (1992) recommend that teachers teach the plan to students by using the following procedures: explain why rules are needed, teach the rules, explain how positive recognition will be used, explain why consequences are needed, begin immediately reinforcing students who follow the rules, and review rules frequently. The plan should be posted in a prominent location in the classroom, and copies of the plan should be shared with school administrators and distributed to parents and guardians at the beginning of the school year or academic term.
EFFECTIVENESS OF ASSERTIVE DISCIPLINE
Both advocates and critics of assertive discipline have expressed strong opinions regarding its effectiveness in the classroom (Canter, 1988; Curwin & Mendler, 1988; Curwin & Mendler, 1989; McCormack, 1989; Render, Padilla, & Krank, 1989). Proponents indicate that the model is easy for students and parents to understand and for teachers to implement in the classroom, and practitioners point to benefits of the system in their own schools and classrooms (McCormack, 1989). Critics, however, suggest that the model does not teach students self-discipline and conflict resolution skills they need in the long term but rather relies on the use of consequences and rewards to secure student obedience to rules in the short term (Curwin & Mendler, 1988; Wade, 1997).
Much of the published literature on assertive discipline highlights the implementation of the model in particular settings (e.g., Malmgren, Trezek, & Paul, 2005; Wade, 1997) and reports the results of teacher survey data related to various aspects of the model (e.g., Ellis & Karr-Kidwell, 1995). There is, however, a scarcity of research on the effectiveness of assertive discipline in general, and the research that does exist is inconclusive. For example, two studies conducted in England examined the impact of assertive discipline on student behavior after teachers received assertive discipline training. The first study reported uneven implementation of the model across teachers in the school and no obvious positive impact on student behavior (Martin, 1994), while the second study reported improved rates of on-task behavior and a reduction in the numbers of disruptive incidents among students with emotional and behavioral problems as teachers increased their use of positive feedback and praise (Swinson & Cording, 2002). While some research appears to support the effectiveness of assertive discipline, the scope and quality of the research has been called into question. Render, Padilla, and Krank report in a 1989 study that the research is sparse and unsophisticated, that no generalizable data has resulted from the research, and that no study has compared the effectiveness of the model with other discipline models.
Clearly, given the widespread popularity and use of assertive discipline in classrooms, a need exists for additional research on the model. Many questions regarding the effectiveness of assertive discipline remain.
Canter, L. (1988, October). Let the educator beware: A response to Curwin and Mendler. Educational Leadership, 46, 71–73.
Canter, L., & Canter, M. (1976). Assertive discipline: A takecharge approach for today's educator. Seal Beach, CA: Canter and Associates.
Canter, L., & Canter, M. (1982). Assertive discipline for parents. Los Angeles: Canter and Associates.
Canter, L., & Canter, M. (1992). Assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today's classroom. Santa Monica, CA: Canter and Associates.
Canter, L., & Canter, M. (1993). Succeeding with difficult students: New strategies for reaching your most challenging students. Santa Monica, CA: Canter and Associates.
Canter, L., & Canter, M. (2002). Assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today's classroom (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Curwin, R. L., & Mendler, A. N. (1988, October). Packaged discipline programs: Let the buyer beware. Educational Leadership, 46, 68–71.
Curwin, R. L., & Mendler, A. N. (1989, March). We repeat, let the buyer beware: A response to Canter. Educational Leadership, 46, 83.
Ellis, D. W., & Karr-Kidwell, P. J. (1995). A study of assertive discipline and recommendations for effective classroom management methods. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 379 207).
Malmgren, K. W., Trezek, B. J., & Paul, P. V. (2005). Models of classroom management as applied to the secondary classroom. The Clearing House, 79(1), 36–39.
Martin, S. C. (1994). A preliminary evaluation of the adoption and implementation of assertive discipline at Robinton High School. School Organisation, 14(3), 321–330.
McCormack, S. (1989, March). Response to Render, Padilla, and Krank: But practitioners say it works! Educational Leadership, 46, 77–79.
Render, G. F., Padilla, J. M., & Krank, H. M. (1989, March). What research really shows about assertive discipline. Educational Leadership, 46, 72–75.
Swinson, J., & Cording, M. (2002). Assertive discipline in a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. British Journal of Special Education, 29(2), 72–75.
Wade, R. K. (1997, May). Lifting a school's spirit. Educational Leadership, 54(8), 34–36.
In common usage, punishment is typically conceptualized as a painful or otherwise unpleasant consequence that is delivered after an undesirable behavior. Punishment is usually associated with images of spankings, loud verbal reprimands, or loss of privileges. In applied behavior analysis, punishment is simply defined as any event that occurs after a behavior that results in a decrease in the frequency, intensity, duration, or latency of that behavior. There are two types of punishment: Type I punishment, also called positive punishment, involves the introduction of either an aversive stimulus or an aversive activity immediately following a behavior; Type II punishment, or negative punishment, involves the removal of a positive stimulus or preferred event immediately following a behavior. When used correctly, both Type 1 and Type 2 punishment procedures can be effective adjunctive methods for managing behavior in the classroom.
PUNISHMENT AS PART OF CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT
Type I punishments fall into two general categories: aver-sive activities and aversive stimuli. According to Brown-Chidsey and Steege (2004), the most common classroom application of aversive activities is overcorrection. Over-correction takes place when a student is required to engage in an effortful behavior contingent on each incidence of a particular behavior. There are two components of over-correction. The first, restitution, is a procedure whereby the student corrects what was damaged in the environment as a result of the behavior and restores the environment to a condition better than existed before the problem behavior. For example, a child who colors on her desk with a marker might be required to clean not only her desktop but also all the desktops in her row of desks. The second component of overcorrection is positive practice, in which a student, following a problem behavior, immediately engages in a correct version of appropriate behavior. For instance, a child who knocks over his chair and runs out the door to recess might be required to push his chair in appropriately and walk from his desk to the door ten times before joining his classmates at recess. Restitution and positive practice may be used singularly or in tandem, depending upon the circumstances of the situation.
The procedures most often used in the classroom that fall in the application of aversive stimuli category include verbal reprimands (e.g., telling a student “No”), negative social feedback, disapproving body language such as frowning or sending a negative letter home to parents. In some instances, teachers use these strategies in a systematic manner contingent upon specific behaviors. In many cases, teachers deliver these consequences without regard to their actual effect on behavior. Whatever the case, it is important to remember that, if delivery of aversive stimuli is going to be used as part of a classroom management, it should not be physically, psychologically, or emotionally harmful to the student.
There are several varieties of Type II punishment, or the removal of a reinforcer. The most effective form of Type II punishment is time-out, also known as time-out from positive reinforcement. Time-out involves removing a student from a reinforcing situation to a neutral or less reinforcing setting following the occurrence of problem behavior. The duration of a time-out may range from as little as thirty seconds to as much as five minutes. Although there are several different kinds of time-out, the ones most commonly used in schools are exclusionary and non-exclusionary time-out. Exclusionary time-out refers to situations in which the student is removed from the classroom and thus all possible sources of positive reinforcement are minimized or eliminated. Non-exclusionary time-out refers to instances in which the student remains in the room but does not have easy access to positive reinforcers (e.g., teacher and/or peer attention, activities, games). Non-exclusionary time-outs are often easier for a teacher to implement, as they do not require the teacher to leave the rest of the class unattended to escort the timed-out child to another setting. For example, if a student is being disruptive while the class is playing a math game to earn points, the teacher might ask the student to stop participating and stand by the flag at the back of the room for one minute. As mentioned earlier, a well planned and executed timeout procedure is one of the most effective behavior management tools available to teachers (Sterling & Watson, 1999).
Another regularly used form of Type II punishment is response cost. With the response cost procedure, a previously earned positive reinforcer is removed contingent upon the occurrence of an undesirable behavior. Response cost is most useful in classrooms in which teachers have some type of tangible reinforcement system (e.g., points, tokens, class money, coupons, or popsicle sticks) already in place. For example, teachers who reinforce academic work completion and appropriate social behavior with coupons that can be exchanged for small prizes at the end of the week may remove previously earned coupons when students either fail to do their work or exhibit inappropriate social behavior.
Attention extinction, or planned ignoring, is another effective form of Type II punishment when used correctly and in the appropriate situation. For example, a student who routinely asks questions of the teacher while she is giving directions may eventually stop if the teacher gives no indication that she is paying attention to the student's questions. However, planned ignoring would only work in this case if the attention being withheld by the teacher were actually reinforcing the behavior. That is, if the student's classmates laughed at the questions, it is unlikely that planned ignoring will result in a decrease in the ill-timed question-asking behavior.
While the types of misbehaviors that children exhibit invariably changes in topography and/or frequency, intensity, or duration as they age, teacher's preferred methods of discipline seem to remain fairly constant. As noted by Carter and Doyle (2006), verbal reprimands are sufficient for most mild misbehaviors that occur in early childhood and elementary classrooms. For more major forms of acting out, teachers usually prefer to use timeouts (most often some type of exclusionary time-out in which students are either removed from the classroom or sent home from school) or some other form of Type II punishment, such as restitution. Although misbehaviors among adolescents are much more complex and, if left unchecked, may be more likely to escalate into seriously disruptive behavior, verbal reprimands and time-outs are still the most common forms of punishment used even in secondary school settings (Emmer & Gerwels, 2006).
PROBLEMS WITH PUNISHMENT
Although punishment, by definition, is effective for reducing a behavior, the use of punishment as part of classroom management is controversial due to a number of problems associated with its use. First, punishment may result in a temporary increase in the undesirable behavior or the form of the behavior may change. Second, if the intensity of a punisher is gradually applied, students may tolerate very harsh forms of punishment. Third, some students may become physically aggressive when punishment is applied, particularly those students who are more prone to aggressive behavior. Fourth, punishment may produce unanticipated emotional side effects such as crying, general fearfulness, and social withdrawal. Fifth, students may model the behaviors exhibited by the adults who are delivering the punishment (e.g., yelling, finger pointing, rough handling). Sixth, there is a tendency of adults to over-rely on punishment strategies because it brings them temporary relief in the form of a brief escape from, or reduction in, a student's problematic behavior. Seventh, some educators are ethically opposed to the use of punishment, although this opposition is typically in response to the physically and emotionally harmful types of punishment. Eighth, teachers use punishment procedures every day, whether intentionally or unintentionally, without systematically evaluating the intended and unintended effects on behavior. Ninth, and perhaps most important, punishment does not teach a student what to do, it only teaches what not to do. Thus, any time a punishment procedure is used in the classroom, there should be a simultaneous plan in place that focuses on teaching and reinforcing a more appropriate behavior.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EFFECTIVE USE OF PUNISHMENT
Probably due to the negative consequences sometimes associated with, or produced by, punishment procedures, Landrum and Kauffman (2006) suggested that punishment should be reserved for serious misbehaviors and used only in the context of ongoing behavior management programs. The former suggestion is not necessarily true as using punishment for mild offenses can often prevent more serious infractions in the future. Prior to systematically using punishment as part of classroom management, several factors should be considered. First, teachers must be careful not to administer punishment in anger and use only a matter-of-fact tone of voice, not a threatening tone. Second, punishment should be fair, consistent, and an immediate response to problem behavior and, whenever possible, relevant to the misbehavior. Third, consistency is one of the most important factors in using punishment effectively. Teachers should pick a punisher that can be used frequently, is not physically or psychologically harmful, and then use the punishment in a systematic and planned manner in the classroom.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO DECREASING PROBLEM BEHAVIOR
Numerous procedures besides punishment can be used to decrease the occurrence of problem behavior in the classroom. Two of the most effective procedures involve implementing some type of positive reinforcement system and/or manipulating the antecedents of problem behavior. When using positive reinforcement to manage classroom behavior, the teacher should be clear as to which behavior will be reinforced and then provide reinforcement contingent on that behavior. Ideally, the behavior that is being reinforced is incompatible with the undesirable behavior. For example, if a student is running around the classroom disrupting other students, providing reinforcement for work completion should reduce the problem behavior. Completing work is likely to be incompatible with being out of one's seat disrupting others. Manipulating antecedents involves removing the triggers or cues for misbehavior (Watson & Steege, 2003). Although there are many methods for altering antecedents, the first step is to identify the variables that are actually triggering the problem behavior. After doing so, even small changes in these variables can have a significant impact on behavior. For example, if a teacher determines that difficult academic tasks reliably lead to problem behavior, she may a) decrease the difficulty of the task, b) provide additional instruction and modeling prior to assigning the work, c) assign a peer helper to assist with task completion, and/or d) intersperse very difficult problems with easier problems.
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Sterling, H. E., & Watson, T. S. (1999). An empirically based guide for the use of time-out in the preschool and elementary classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 36, 135–148.
Watson, T. S., & Steege, M. W. (2003). Conducting school-based functional behavioral assessments: A practitioner's guide. New York: Guilford.
Classroom management is a problem that both impedes student learning and impacts teaching tenure. Approximately 46% of all new teachers in the United States leave the profession within five years of entering the classroom. Almost half of all teachers who leave the profession report problems with student behavior as the source of their dissatisfaction (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Many schools and their classroom staff rely on discipline policies that are reactive, punitive, and exclusionary. In contrast, school-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) is an empirically supported, preventive approach that teaches social skills to students across all school environments and all school personnel (Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin, 1998; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005; Putnam, Luiselli, Handler, & Jefferson, 2003; Safran & Oswold, 2003; Sugai & Horner, 2002). Reductions in discipline concerns using these procedures at the school-wide level have been reported across a number of studies (Bohanon et al., 2006; Lassen, Steele, & Sailor, 2006; Luiselli, Putnam & Handler, 2001; Luiselli etal., 2005; McCurdy, Mannella & Eldridge, 2003; Rey et al., under review; Warren et al., 2006).
The use of class-wide behavior support practices (CWPBS) has also been shown to reduce problem behaviors in classrooms (Lambert, Cartledge, Heward & Lo, 2006; McCurdy, Mannella & Eldridge, 2003; Putnam et al., 2002). Utilizing a problem-solving model, teachers identify the problem(s) in their classrooms, validate the problem(s) using data, design solutions that include empirically supported practices, and then learn to implement and evaluate the solution(s). The development of a CWPBS program requires five components: (a) establishment of positive, class-wide behavioral expectations, (b) active teaching of these behavioral expectations to students, (c) methods to monitor student performance, (d) a system for reinforcing students, and, (e) managerial and instructional strategies to prevent and reduce problem behaviors.
Class-wide positive behavior support offers an approach that is very different from traditional discipline practices. The practices are designed to move from (a) reactive to proactive practices, (b) punitive to instructive practices, and (c) exclusionary to inclusionary practices. Reactive practices are used only after a student misbehaves, whereas proactive practices identify the challenging behaviors that students are displaying in school, and use this information to understand the areas in which students lack appropriate social skills and then teach these skills. Punitive discipline procedures punish students for acting inappropriately using a variety of events that are meant to serve as deterrents. However, research has shown that a punitive response to challenging behavior is ineffective for many students. In some cases, a punitive response can actually encourage inappropriate behavior, by providing the student with adult attention or with an escape from challenging academic tasks or social demands. In contrast, CWPBS employs an instructive approach to help students correct challenging behaviors. Often when students misbehave they are experiencing either a “skill deficit” or a “performance deficit.” When students do not understand how and when to exhibit appropriate behavior or have not learned this behavior, they demonstrate a skill deficit. In this instance, the students will need to be taught new
behavioral skills. Sometimes students have been taught these skills but are not motivated to use them or have difficulty generalizing the skill across different locations, situations, peers, or adults. In this case, the students are demonstrating a performance deficit (i.e., they have the skill but do not consistently demonstrate it). In this instance, the students will need to be monitored and provided with feedback to reinforce their use of the new skill. The goal of a CWPBS is to address both sets of problems.
The first step in the development of an effective CWBSP is to define the behavioral expectations for the classroom or other area so that the students clearly understand how they should behave in the designated area. Overall, there are six different student performance areas that impact student learning and the functioning of the classroom: (a) compliance with requests, (b) preparation for learning, (c) talking in class, (d) in-classroom behavior, (e) being on time, and, (f) transition behavior. It is important to identify at least two behavioral expectations per rule (e.g., “bring homework to class”; “come prepared with books and pencils”). These expectations should be specific, observable, and measurable behaviors. They should be stated positively as behaviors to be performed. For example, teachers should identify the behavior that should be present rather than behaviors that should not occur. Table 1 lists some examples of these rules.
In the designing of rules and expectations, it is important to identify and address any environmental factors that could impact the successful implementation of those rules. It is also important to establish guidelines about how to manage and monitor all areas in the classroom, and how to arrange areas that are potentially problematic so students are prompted to meet the behavioral expectations.
Student behaviors can be frustrating, and it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that students can get confused about what is expected of them. Too often, school staff assume that students know how to behave. Yet expectations tend to vary among different communities, teachers, parents, and administrators. The goal should be to have predictable routines to increase the likelihood that students can and will navigate through the class period successfully, toward a goal of independence and self-management.
Once the behavioral expectations have been developed it is essential to teach and review these behavior expectations. It is most effective to teach social skills to students in the same way academic skills are taught— through lesson plans. For example, teachers can teach students rules and behavioral expectations by (a) telling students the rules, (b) showing them the rules by modeling positive examples of how to follow the rules, (c) practicing—giving students opportunities to practice these new skills through role-play situations, written assignments, or actual situations, and assess whether students have mastered the rule, and (d) reinforcing— providing students with positive feedback on their understanding of the rule during their role-play or other assignments. Once the behavioral expectations have been taught they should be reviewed frequently and strategically. For example, these expectations should be actively reviewed before beginning or transitioning between classroom activities, after weekends and vacations, and particularly before activities or subjects that tend to have produced the most problematic behavior.
Another effective strategy within a CWBSP is proactively monitoring student behavior as a strategy to prevent problem behaviors from escalating, and minimizing attention to inappropriate behaviors. This entails three teacher behaviors: (a) moving—walking around the entire room, using proximity control to prevent problem behaviors; (b) looking—using frequent visual scans of the room, making eye contact with students; and, (c) interacting—reinforcing students when they demonstrate positive behaviors, and correcting students when they break a rule.
Another major shift in classroom management is an active focus on recognizing students who follow the rules. Teachers should focus on positive behaviors more than negative behaviors to bring about a change in students. For the quickest change in behavior, teachers should aim for a 4:1 ratio of positive (reinforcing) to negative (corrective) statements. In addition to simple verbal and nonverbal feedback, teachers may want to use a more formal system to reward individual or groups of students for appropriate behavior.
Finally, there should be a system in place to correct inappropriate behaviors. The major emphasis should focus on being positive, proactive, and preventive. Then, teachers should follow a hierarchy of planned corrective responses, from least to most intrusive based on severity of problem behavior. Some students may continue to exhibit inappropriate behaviors despite a teacher's most creative attempts to provide positive reinforcement. In such instances teachers need to respond to inappropriate behavior by using corrective responses. Understanding students' motivations will help teachers establish consequences that do not inadvertently reinforce the inappropriate behavior. For example, if students cause trouble toward the end of lunch because they do not want to return to class, sending them to the office will not be effective. Instead, they should be sent directly to class.
Before planning corrective consequences, problem behaviors should be specifically defined. Next, the teacher should determine when problem behaviors occur—at the beginning of the day, during transitions, language arts, or during independent seatwork? Then the possible function of the behavior should be determined. For example, a student might act out to obtain attention or to avoid or escape undesirable activities, for example, a test.
Overall reductions in office discipline referrals and disruptive behavior have been observed in classrooms using this approach (Lambert, Cartledge, Heward, & Lo, 2006; McCurdy, Mannella, & Eldridge, 2003; Putnam et al., 2003a). Reductions in office discipline referrals or suspensions, or both, on playgrounds (McCurdy, Mannella, & Eldridge, 2003) and on buses (Putnam et al., 2003a) also have been demonstrated. Research published in 2003 by McCurdy, Mannella, and Eldridge reported that these interventions are particularly effective with students who come from challenging family and community circumstances and who display significantly disruptive behaviors.
Finally, the development of a CWBSP will not impact problem behavior in the classroom without the effective implementation of classroom behavior support interventions. A 2007 study by Sanetti, Luiselli, and Handler found that the provision of performance feedback on the implementation of the plan produced greater improvements in student behavior than when the plan was not implemented. Verbal plus graphic performance feedback was more effective than just verbal feedback in improving treatment integrity with the plan.
Teachers can improve their students' performance with the implementation of these procedures described above. Performance feedback may be helpful in assisting educational staff in the effective implementation of these procedures.
Bohanon, H., Fenning, P., Carney, K., Minnis, M., AndersonHarris, S., Moroz, K., et al. (2006). School-wide application of urban high school positive behavior support: A case study. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, 8(3), 131–145.
Hagermoser Sanetti, L.M., Luiselli, J. K., Handler, M. W. (2007). Effects of verbal and graphic performance feedback on behavior support plan implementation in a public elementary school. Behavior Modification, 31, 454–465.
Lambert, M. C., Cartledge, G., Heward, W. L., & Lo, Y-y (2006). Effects of response cards on disruptive behavior and academic responding during math lessons by fourth-grade urban students. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 8(2), 88–99.
Lassen, S. R., Steele, M. M., & Sailor, W. (2006). The relationship of school-wide positive behavior support to academic achievement in an urban middle school. Psychology in the Schools, 43, 701–712.
Lewis, T. J., Sugai, G., & Colvin, G. (1998). Reducing problem behavior through a school-wide system of effective behavioral support: Investigation of a school-wide social skills training program and contextual interventions. School Psychology Review, 27, 446–459.
Luiselli, J. K., Putnam, R. F., & Handler, M. W. (2001). Improving discipline practices in public schools: Description of a whole-school and district-wide model of behavior analysis consultation. The Behavior Analyst Today, 2, 18–27.
Luiselli, J. K., Putnam, R. F., Handler, M. W., & Feinberg, A. (2005). Whole-school positive behavior support: Effects on student discipline problems and academic performance. Educational Psychology, 25, 183–198.
McCurdy, B., Mannella, M., & Eldridge, N. (2003). Positive behavior support in urban schools: Can we prevent the escalation of antisocial behavior? Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 158–170.
Putnam, R. F., Handler, M., Rey, J., & O'Leary-Zonarich, C. (2002). Classwide behavior support interventions: Using functional assessment practices to design effective interventions in general classroom settings. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of Behavior Analysis. Toronto, Canada.
Putnam, R. F., Handler, M. W., Ramirez-Platt, C. M., & Luiselli, J. K. (2003a). Improving student bus riding behavior through a school-wide intervention. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 583–589.
Putnam R. F., Luiselli, J. K., Handler, M.W., Jefferson, G. L. (2003b). Evaluating student discipline practices in a public school through behavioral assessment of office referrals. Behavior Modification, 27, 505–523.
Rey, J., Their, K., Handler, H., & Putnam, R. Primary prevention in urban schools: Are teachers ‘Ready to Teach’ prevention? Manuscript submitted for publication.
Safran, S. P., & Oswald, K. (2003). Positive behavior supports: Can schools reshape disciplinary practices. Exceptional Children, 69, 361–373.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2002). The evolution of discipline practices: School-wide positive behavior supports. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 24, 23–50.
Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T., Nelson, C. M., et al. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 2(3), 131–143.
U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Schools and staffing survey, 1999–2000. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Warren, J. S., Bohanon-Edmonson, H. M., Turnbull, A. P., Sailor, W., Wickham, D., Griggs, P., & Beech, S. (2006). School-wide positive behavior support: Addressing behavior problems that impede student learning. Educational Psychology Review, 18, 187–198.
In a classroom token economy, students earn tokens for appropriate behavior. Later, they exchange their earned tokens for back-up reinforcers. Back-up reinforcers could include a variety of preferred stimuli, such as extra time at recess or access to preferred activities. A token economy can represent a practical approach for achieving class-wide behavior management.
The basic principle underlying the token economy is the concept of generalized conditioned reinforcement. That is, tokens are intended to become generalized conditioned reinforcers by virtue of the fact that they can be exchanged for a variety of back-up reinforcers (Cooper, 1987). Conditioned reinforcers are items, which students do not automatically find rewarding, but after associating them with positive experiences, such as praise and privileges, become rewarding. Tokens are generalized conditioned reinforcers because they are exchanged for a variety of reward options, rather than one. In this respect, tokens are similar to money.
A token economy includes five components. These components need to be clearly outlined before implementing the system. A token economy can be successfully implemented provided that five basic elements are clearly defined: (a) target behaviors, (b) tokens, (c) token distribution, (d) backup reinforcers, and (e) the exchange system.
First, target behaviors are selected. Target behaviors must be distinct behaviors that a teacher can clearly identify as occurring or not occurring (Moore, Tingstrom, Doggett, & Carlyon, 2001). For example, having a nice attitude is not acceptable because one cannot observe a student's attitude. However, staying seated at the desk can be observed by the teacher. For starters, teachers ought to select a small number of behaviors for the token economy, adding more when students demonstrate success. The target behaviors should be positive social or academic skills that the teacher wishes to increase in the classroom.
Tokens fall into one of two categories, objects or symbols (Alberto and Troutman, 2006). Objects are actual items, such as poker chips, checkers, washers, marbles, or tickets. Symbols are representations, including check marks, tally marks, or holes punched into paper.
Good tokens meet several standards. First, the token must be safe, durable, and cost efficient. Also, tokens must be individualized and difficult, if not impossible, to counterfeit (Cooper, 1987). This is important to ensure that students do not unfairly acquire tokens by taking them from other students or creating their own tokens. For example, if a teacher used pennies as tokens in a class wide system, any student could bring pennies from home and accumulate unearned tokens. Counterfeit tokens can be prevented by selecting uncommon items as tokens or marking tokens with a special code, such as teacher initials. For example, if a teacher opted to use poker chips as tokens, a special signature on the chips including the student's initials would help prevent counterfeit.
In addition, tokens must be easy to distribute. Tokens should be delivered immediately after the display of the target behavior, so they must be accessible to the teacher at all times, such as in a pocket. Ideally, tokens are delivered to a student with very little disruption to the class. Last, the appeal and value of the tokens themselves must be considered. Tokens should not be intrinsically valuable so that the students are unmotivated to exchange them. For example, if a teacher distributed scratch-and-sniff stickers as tokens, students might be less motivated to exchange them. Such stickers may also be distracting.
Tokens must be distributed to students in a way that is rewarding, but not distracting. For example, teachers can whisper a word of praise or give a thumbs-up when distributing a token. Students must also have a place to store their tokens. A jar or cup placed on the student's desk is an easy storage method for object tokens. A container with a slotted lid would prevent students from playing with the tokens or spilling them. A small index card taped to students' desks is an easy method for collecting symbolic tokens. Placing token collections away from the students' desks, in the front of the classroom, may reduce distraction during distribution, but the rewarding effect of the token may be compromised. Last, there must be a plan for token collection when students are away from the classroom. Students may not be able to carry token jars when they leave the room; however, tokens can be awarded if there is a procedure in place, for example, students put tokens in pockets until they return to the classroom.
Backup reinforcers are classified as activities or items that have positive value for the students (Alberto and Trout-man, 2006). Activities are special events that occur naturally. They are ideal because they are free and relatively non-disruptive. Natural activities include acting as hall monitor, passing out papers, and a pass to the library. Actual items should also be included as backup reinforcers. However, it is unethical to withhold necessities and basic comforts, such as meals, air conditioning, heat, access to medical care, and educational activities (Cooper, 1987). (See Table 1 for more examples of activities and items that could be used as backup reinforcers.)
According to Alberto and Troutman (2006), backup reinforcers must meet several criteria. First, a wide variety of backup reinforcers should be available to ensure that each student will be motivated by at least one item. Also, the actual rewards or pictures of the rewards should be visible to the students at all times. In other words, a classroom store could be set up. If this is not possible, then a reward menu should be visible instead. Last, the cost system should be proportional to value. Smaller, cheaper items should cost fewer tokens than larger, more expensive items. For example, a pencil should cost fewer tokens than a teddy bear. This applies to naturally occurring activities as well. For example, if computer time was coveted by students more than a library pass, then computer time should cost more tokens than the library pass.
A clear routine for exchanging tokens must be established in order to prevent class disruption. When a token system is first implemented, students must be allowed to exchange tokens for backup rewards frequently, as much as four times per day. Frequent exchanges are necessary to teach the connection between tokens and rewards, thus increasing the value of tokens. As students learn the token economy, the duration between exchange opportunities can be increased. Younger students and students with disabilities may never benefit from infrequent exchanges; therefore, some token economies must maintain frequent exchanges. However, older children may eventually be able to manage a token system with only one exchange per week (Alberto and Troutman, 2006).
REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH
Research has shown that token economies can be successful in a variety of settings, including both general and special education classrooms. Token economies have been used with success in inclusive settings across ages (Carpenter, 2001; Filcheck, McNeil, Greco, & Bernard, 2004; Higgins, Williams, McLaughlin, 2001; Lannie & Martens, 2004). Several studies have demonstrated the success of token economies in special education settings, including resource rooms (Buisson, Murdock, Reynolds, & Cronin, 1995) and self-contained rooms (Cavalier, Ferretti, & Hodges, 1997; Truchlicka, McLaughlin, & Swain, 1998).
Token system success is also flexible across student characteristics and abilities. Token economies have been successful for typically developing children (Filcheck et al., 2004; Lannie & Martens, 2004). They have also been effective for students with disabilities, such as hearing impairments (Buisson et al., 1995), learning disabilities (Cavalier et al., 1997; Higgins et al., 2001), mental retardation (Carpenter, 2001), speech delays (Kahng, Boscoe, & Byren, 2003), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Bender & Mathes, 1995), and behavior disorders (Truchlicka et al., 1998).
Research has also demonstrated the success of token economies at managing a variety of target behaviors in school settings. Substantial research has shown the effectiveness of token systems in managing inappropriate or challenging behaviors (Buisson et al., 1995; Carpenter, 2001; Cavalier et al., 1997; Filcheck et al., 2004; Higgins et al., 2001). Furthermore, academic tasks such as math, reading, spelling, history, and language have been successfully improved using token systems (Lannie & Martens, 2004; Truchlicka et al., 1998) as well as social skills, such as sportsmanship and class participation (Boniecki & Moore, 2003; Hupp & Reitman, 1999).
In sum, the research on token systems has demonstrated that this is an effective strategy for increasing appropriate classroom behavior and managing inappropriate behavior across a variety of classroom settings and students.
Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2006). Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Bender, W. W., & Mathes, M. Y. (1995). Students with ADHD in inclusive classrooms: A hierarchical approach to strategy selection. Intervention in School and Clinic, 30, 226–234.
Boniecki, K. A., & Moore, S. (2003). Breaking the silence: Using a token economy to reinforce classroom participation. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 224–227.
Buisson, G. J., Murdock, J. Y., & Reynolds, K. E. (1995). Effects of tokens on response latency of students with hearing impairments in a resource room. Education and Treatment of Children, 18(4), 408–421.
Carpenter, L. B. (2001). Utilizing travel cards to increase productive student behavior, teacher collaboration, and parent-school communication. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 36(3), 318–322.
Cavalier, A. R., Ferretti, R. P., & Hodges, A. F. (1997). Self-management within a classroom token economy for students with learning disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 18(3), 167–78.
Cooper, J. O. (1987). Token economy. In J. O. Cooper, T. E. Heron, & W. L. Heward (Eds.), Applied Behavior Analysis. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Filcheck, H. A., McNeil, C. B., Greco, L. A., & Bernard, R. S. (2004). Using a whole-class token economy and coaching of teacher skills in a preschool classroom to manage disruptive behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 4(3), 351–361.
Higgins, J. W., Williams, R. L., McLaughlin, T. F. (2001). The effects of a token economy employing instructional consequences for a third-grade student with learning disabilities: A data-based case study. Education and Treatment of Children, 42(1), 99–106.
Hubb, S. D. A., & Reitman, D. (1999). Improving sports skills and sportsmanship in children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 21(3), 35–51.
Kahng, S. W., Boscoe, J. H., & Byrne, S. (2003). The use of escape contingency and a token economy to increase food acceptance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 349–353.
Lannie, A. L., & Martens, B. K. (2004). Effects of task difficulty and type of contingency on students' allocation of responding to math worksheets. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 53–65.
Moore, J. W., Tingstrom, D. H., Doggett, R. A., Carlyon, W. D. (2001). Restructuring an existing token economy in a psychiatric facility for children. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 23(3), 51–57.
Truchlicka, M., McLaughlin, T. F., & Swain, J. C. (1998). Effects of token reinforcement and response cost on the accuracy of spelling performance with middle-school special education students with behavior disorders. Behavioral Interventions, 13, 1–10.
Withitness is a teacher characteristic that is evident when a teacher communicates awareness of a student's inappropriate behavior in a timely and accurate manner. A timely communication is one that occurs before the misbehavior has escalated or spread, and an accurate communication addresses the correct student. Thus, teachers who are withit detect inappropriate behavior promptly and let students know they are aware of it. Teachers who lack this skill either ignore inappropriate behavior or they fail to detect it until it is too late; that is, the inappropriate behavior has taken root and spread.
The term, withitness, was developed and operational-ized by Jacob Kounin (1970) in a series of classroom studies. Kounin and his colleagues were interested in identifying how teachers dealt effectively with inappropriate student behavior. Initially they studied desist events (i.e., communications that are intended to stop some student behavior) to attempt to determine if properties of desists such as their clarity, firmness, or intensity had an impact on student work involvement or disruptive behavior. Unable to detect any significant effects for properties of desists, Kounin turned his attention to the timing of desists and their accuracy. Using videotapes of classrooms, a measure of teacher withitness was obtained by classifying desists according to whether each addressed the correct target and did so in a timely manner. The teachers' withitness scores (the percentage of desist events that were timely and accurate) were correlated moderately to highly with both student work involvement and freedom from deviancy in recitation settings (i.e., teacher led, whole class activities).
The concept of withitness is intuitively appealing. In common parlance, it is the measure of the “teacher with eyes in the back of her head.” Kounin's great contribution was to develop a reliable observational measure of the concept and to demonstrate empirically its importance for the management of student behavior in group settings.
Some other research has provided support for the importance of withitness as a management skill. For example, in research on elementary and middle school classes, Evertson, Emmer, and Anderson operationalized withitness as a combination of effective teacher monitoring and stopping inappropriate behavior promptly. Their research found that teachers who were rated highly on these constituents of withitness had classes with higher levels of on-task behaviors and lower amounts of disruptive behaviors. In a study of physical education classes, Johnston found that desists that were accurate and prompt were successful in returning students to the task around 80 percent of the time, compared to 45 percent for desists that targeted the wrong students or were late.
An explanation for the effectiveness of withitness is that early detection of inappropriate behavior allows the teacher to communicate with the focus student before other students are involved. Waiting too long to address the problem or catching the wrong student risks escalation of the misbehavior. When such events occur frequently, the teacher ultimately has to use more intense interventions that take time and are distracting to other students. Typically the flow of classroom activities is disrupted, creating more opportunities for disorder to spread.
While it is tempting to conclude that withitness is directly causitive, affecting student behavior and related outcomes, several cautions should be noted. Withitness might be partly a function of the population served. In a classroom with large numbers of troublesome students, teachers might find it more difficult to exhibit withitness because they need to keep the activity moving. Too much attention to problem behaviors will distract student attention and interfere with instruction. Conversely, in a generally cooperative class, inappropriate behaviors stand out, making it easier for the teacher to detect and treat problems—in short, to be withit. Finally, withitness may be part of a more general teacher skill set so that other correlated skills contribute to the teacher's effectiveness.
The relationship between withitness and problematic student behaviors is likely to be recursive. Early in the school year, a teacher who exhibits withitness will obtain more appropriate student behavior, resulting in a more orderly setting; subsequently students are less likely to misbehave because their behavior has accommodated to the classroom norms and also because they know that they are more likely to be caught. A teacher who does not exhibit withitness in early encounters with students is likely to have more disorder, leading to greater difficulty displaying withitness and, as a consequence, further deterioration in student behavior.
Emmer, E., Evertson, C., & Anderson, L. (1980). Effective management at the beginning of the school year. Elementary School Journal, 80, 219–231.
Evertson, C., & Emmer, E. (1982). Effective management at the beginning of the year in junior high school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 485–498.
Johnston, B. D. (1995). “Withitness”: Real or fictional? The Physical Educator, 52(1), 22–28.
Kounin, J. (1970). Discipline and group management in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
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