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Positive Behavioral Intervention Techniques Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3536 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper includes a reference list of literature review to examine whether positive behavioral intervention techniques will make a difference with disruptive student behavior in elementary schools. Maintaining orderly behavior in the classroom has been traditionally one of the major problems of teachers. The three researches described in this review were designed to discover whether various behavioral intervention techniques can effectively control the high levels of disruption manifested in elementary school children, whether reducing the level of disruption will be effective in increasing the academic performance of the children, and, if not, whether a motivation system can be designed which could lead to significant academic achievement. In general, this literature seems to indicate that most positive behavioral intervention techniques improve student disruptive behavior.

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Keywords: Terms from the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors; used to tag materials by subject to aid information search and retrieval. Click on a Descriptor to initiate any new search using that term.Behavior Problems, Positive Reinforcement, Behavior Modification, Teaching Methods, Intervention, Expectation,  Teacher Role,  Administrator Role,  Student Behavior,  Rewards, Classroom Techniques, Program Effectiveness,  Teacher Behavior, Teacher Student Relationship, Decreasing inappropriate behavior, Disruptive classroom behaviors, Reward system, Learner engagement, Behavioral problems, and Assertive discipline.


This literature review began with the research question, “The disruptive student: Does positive behavioral techniques work? From experience, frequent suspensions and expulsion from school increase the likelihood that a child will fail classes, use drugs or alcohol and drop out of school. So my focus was on how to apply different positive intervention techniques to help slow down or completely stop such misbehaviors from happening over and over again. While many behavioral interventions exist to decrease disruptive behaviors, it would appear that using several techniques in one approach might have greater utility than using a solitary behavioral intervention strategy. This research reviews the existing literature in behavioral interventions commonly used to improve the functioning of disruptive students. One strategy, token economies, will be examined a bit more. A critical analysis of the relevant literature includes directions for future research and practice.

Three decades ago, a classroom organization and management model was designed to prepare children for a democratic and capitalistic economy. The model emerged in the teacher education literature under many names, though it has long since dropped from the pages of current research trends in teaching and learning. Its disappearance is the result of a shift in teaching philosophy that moved away from rewarding children for appropriate behaviors and school achievement. The model was sometimes called a classroom token economy model, though it is adaptable enough to be renamed and modified to fit the needs of the user. For example, Payne, Polloway, Kauffman, and Scranton (1975) created a currency-based token economy. Whatever names teachers may have called this system of classroom organization, token economies were developed to provide children with extrinsic rewards for school participation, with the intention of increasing student motivation and participation and decreasing misbehavior and inattention. Simply put, teachers use the models to pay children to behave appropriately and improve academic achievement.



Children attend school to become educated members of society, capable of making informed decisions and increasing future career possibilities. However, some children have difficulty adjusting to the classroom environment and act out with disruptive behaviors. Disruptive classroom behaviors not only detract from a child’s education experience, but may also lead to social isolation. Understanding the types of disruptive classroom behaviors, and the possible causes and solutions, may help educators’ problem-solve a child’s behavior problems, and reduce the likelihood that the child will suffer from social isolation (Rist, 2010).

What one teacher considers disruptive, another teacher may not. No set criteria or definition exists to determine which behavior qualifies as disruptive. However, some behaviors generally qualify as unacceptable no matter which teacher runs the classroom. Disruptive classroom behaviors include aggressive behaviors, defiant behaviors, social disruptions and emotional disturbances. Aggressive behaviors may include intimidating peers, engaging in physical altercations or damaging property. Defiant behaviors include blatant and sometimes vocal disregard of rules, as well as devaluing the teacher’s expertise and judgment. Examples of social disruptions include interrupting discussions with off-topic information, calling out and getting out of an assigned seat without permission, engaging in private conversations etc, while emotional disturbances are temper tantrums (Rist, 2010).

Children displaying disruptive classroom behaviors often face disciplinary consequences. When disruptive behaviors become a chronic issue, these consequences escalate and sometimes result in the child’s removal from school through suspensions and possibly expulsion. Thus there are a variety of techniques on the part of the teacher which may help prevent and reduce disruptive classroom behaviors.


For purposes of this literature review, it is necessary to define key terms for clarity and consistency. Reinforcement is defined by its effect on behavior. Specifically, a reinforcer is any stimulus that increases the frequency or probability of a behavior it follows (Skinner, 1938). Positive reinforcement is a form of reinforcement in operant conditioning, wherein, the stimulus is delivered immediately or shortly after the behavior, in order to increase the probability/frequency of the said behavior. It means a stimulus is added or applied to the situation/behavior. Any stimulus that works to increase the frequency of a behavior it follows is a positive reinforcer, even if it does not seem like it should be rewarding.


Behavior modification is one of the most effective behavior change techniques that have been employed in different situations to change and modify individual behavior. This method employ empirically proved behavior change techniques to improve and alter individual behaviors and reactions to certain stimuli (Martin and Pear, 2007). The technique uses conditioning to reinforce an adaptive behavior or to reduce a maladaptive behavior through punishment or through therapy. This technique follows the conditioning theory that was stipulated by psychologist like Thorndike and others. However, this technique cannot be implemented unless there is a clear understanding of the behavior which can be done through functional behavior assessment using ABC approach or Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences (Olchowski et al., 2007)


Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a systemic approach to proactive, school-wide behavior based on a Response to Intervention (RtI) model. PBIS applies evidence-based programs, practices and strategies for all students to increase academic performance, improve safety, decrease problem behavior, and establish a positive school culture. Schools implementing PBIS build on existing strengths, complementing and organizing current programming and strategies. The PBIS model has been successfully implemented in thousands of schools in over 40 states, resulting in dramatic reductions in disciplinary interventions and increases in academic achievement. A participant in this research commented on PBIS saying, “Good instruction is one of the best behavior management tools, when kids are engaged more often with academic engagement that works, they are less likely to misbehave. When teachers spend less time on classroom management, they can spend more time on instruction”


Assertive discipline is a structured, systematic approach designed to assist educators in running an organized, teacher-in-charge classroom environment.  To no one’s surprise, Lee and Marlene Canter, when consulting for school systems, found that many teachers were unable to manage the undesirable behavior that occurred in their classrooms (Palardy, 1996).The Cantors, rightfully so, attributed this finding to a lack of training in the area of behavior management.  Based on their investigation and the foundations of assertiveness training and applied behavior analysis, they developed a common sense, easy-to-learn approach to help teachers become the captains of their classrooms and positively influence their students’ behavior.


A token economy is a form of behavior modification designed to increase desirable behavior and decrease undesirable behavior with the use of tokens. Individuals receive tokens immediately after displaying desirable behavior. The tokens are collected and later exchanged for a meaningful object or privilege (McGoey & DuPaul, 2000).


This section on the paper will review the literature relevant to the interventions commonly used to decrease disruptive behavior. The effectiveness of these interventions will be discussed and the existing literature involving various interventions will be reviewed, including their effectiveness in reducing disruptive classroom behavior.

Extensive use of suspension and expulsion does not correct misbehavior over time and actually contributes to increased misconduct, declines in academic achievement, poorer school climate, an elevated dropout rate, and increased juvenile delinquency and incarceration. Specific strategies include: Develop positive relationships between students and staff and among students, develop social problem-solving and decision-making skills among students, establish and maintain close communication with each student’s parents or caregivers, and work hard to garner their support, provide academic instruction and activities that motivate learning, create a physical environment that is conducive to teaching and learning, establish predictable procedures and routines, frequently monitor student behavior and respond immediately to signs of misbehavior, use praise and rewards strategically to maximize effectiveness in improving behavior while minimizing the risk of diminishing intrinsic motivation.

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Among the most frequently proposed approaches to dealing with discipline in schools is behavior modification. Although behavior modification is anything but a new approach, it has received an increasing amount of attention and notoriety since the 1980s, largely because of Lee Canter’s advocacy of “assertive discipline.” Lack of discipline is perceived as among the most serious problems facing public schools. Since the education reform movement identified “good discipline” as a correlate of good schools and good teachers (Partlow, 1992), even greater attention has been focused on discipline.

Like behavior modification, assertive discipline proposes a fourstep sequence for dealing with students’ maladaptive behavior. These include: identifying the maladaptive behavior that needs to be changed; identifying its opposite, i.e., the desired behavior; rewarding the occurrences of the appropriate behavior; and using extinction procedures (mainly negative consequences) to help eliminate the maladaptive behavior (Palardy, 1987). The key to behavior modification, and without doubt its greatest contribution to an overall plan for dealing with maladaptive behavior, is its advocacy of the use of rewards. Simply stated, advocates claim that students can be conditioned to act in appropriate ways if they are rewarded when they do so. “Even disruptive students are quiet once in a while!” (Palardy, 1987).

As students begin to behave appropriately, primarily because of educators using rewards and secondarily because of their using extinction procedures, supposedly students’ need for the external reinforcers and inhibitors gradually lessens. Eventually, advocates state, students become satisfied with the internal reinforcement of good behavior itself. There is no question in this writer’s mind that behavior modification does work – in some instances, with some students, under some conditions. Certainly, Canter (1989) has described its benefits generously. No one should be surprised that research has verified the success of the program when teachers use the skills properly….Research also shows that student behavior improves when teachers use positive reinforcement effectively and that pairing of positive reinforcement with consistent disciplinary consequences effectively motivates students to behave appropriately. Research has shown that Assertive Discipline works and that it isn’t just a quickfix solution (p. 61).

In 1999, a positive behavioral technique study was conducted to investigate the impact of Positive Behavioral Intervention Support on student achievement and student behavior. Student academic achievement and the discipline referral rate in the fifth grade were reviewed. The results revealed that the school type (Positive Behavior Intervention Support versus Non-Positive Behavior Intervention Support) was shown to have an effect on student behavior. The statistical tests comparing the number of discipline referrals between these groups were significant (Wilson, 1999).

The basic premise of token economies is that students will be told that they will receive points for the amount of time that they can follow the classroom rules. According to Kehle et al. (2000), students should be awarded with points fairly frequently in order to establish a connection between the desired behavior and rewards. Eventually, the frequency should be thinned to a variable interval schedule (Kehle et al., 2000). Token economies with response costs can be used to reward good behaviors and to punish bad behaviors. With the response cost procedure, students can lose points for noncompliance with classroom rules. Points are taken away as a consequence for engaging in disruptive behaviors and being non-compliant with teacher requests.

Token economies have been one of the most effective ways to improve classroom behaviors (Higgens, William, & McLaughlin, 2001). They have been effective with school behaviors across school populations and grade levels. Additional research has shown that when implemented together, token reinforcement and response cost interventions are associated with less disruptive classroom behaviors (McGoey & DuPaul, 2000). Token economies, combined with such strategies as response cost and public posting of classroom rules, also proves more successful in reducing disruptive classroom behavior than a token economy system alone (Musser et al., 2001; Rosenberg, 1986).


There exist several limitations of this literature review. While an attempt has been made to be exhaustive in reviewing all the literature available on behavioral interventions used to decrease disruptive student behavior, some research may have been overlooked. As such, this review may present a biased view regarding the effectiveness of behavioral and interventions. Further, other interventions that exist to reduce disruptive behaviors nationwide were not discussed at all. In addition, this literature review is merely a summarization of previous research. No empirical research was conducted. Therefore, it does not add or contribute new information to the field of education.

The main limitation of behavior modification is that it only treats the symptoms of problems, not their underlying causes. The effects of behavior modification on maladaptive behavior are seldom permanent and almost necessarily shortterm. Common sense alone verifies that if maladaptive behavior is caused by anything that is other than casual, the symptoms of those causes will persist. The only questions are when, where, and to what extent the maladaptive behavior will reemerge.

The literature review on positive behavioral supports suggests with the use of School-wide Interventions, Targeted Early Interventions, and Targeted Intensive Interventions, the majority of behavior problems occurring in schools can be eliminated through the use of universal, school-wide interventions designed to prevent or reduce their occurrence (level I). This initial level of school-wide support helps in developing and reinforcing positive behavioral skills for all students. For those students who require additional or ongoing behavioral supports, targeted early intervention strategies (level II) can assist in keeping negative behavior patterns from becoming a long term factor in the student’s social development and academic outcomes. Early interventions are focused on keeping at-risk students from moving on to more intensive behavioral problems and are typically implemented with small groups of students (Sugai & Horner, in press). In some cases, a smaller percentage of students may need targeted intensive interventions (level III) in order to support their educational and behavioral success. The focus at this level is on students who demonstrate considerable emotional and behavioral challenges despite previous interventions, and are not solely intended for students with identified disabilities. For these students, specific interventions and supports will be determined according to the nature, severity, and frequency of each student’s emotional and behavioral problems (Sugai & Horner, in press).

Risks involved in token economies are similar to those in other forms of behavior modification. Staff members implementing the therapy may intentionally or unintentionally neglect the rights of individuals receiving treatment. Token economies should never deprive individuals of their basic needs. If staff members are inadequately trained or there is a shortage of staff, desirable behaviors may not be rewarded or undesirable behaviors may be inadvertently rewarded, resulting in an increase of negative behavior.


In reference to the three researches conducted, more current data may be preferable for answering some questions concerning effective methods of behavior intervention techniques and this may be the only way to obtain definitive answers to others because many of the issues raised in this literature were mostly more than ten years old; therefore relevant concerns about these techniques can be partially addressed through the use of existing data instead. Opportunities for further research may also include investigations to find out whether smaller classes reduce misbehaviors and the achievement gap between minority students or students from low-income homes, and their non-minority peers. Since in these researches most students observed were only in mostly larger classes, a reanalysis could reveal the benefits of small classes to students who are more likely to be disruptive in the classroom. Indeed, further research should definitely include more funding in school budgets to help with teacher/staff training to implement effective ways of combining behavior intervention techniques that work together.


In conclusion, undesirable classroom behaviors, such as temper tantrums, speaking without raising hand, name calling, uncontrolled laughter, making disruptive noise and fighting, wandering around the room, aggression, disturbing another’s property, disruptive noise, turning attention away from the teacher, inappropriate verbalization and inappropriate tasks during a lesson may be eliminated by most positive behavioral intervention techniques. As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare students for their place within society, to teach them the social skills necessary to survive in the world, and to teach behaviors that will allow them to interact effectively and communicate with others within the home, school, workplace, and general community. Extrinsic reinforcers are a part of everyday life, and as educators we should learn how to use these natural reinforcers to teach new skills and promote appropriate behaviors. As children grow older and become more mature, we hope that they will learn the value of intrinsic reinforcement. The more practice we have in trying different positive behavioral techniques, the better we will become at understanding various concepts of how and when to apply them with our students.


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