Behavior Modification in Schools

The word behavior is defined as a function of the person interacting with the environment. From this belief it is clear that problems with behavior in schools are a direct indication of the environmental surroundings, (Gilberstson, VanDerHeyden and Witt, 2005). This problem must be solved through changing how the child interacts with teaching and instruction.

There may be difficulty in labeling a child’s behavior as “wrong” in response to teaching and instruction(Ward,1991). However, we could look at the behavior as a tool the child uses to express themselves, to obtain things, or to get out of trouble. A child, at any point in time, is constantly thinking about what to do next. The goal of intervention, from the school’s perspective, is to assist the child to choose activities that are consonant with the goals of schooling.

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The need to eliminate disruptive classroom behavior as well as the number of perspective is also shown in recent research (Hayden & Pike, 2005; Deroma, Lassiter & Davis, 2004). The need to improve education practices in our elementary and secondary schools has been documented. Student disruption and underachievement are regularly identified as targets of reform. Disruption and off-task behavior are common. There are several points of view regarding amelioration of these problems,(Ward,1991).

However, the one perspective with regards to solving this problem is the use of behavior modification methods and strategies in order to not only eradicate existing problems but also to prevent new problems (Charles, 1992; Algozzine & Kay, 2002). The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on the use of behavior modification in schools as a method of discipline. This paper will point out the different methods and strategies used for correcting behavior problems at school and will also discuss the effectiveness of the methods.

The term behavior modification has been defined as a formalized method applied to discipline problems in school that observes children’s behavior and seeks to shape it in positive ways (Warner & Lynch, 2003). Behavior modification procedures are not meant to brainwash children, bribe them nor does it attempt to control their mind. These methods are simply types of encouragement where the children are allowed to experience the consequences of their behavior; both positive and negative. This helps them to grow with a sense of personal responsibility and enhance their self-discipline skills,(Dunlap, Fox & Powell, 2002).

The purpose of this study was to describe a systematic approach for troubleshooting behavioral interventions that are not working. It describes a process that was systematically developed for finding and resolving problems with classroom-based behavioral interventions in schools. The main focus of this article is on the use of the Behavioral Intervention Troubleshooter.

The Behavioral Intervention Troubleshooter or BIT, is a checklist focusing on four major domains:

  • problem definition and monitoring,
  • fundamentals of classroom instruction and behavior management,
  • intervention integrity,
  • intervention design.

There is nothing routine, common, or simple about the design and use of interventions for behavior problems in schools, (Gilbertson, VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2004). This linear approach was designed to rule out systematically basic instructional and management factors that may reduce intervention effectiveness.

Before steps are taken to modify an ineffective intervention, effective classroom instruction and predictable classroom behavior management must routinely occur, (Gilbertson, VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2004). Therefore the main purpose of developing the linear approach is to increase the chances that a teacher has a sufficiently stable classroom to enable an intervention to be effective. The BIT guides the consultant through a troubleshooting process to assess and repair problems that interface with intervention effectiveness in a linear fashion.

First the BTI, provides the consultant with a template to examine the environment to ensure that intervention will be the most effective solution. Second, it guides the consultant to determine if intervention was correctly implemented, and if not, how to address common implementation problems. Last, it guides them through examining intervention design to ensure the intervention selected and used was the best one to solve the problem. If not it shows how to redesign the intervention for maximal effectiveness (Gilbertson, VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2004).

Examining Classroom Behavior Support in Second Grade Schools are increasingly held accountable for their efforts to improve the academic and social behavior of their students. This article looks at 2 studies investigating a response-to-intervention (RTI) approach to behavior support in 2 second grade classrooms. Traditionally, RTI has focused on academic concerns as a means to identify students under the LD category for special education services, (Fairbanks, Guardino, Lathrop & Sugai, 2007).

RTI logic is a means to serve and identify students with emotional and/or behavior disorders. Within a social behavior RTI logic, corollaries to such targeted reading interventions have been examined, for example, “check in and check out” (CICO). This study looked at two research questions:

  • Does a relationship exist between implementation of a CICO targeted intervention and percentage of intervals participants were observed to be engaged in problem behavior,  frequency of office discipline referrals and teacher perceptions of problem behavior intensity and frequency.
  • Does a functional relationship exist between implementing function-based behavior intervention plans and reductions in percentage of intervals participants were observed to be engaged in problem behavior, frequency of office discipline referrals , and teacher perceptions of problem behavior intensity and frequency, (Fairbanks, et al. , 2007).

The study took place in a suburban school district at a public elementary school. The results of the study showed that slightly more intensive abut efficient intervention (i. e. CICO) was effective in supporting the behavioral success of four students whose problem behaviors were initially unresponsive to general classroom management practices, (Fairbanks, et al. , 2007).

Daily Behavior Report Cards: An investigation of the Consistency of On-Task Data Across Raters and Methods In this study, the consistency of on-task data collected across raters using either a Daily Behavior Report Card (DBRC)or systematic direct observation was examined to understand the decision reliability of using DBRC’S to monitor students behavior, (Chafouleas, LaFrance, Patwa, Sassu & Tillman, 2007).

The participants in this study consisted of three teacher-student dyads. All of the teachers taught in elementary general education classrooms in a rural district area. The participating students were all Hispanic boys. The teachers were asked to observe students for 15 minutes and circle the rating on the DBRC that best describes the student’s behavior. Results from this study suggest that a performance-based behavior recording such as the DBRC may provide data consistent with data obtained via systematic direct observation.

Academic Incentives for Students Can Increase Participation in and Effectiveness of a Physical Activity Program The researchers in this study wanted to determine whether a greater academic incentive would improve the effectiveness and student adherence to a 12-week voluntary exercise program designed to decrease students’ percentage of body fat. A total of 210 physical therapy students enrolled in a cardiopulmonary patient management (CPM) course participated in the study. Participation was entirely voluntary. The students were divided into two groups.

Students in the single bonus group (SBG) were awarded 1 bonus point on an exam for losing the most %BF. Students in the course grade bonus (CGB) group were given the same opportunity to gain bonus points, (DeVahl, King & Williamson, 2005). The results of the study show no significant differences between groups regarding the number of student who chose not to participate in the voluntary exercise program. Student with the potential for greater academic reward demonstrated more program adherence and a greater magnitude of change in health outcomes compared with those students who received small incentives, (DeVahl, et al. 2005).

The focus of this study was to increase schools’ resources and staff skills in providing function-based behavior support to individual students with chronic problem behaviors, (Bergstrom, Crone & Hawken, 2007). Over the span of a 3-year period, 10 school teams participated in this study. They received training in and on-site consultation on the functional behavioral assessment (FBA)and behavior support planning.

The article documents, how the teams were trained, the level of FBA knowledge gained by each participant, the extent to which critical features of FBA wre implemented in each school and lessons learned on how to train school teams to implement systems of FBA, (Bergstrom, Crone & Hawken, 2007).

The goal of this study was to provide evidence-based but user-friendly information, to do so in a practical manner, less the wide gap between research and practice and promote behavioral competence,(Chafouleas, Blom-Hoffman, McDougal, Miller & Tillman, 2007).

Calls to improve and promote the behavioral competence of students are not new, but have received renewed interest due to a variety of factors, including highly publicized incidents of school shootings, escalating concerns about students who exhibit antisocial behavior, and questions regarding school’s preparedness to effectively deal with these issues, (Gresham, Horner & Sugai, 2002). Positive Behavior Support (PBS) emerged as a result of these problems. PBS emphasizes that prevention problems in schools requires multiple systems of intervention.

The PBS has been closely related to the RTI. They are both evidence-based interventions and are dependent upon the effectiveness and efficiency of individualized student interventions, (Chafouleas et al. , 2007).

That student teachers’ perspective According to the researchers in this study, the effective management of pupils’ undesirable behaviors in the classroom represent a major challenge for teachers. They believed that in understand the difficulties facing the teachers it was important to examine how they perceived the pupils’ behaviors at different stages of their development. This study therefore examined the effects of teaching experience and pupil and teacher gender on student teachers’ perceptions of the seriousness of various forms of undesirable behaviors, (Davazoglou, Kakkinos & Panayiotou, 2004).

To proceed, the researchers used a structured questionnaire that was completed by 243 student teachers, regarding the perceived seriousness of 25 behaviors in boys and girls. They hypothesized that inexperienced student teachers, to a greater extent than their experienced counterparts, would be guided in their perceptions by gender stereotypes and biases with regard to the disruptive nature of certain behaviors. It was also predicted that, overall, antisocial and aggressive acts would be rated as more serious than internalizing behaviors, Davazoglou, et al. , 2004).

The results of the study indicated that both teaching experience and pupil gender were important moderators of their perceptions. The accumulation of teaching experience may help direct teacher attention to more subtle aspects of pupil behavior difficulties. Implementing Comprehensive Classroom-Based Programs for students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems In this study, ten components of a comprehensive classroom-based program for students with emotional and behavior problems were discussed.

These ten essential components of comprehensive, classroom-based programs for students with emotional and behavioral problems are:

  • A consistent classroom schedule and structure,
  • High rates of student academic involvement and achievement,
  • High rates of social reinforcement,
  • Some form of “point” or “token” system to ensure high rates of tangible reinforcement,
  • A repertoire of teacher responses to address mild disruptive behavior,
  • A systematic program for dealing with escalating, severe, and/or dangerous student behavior,
  • Frequent and structured opportunities for students to interact with peers,
  • A wide available range of individualized treatment interventions,
  • Parent and community involvement
  • A systematic process for returning students to general education programs and classes, ((Davazoglou, et al. , 2004).

The successful implementation of a comprehensive program like this one requires a minimum of two to three years. The biggest challenge is to make the shift from control-oriented to educative classroom programming.

Such an effort will result in significant improvements in the quality and effectiveness of working with challenging students,(Davazoglou, et al. , 2004). Behavior Problems in Schools: Ways to Encourage Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) of Discipline-Evoking Behavior of students with Emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EBD) The Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) of aggressive and negative behaviors that lead to suspension and expulsion is mandated for students with disabilities in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)of 1997. Implementing this legal requirement has been prove to be very problematic in its implementation.

This article discussed implementing a school improvement initiative, Success4, that the state of Iowa is taking to overcome these challenges. The Success4 Initiative primary mission is the mobilization of students, families, schools, and communities to enhance the social, emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development of students. Child behavior problems in most families are not an issue until children refuse to comply beyond the early years of expected behavior. The continuous fighting, throwing tantrums, complaining, crying and whining that continue beyond those years would attest to those serious problems that would come down the line.

Why do behavioral problems become persistent in children beyond those years? We would need to use the most suitable child behavior techniques and tools to ensure that behavioral problems are reduced or discouraged in an effort to ensure that poor behavior does not become part of the child’s personality. Hence the need to target the root of the problem and determine why these behavioral problems exist and take the necessary actions to correct these discipline problems. According to (Benshoff and Poidevant, 1994), positive reinforcers, are consequences that make a behavior stronger whereas negative reinforcers are consequences that weaken behavior.

The strategies, methods and techniques in the use of behavior modification, as a form of discipline involve the implementation of reinforcement principles to behavior (Brownell, Farrell, & Smith, 1998). These consequences are then used to shape desired behaviors and distinguish undesired behaviors. These behavioral problems do not just exist in the home but also in the outside environment.

The child’s parents and family are not the only ones faced with this undesirable behavior but rather other authority figures. For example, teachers and even peers become part of the child’s problematic behavioral world. Those behavioral problems become a major concern especially for new teachers because they are unable to deal with the unexpected behavior.

Teachers then would have to come up with an effective discipline plan to manage the classroom in an effort to combat or alleviate those behavioral problems. This is of paramount importance in controlling discipline problems that teachers may face in a school setting. One management technique is to maintain and enforce rules and procedures.

Monitoring the child’s frequent behavior would also ensure control and it is always necessary to give social praise whenever possible. Behavior could also be controlled through constant and effective reinforcement as well as role playing. Getting the child involved by giving verbal instructions and giving positive feedback helps shape acceptable behavior.

Participation, whether it be discussions of real life situations or hypothetical situations, school programs or extracurricular activities to increase moral thinking should be another method in fostering pro-social behavior. Children should be shown that they appreciated. They should be rewarded for good behavior so whether it is through prizes or the little things like ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ should all be part of a plan to shape new behavior. On the other hand, children should also be reprimanded for bad behavior therefore there should be a system enforcing methods that are punishment-oriented. In addition, active listening techniques and interpersonal skills training will also promote better communication skills.

All these are effective steps in ensuring greater control of children hence promoting acceptable behavior. Effectiveness The research on techniques to modify unacceptable behavior of children in the classroom has generally proven to be positive. For example, Safran and Oswald (2003) conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on behavioral modifications interventions used as part of classroom discipline methods. The literature related to three general applications of behavior modification techniques were examined.

These were:

  • methods used on a school-wide basis;
  • methods used in specific settings (e. g. , in the cafeteria, gym, etc. ;
  • methods used solely for individual students.

The literature was said to show that behavior modification methods and techniques had strong levels of success for all three classes of application. Indeed, Metzler, Biglan, Rusby and Sprague (2001) report that what makes behavior modification so strong as a means of discipline is the fact that strategies and interventions can be used on a school-wide basis as well as at the individual level. In their study, the authors found that school-wide implementation of diverse behavior management practices resulted in increased positive reinforcement for appropriate social behavior and decreased aggressive social behavior among students.

In a report for the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Cotton (2001) states that while there are some methodological problems with the research examining the effectiveness of various behavior modification discipline programs, the results are generally good. She notes that Reality Therapy (RT) as well as one of its offshoots (PAD) have been found to produce at least moderate improvements in students’ behavior as well as strengthening their individual sense of personal responsibility for their actions. Cotton (2001) also reports that some support has been found for assertive discipline methods. However, she points out that findings are mixed and more research does need to be conducted.

Regarding behavior modification programs generally, Cotton concludes that while no one method or strategy appears to be the answer to school discipline problems, all of these programs and methods have been validated to be at least somewhat effective. She notes this is especially true if schools modify existing programs and interventions to meet the needs of their individual students. Conclusions Several conclusions can be formulated based on the research involved in understanding behavior modification as a disciplinary practice in schools. It is apparent that one can use different methods and strategies to prevent classroom discipline problems.

In addition, one can conclude because of the positive effect of these methods one can implement these behavior modification techniques not just on an individual level but implement these techniques in the entire school. These behavior modification techniques in schools, once properly implemented show some level of effectiveness. The effectiveness would depend on the method use and the level of change expected. The outcome may not always meet to once expectations. Therefore, it can also be concluded that more research needs to be done on behavior modification in the classroom as certain aspects of the research methods may be problematic in practice.


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Behavior Modification in Schools. (2016, Dec 23). Retrieved from