One aspect of teaching is educators’ abilities to effectively manage their students’ behaviors. Many teacher education programs expose teachers to numerous strategies for managing students’ behaviors. One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is classroom management and discipline (Yost & Mosca, 2002). According to Witzel and Mercer (2003), ‘The area of behavior interventions in classrooms receives more attention than many other aspects of schooling. This is not surprising as teachers are expected to deal with discipline problems that were once a cause for suspension or expulsion from school. Since more and more students are being included in public school settings, in part due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Quinn et al., 2001). Strong classroom management skills aid in teachers’ abilities to successfully teach students with various needs; however, teachers struggle with managing their students’ behaviors. Witzel and Mercer (2003) point out that classroom management is one of the most common problems facing teachers because disruptive students take up valuable learning time. Students with disruptive, defiant, and disrespectful behaviors often make it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn. Educators who have students with problematic behaviors in their classrooms become extremely frustrated. Many teachers often come to feel that they are ineffective at working with students which are one cause of teachers leaving the field of education (Witzel & Mercer, 2003). Another area teachers struggle with is if students should be rewarded for behaviors that are expected of them. Some educators believe that it is not their responsibility to provide incentives for students. However, research in the area of behavioral skills training claims that feedback in the form of positive reinforcement is essential to teaching individuals appropriate behaviors and expectations (Miltenberger, 2008). Witzel and Mercer (2003) note that ‘The most controversial issues in behavior management have been the use of rewards to motivate and teach students to follow classroom rules and routines and to complete academic assignments. The appropriate use of positive reinforcement and behavior modification are important for success in the classroom, as frequent reprimands, low expectations, and infrequent praise often result in students who exhibit challenging behaviors (Morgan, 2006). Educators can use strong classroom management skills to eliminate or decrease problematic behaviors and increase appropriate, desired behaviors.
The purpose of this action research was to implement positive behavior interventions (PBIS) with students with emotional/behavioral disabilities and evaluate if these interventions influenced their behavior. Teachers have an opportunity to positively impact student behaviors daily. I wanted to see if the idea of behavior modification was an effective method for teaching and encouraging student behaviors and social skills. I researched the use of rewards and positive reinforcement with regard to behavior modification by creating a classroom behavior management plan called “Games for Goals”. It was my intention that this reward system would positively reinforce students who met their behavior goals during my class. For this action research project, the students utilized in this research had all had the same behavior goals that could be objectively measured such as attendance/tardiness, no profanity, and completion of the task assigned.
The students consisted of 15 ninth-grade students in my EBD environmental science class that had behavior plans with goals of attendance/tardiness, no profanity, and completion of a task(s) assigned. Approximately 2,500 students attend Riverview High School. The students in this project were classified as having emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD) and were assigned to a behavioral cluster in their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). All participants had behavior plans with goals that consisted of attendance/tardiness, no profanity, and completion of a task(s) assigned. Behavioral data is collected each class period by each teacher and submitted to the Behavioral Specialist where it is analyzed and recorded in each student’s behavior plan. All 15 ninth-grade students in the behavior cluster participated in this study.
I began by reviewing students’ behavioral goals and collecting data daily for a week to get a baseline. Behaviors that could be objectively measured, student attendance/tardiness, not using profanity, and completing tasks assigned were assessed. The data provided me with a frequency count of the number of times I had to prompt my students or re-teach behavior expectations during my class period. After I collected this data, I reviewed behavior goals and introduced the behavior management plan, “Games for Goals”. Every time students demonstrated the 3 behavior goals without prompting, a marble was placed into a jar. When the jar was full, students earned a game day for a class period. After eight weeks of implementing “Games for Goals”, I again collected data (frequency counts) for a week, to see if there was a change in the number of times I had to prompt students of behavior expectations.
- November 2018
- Review student behavioral goals, and create a behavior management plan (“Games for Goals”)
- December 2018
- Collect initial behavioral data.
- January 2019
- Introduce “Games for Goals” to students and begin implementing the plan.
- February 2019
- Implement and collect data.
- March 2019
- Implement and collect data.
- Analyze data/results.
- April 2019
- Analyze data/draw conclusions.
- Present findings to EBD Staff/RHS Staff.
- May 2019
- Present findings to staff and Leadership Academy.
Initial “Games for Goals” Data
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Day 5
- Task Completion
According to the table above, the total attendance for the week was 54 out of a possible 75 opportunities. The number of times students used profanity during class increased throughout the week and peaked on Thursday. Regarding task completion, students completed 43 out of 75 opportunities.
Post “Games for Goals” Data
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Day 5
- Task Completion
After eight weeks of implementing “Games for Goals”, the table above shows a result of a frequency count over a five-day period. the total attendance for the week was 66 out of a possible 75 opportunities. The number of times students used profanity during class decreased significantly. Regarding task completion, students completed 66 out of 75 opportunities. The students present in a class all completed tasks assigned for every class period during the week.
The data collected both before and after ‘“Games for Goals”’ were compared to determine if there was a change in student behaviors. The graph above shows a significant decrease in undesirable behaviors for each group after “Games for Goals” was conducted. Attendance improved, profanity decreased, and there was an increase in task completion.
When observing the data, it is evident that student behaviors improved in each of the goal areas after implementing the reward system. Students continued to engage in undesirable behaviors, but the behaviors were less frequent. These findings are consistent with current research in behavior modification and positive reinforcement. Research indicates that students’ problematic and undesirable behaviors can be controlled or eliminated using behavioral interventions such as the classroom behavior management plan used in this action research project.
Several conclusions can be drawn by analyzing the results of the data. The results of this action research suggest that a detailed and focused behavior management plan that consistently utilizes positive reinforcement can positively influence students’ behaviors. This was demonstrated by an overall improvement in students’ behavior as their attendance, and task completion increased, and their use of profanity decreased.
Several implications should be noted when reviewing this action research project. First, the classroom behavior management plan created for this study only looked at data on students’ behaviors before and after the reward system was put into effect. Both the initial and post data were collected for five consecutive days. Additional studies should consider collecting this data for a longer period, as well as the actual implementation of the reward system to provide a greater understanding of its long-term effects. A second constraint was that only one type of data was collected and analyzed. In future studies, researchers should consider collecting more input from students by creating a survey or interviewing students before and after the implementation of the system. This could provide the researchers with more information regarding the effectiveness of behavior management plans, as well as students’ attitudes and motivation throughout the process. I learned that behavior modification and positive reinforcement can assist students to display appropriate and desired classroom behaviors and social skills.
- Miltenberger, R. G. (2008). Behavior modification: Principles and procedures (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
- Morgan, P. L. (2006). Increasing task engagement using preference or choice making. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 176-187. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from PsycINFO database.
- Quinn, M. M., Gable, R. A., Fox, J., Rutherford, R. B., Jr., Van Acker R., & Conroy, M. (2001). Putting quality functional assessment into practice in schools: A research agenda on behalf of E/BD students. Education and Treatment of Children, 24, 261-275. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from PsycINFO database.
- Witzel, B. S., & Mercer, C. D. (2003). Using rewards to teach students with disabilities: Implications for motivation. Remedial and Special Education, 24, 88-96. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from PsycINFO database.
- Yost, D. S., & Mosca, F. J. (2002). Beyond behavior strategies: Using reflection to manage youth in crisis.
- Clearing House, 75, 264-268. Retrieved: March 30, 2019, from Academic Search Premier database.
- Comparison of Initial and Post “Games for Goals” Data Initial Attendance/Tardiness Profanity Task Completion 54 360 43 Post Attendance/Tardiness Profanity Task Completion 66 65 66