Are You Seeing a Spike in Behavior at School or Home? How to Create a Plan to Support Reluctant Learners

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,and he will establish your plans.”

-Proverbs 16:3 NIV

Why Do Some Students Act Out at School or at Home?

Students display acting out behaviors for a variety of reasons. For many students, they would rather act out than to admit that they are struggling with the content. Students also may have other siblings or friends that act the same way so they are trying to fit in with that crowd.

Many times, students just want our attention. The easiest way it seems to get our attention is often by doing something that goes against our classroom rules we have agreed upon. When parents or educators respond to only the negative behaviors that are occurring, the behavior is being reinforced because they are getting the desired outcome, which is our attention. Students may also want to obtain peer attention or avoid the work altogether. To determine the next steps to support your student, we need to know why the behaviors are occurring.

Determine the Function of the Behavior

If you want to get to the root cause of a student’s behavior, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a great way to collect data that will help with creating an action plan with your student(s). A FBA can be quite time consuming to collect the data, so it is a good idea to consult your school psychologist, social worker, or other special education colleagues to help you get this set up. Check out this resource from PBISworld.com for some great templates and additional ideas.

When considering what data to collect, you want to focus on one or two undesired behaviors that you are looking to improve upon. For example, you might try to track behavior for time on task if they struggle with work completion or how many times they blurt out, and/or distracting their classmates. The key is not to make it so cumbersome that you cannot track the data and to also choose something that is measurable.

When you are ready to look at the data after a couple of days, you will want to sit down with your colleagues and look for possible trends or patterns. Here are some items to look for:

  • Does this behavior happen during a certain class period or time of day?
  • Is it only during independent work time or when given a chore to do?
  • Does the behavior occur more often with peers or staff/parents?

Once you have some data to look at, have some discussion to analyze what might be happening before and after the behavior occurs. The events leading up to the behavior (antecedents) may give you some clues on how to prevent the behavior from happening next time. For example, if a student is asked to read a chapter and then answer some questions and then immediately starts to engage in an undesired behavior, then it might be worth looking at the reading material. Maybe the reading level is too high for the student to comprehend or they do not understand the questions.

Creating a Plan to Move Forward

Once you have determined the function of the behavior, it is then time to make a plan. It is important to involve the student at this point in the process to help build ownership of the plan and buy-in from the student. This plan could be as simple as written on a piece of paper or formalized as a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP) that would be included in the student’s IEP. Here are some key points to keep in mind when creating a positive behavior support plan:

  • Choose 1-2 Target Areas to Focus On– This might be hard to do if the student is showing a lot of behaviors. Start out slow and pick the one undesired behavior you would most like to replace.
  • Reward Positive Behavior– Catch them in the act of doing the right thing! This is the fun part. Try to give 5 positive response to 1 negative. Check out some other examples here.
  • Short and Long Term Rewards– Sometimes you will need an immediate reward such as a break after working for 10 minutes as an example. They should also have a larger long term reward they should be striving to achieve. This will help keep students from giving up early.
  • Involve the Student– The student can pick the rewards to earn as well as help you track their own progress.
  • Communicate with the Family– Let the family know the plan. They may want to have some input or use a similar plan at home for consistency.
  • Use Positive Language- On your tracking sheet, use the desired behavior as the target outcome. For example, instead of saying “blurting out in class” you could rephrase as what you want them to do such as “raising hand to be called upon”
  • Enforceable- Whatever rewards or consequences you come up with as a team, make sure you can deliver on them.
  • Measurable– Keep track daily or weekly on how the student is doing. Use this data for the follow-up meeting.
  • Plan a Follow-Up Meeting– This meeting could involve the student and family as necessary. In this meeting, review the data that you have collected over about a six week period. If the intervention or reward is not working, make those changes at the meeting. Continue to collect data until you are seeing the results you want to see.
  • Celebrate Growth-It is important for you and the student to celebrate the growth they are making. This will help you to persevere with your student!

Students display unwanted behaviors for a reason. They are trying to tell us something or get us to notice them. If we are willing to become active listeners and participate as a team with the student, we will be able to determine why the student(s) are acting out and initiate a plan to replace these behaviors with the desired outcomes. Although growth may take time, but the plans we implement with the help of the team will help with the student’s long-term growth.

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