Judith Osgood writes an extremely interesting article looking at behavioural issues in EBD students, most of the principles of her paper can be applied in the general school context. Her key thesis is that it is generally inappropriate to use punishment as our reaponse to behavioural issues since in most cases the behaviours are either a skill or perfomance deficit. In other words, either the skill may not be in the student’s repertoire or the student may have acquired the skill but it is not performed at an acceptable level.
A skill-based deficit exists when a student has not learned how to perform a given behaviour. For example, a student who has not learned to do multiplication could be said to have a multiplication skill deficit. Similarly, a student who hasn’t mastered trinity etiquette may have a skill deficit in that area. Few teachers would punish a student for not knowing how to do multiplication. Unfortunately, however, we sometimes become angry with students when they don’t demonstrate the social skill we would desire them to display. A critical issue is whether the student actually possesses the desired skill. If not, it is unreasonable to demand that it occur or to punish a child when it doesn’t. Our anger and punishment can only add to the frustration of the student who knows he or she did something wrong, but has no clue as to how to fix it.
Generally, a skill-based deficit is due to lack of opportunity to learn or limited models of appropriate behaviour. The same principles apply to teaching social skills as to academic skills: provide ample demonstration/modelling, guided practice with feedback, and independent practice. Research suggests that their are eight fundamental social skills which can be taught through direct instruction:
- Giving positive feedback (e.g., thanking and giving compliments),
- Giving negative feedback (e.g., giving criticism or correction),
- Accepting negative feedback without hostility or inappropriate reactions,
- Resisting peer pressure to participate in delinquent behavior,
- Solving personal problems,
- Negotiating mutually acceptable solutions to problems,
- Following instructions, and
- Initiating and maintaining a conversation.
The research suggests teaching these skills by providing definitions, illustrations with examples, modeling, verbal rehearsal, behavioral rehearsal, and additional practice. A performance-based deficit exists when the student possesses a skill but doesn’t perform it under the desired circumstances. This may occur if there is a problem with either motivation or with ability to discriminate as to when to exhibit the appropriate behavior. When a motivational deficit exists, the student possesses the appropriate skill, but doesn’t desire to perform it. Encouraging and motivating students to show appropiate behaviour can be achieved by applying the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). The suggest that we should: clearly define the target behavior identifying consequences and the circumstances relating to the mis/behavior develop a plan to alter the circumstances and consequences. For example, the behavior of “interrupting” may be defined as “speaking before your partner has completed his or her sentence.” The antecedents to this behavior may be poor models and the consequence to interrupting may be attention from the listener. The next step is to develop a plan which encourages turn taking during conversations. An antecedent technique may be to remind the student about taking turns prior to a conversation and a consequence may be to pay attention only when the student waits his or her turn prior to speaking.
A further suggestion would be to have the student chart his or her progress toward a reward. For instance raffle tickets or vivos. Some students have a tendency be impulsive. However, what on first glance appears to be impulsivity may in reality be an inability to understand the limits of acceptable behavior. Acceptability of behavior frequently varies according to the setting or circumstance. For example, a student may not know which teachers tolerate conversation and when it is appropriate to talk with peers. What is acceptable behavior on the playground may not be acceptable in the classroom. According to Smith and Rivera (1993), “educators must help students learn to discriminate among the behavioral options in each school situation and match that situation with the proper behavior pattern” (p. 24). Some social skill problems occur simply because students do not understand how to read environmental cues that indicate whether or not a behavior is acceptable. In short we must help the student size up the social situation and determine what to do.
If the student cannot discriminate, we must teach what is acceptable in a given circumstance. When a student makes an academic error, we provide the right answer and use the mistake as an opportunity to learn. In other words, we teach the student how to “fix” the mistake. Similarly instead of punishing the student for making a social mistake, we should analyze it and use it as an opportunity to learn . The process involves asking the student, “What do you think you did wrong? What was your mistake?” By actively involving the student in discussion and analysis of the error, a lesson can be extracted from the situation which enables the student to see the cause effect relationship between his or her behavior and the consequences or reactions of others.
Judith Osgood Smith Purdue University Calumet LD Forum – Council for Learning Disabilities Fall 1995