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Support Structures for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

January 22, 2013 by Hanover Research


Most teachers can quickly recall a student who posed a challenge to their classroom management skills, either through inappropriate outbursts, defiant remarks, or even physically harmful behaviors. Hanover Research recently conducted a best practices study of the support structures for students who exhibit these behaviors – behaviors which are typical of students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).

Teacher education geared toward emotional and behavioral disorders has historically been characterized by a lack of focus on academics, and perpetuated by several key misconceptions – most notably that “students must learn to behave appropriately before instruction can occur,” and “that behavior and instruction are separate entities.” Fortunately, recent approaches have become more clearly directed toward meeting the academic needs of students with (or at risk for) EBD. Peer-assisted learning strategies and self-management interventions are two approaches that have been recognized by scholars of EBD as especially effective in increasing levels of student engagement and achievement.

Peer Assistance

Research strongly supports the use of peers for improving the academic achievement, time on task, and behavior of students with disabilities and EBD. Of peer-assisted techniques, “classwide peer tutoring (CWPT) is the most researched and widely recognized effective peer-tutoring model.” CWPT involves assigning students to pairs to peer tutor each other by reading, asking questions, and providing prompts and feedback on correct and incorrect responses in a highly structured format. CWPT is suitable for many different content areas, and can be incorporated into existing curricular materials. The following is one recommended way to go about using CWPT:

  • Group students in pairs of high- and low-performers, based on assessments from the previous week (Use for approximately 20 minutes a day, with each student taking the role of tutor for 10 minutes and learner for 10 minutes. This need not be done every day; several times a week is adequate)
  • Teachers should model and practice with students as the first step in implementation
  • The procedure for the tutoring commences after students read a section of text
  • The tutors read teacher-provided questions to assess the tutees’ understanding of the reading
  • Tutors have the answers and provide positive feedback and acknowledgment for correct answers; tutors interrupt and model correct answers when the learner provides an incorrect answer. The tutors then ask the question again to provide the learner with the opportunity to answer correctly
  • The teacher circulates and randomly awards points to the pairs for students’ responses and appropriate interactions. The pairs may be grouped into larger ‘teams’ to compete for points
  • End-of-unit test scores are added to group points, and winners are announced and reinforced (e.g., going to recess early, earning a certificate) the following week

Self-Management Interventions

Another strategy with support in the research is self-management interventions, which can help students with EBD practice appropriate academic behavior while learning self-management skills that they do not already possess. Such interventions can be effectively implemented at various grade levels, according to both the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders. There are several types of self-management interventions, which are shown in the chart below.

As the chart suggests, these interventions essentially seek to create a structure in which students can recognize their own behavior and its effect on their academic performance. A typical self-management intervention could include the following steps:

    • After deciding on the academic subject to be targeted, begin with a student conference. During that conference:
        > Provide examples of the student’s academic work that have met the expected criteria.

> Discuss the relevance of staying on task and paying attention to detail when doing classwork, as well as the importance of academic task completion.
> Emphasize that both the quality and quantity of the assignments will be evaluated.
> Introduce the student to self-monitoring by proposing that he or she manages independent work by using self-monitoring and graphing.
> Show the student an example of a progress-monitoring chart.
> Give examples of how to calculate the scores for completion and accuracy and how to use the progress-monitoring chart.

  • Have the student complete an assignment.
  • Allow the student to correct the assignment as the teacher gives the correct answers.
  • Have the student compute the accuracy and productivity score, and then record and graph these scores on the progress graph.
  • Encourage the use of self-monitoring across different subject areas.

Both peer assistance and self-management interventions can provide effective tools for teachers to address the students’ EBD issues while also enhancing their academic performance, and as such should be in the toolkit of any teacher struggling with these issues.