Never Blame the Learner: How to Address Behavioral Problems Effectively

Monday, November 24, 2014

Written by Rick Kubina

Working with students with disabilities requires patience, compassion, precise measurement systems, and above all, powerful methods capable of producing remarkable change. When teachers lack any of the previously mentioned attributes or processes, trouble can follow.

The news story “Are NOLA Schools Failing Students With Disabilities? describes some of the struggles both students and school systems can face. The story reports troubling problems students have encountered:

  • The school blames a student’s behavioral problem on parenting
  • Rather than address a student’s behavioral problems with a careful assessment and tailored behavioral program, the school continues to suspend the student
  • The charter schools that have taken over New Orleans have not delivered on “innovation and change” for students with disabilities

Joshua Perry, the executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said, ”Right now we are seeing a lot of schools here that are simply unable to serve the most vulnerable and highest-need kids.”

Where to start – pinpointing

What needs to happen to help students with disabilities? Many changes. But from a basic perspective, certain tactics can help both teachers and students alike quickly.

For behavior or academic problems the first issue starts with pinpointing the problem behavior. While it may seem like a simple proposition, so many people struggle identifying and labeling the problem behavior.

“Aggressive, noncompliant, disrespectful, lazy and oppositional” not only serve as terrible behavioral targets, they can place the blame on the student. For example, let’s say we have a student who doesn’t turn in his homework, scores poorly on tests, and doesn’t participate in classroom instruction. If the teacher picks “lazy” as the target behavior we now have a problem.

Lazy means the student “shows a lack of effort or care.” Lazy also reflects a personality characteristic of the student. So to fix the problem the teacher must come up with an intervention that changes the student from a lazy person to a hard-working person.

Aside from the difficulty of changing personality traits, pinpoints like “lazy” serve as a judgment and can color how the teacher feels about a particular student. As humans, teachers may have a hard time liking a lazy, angry, or mean student.

Pinpointing solves the problem on multiple levels.

  1. Counting behavior such as “places homework on desk” falls within the purview of what teachers can address and change (versus changing someone’s personality traits).
  2. Counting “says swear word when given instructions” makes it less personal than focusing on “verbal abuse.”
  3. Pinpoints focus on accelerative behavior versus only decelerative behavior.

More help – Standard Celeration Charting (SCC)

Monitoring a student’s behavior over time requires a display system sensitive to change. Big changes and small changes need to be represented clearly so that the teacher can carefully observe the magnitude of change occurring. If a student has a serious behavior problem then the teacher must know the impact of any and all interventions aimed at ameliorating the problem behavior. Nonstandard linear graphs just don’t cut it when teachers can have Standard Celeration Charts.

Which nonstandard linear graph depicts the slope correctly?

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The Standard Celeration Chart always shows change properly. The slope (celeration line) will not change like nonstandard linear graphs do (nonstandard graphs change because people make graphs like they want to without following standards).

Also, nonstandard linear graphs do not quantify learning and change like the Standard Celeration Chart. The SCC puts a number a change showing the multiplicative and divisional change (expressed at x2.0 or 100% weekly growth; ÷2.0 or 50% weekly decay).

Students with disabilities deserve the most sensitive measures and visual display system. Indeed, all students do.

Fluency

Another facet of student improvement comes in the form of behavioral fluency. Behavioral fluency refers to behavior that reaches high levels of accuracy and speed. Fluent behavior means masterful, competent behavior.

To reach fluency a student must engage in systematic practice. And to practice students must have materials. The figure below shows a properly formed practice sheet for subtraction facts.

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Students with disabilities have many challenges. But with systems like Chartlytics, teachers can learn to pinpoint meaningful behavior, measure behavior with precise metrics, have students practice to fluency (access fluency materials), and monitor all data on a powerful visual display – the Standard Celeration Chart.