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Students with behavioural or emotional disorders may demonstrate disregard for social or cultural norms and their behaviour may reflect poor interpersonal relationship and low self esteem. According to Ontario Ministry of Education behavioural exceptionality is defined as a learning disorder characterized by specific behaviour problems over such a period of time, and to such a marked degree, and of such a nature, as to adversely affect educational performance, and that may be accompanied by one or more of the following:
An ability to build or to maintain interpersonal relationships;
Excessive fears or anxieties;
A tendency to compulsive reaction;
An ability to learn that cannot be traced to intellectual, sensory, or other health factors, or any combination thereof.
Positive reinforcement is defined as a technique used to encourage a desired behaviour. This is considered one of the best behaviour management strategies that help building self-esteem and respect among students who have special behavioural, social or emotional needs.
What does the professional literature indicate about the impact of positive reinforcements on the learning of students having behavioural exceptionalities and what would the implications be for my teaching?
My inquiry is based on Type "B" Approach (i.e. Reflective inquiry into theory-based and informed practice in Education Community).
The purpose of my inquiry is to find out how positive reinforcements affect the learning of students who are having behavioural exceptionalities. I had been teaching students from primary to senior divisions for the past many years and found that the behavioural learners present a unique challenge to most educators. In India I had the opportunity to teach primary, intermediate and senior divisions. Although no behavioural exceptionalities diagnostic system was in place, but the behavioural problems among students were quite evident and challenging for me as an educator. I had been using positive reinforcements to improve the behavioural problems for all those years of my teaching different grade levels and noted a significant decline in behavioural issues among my students.
Presently, I am working as an occasional teacher in Ontario with one of the publically funded school boards. As I move from school to school during my daily assignments, I come across many students with behavioural exceptionalities. I am always looking for ways to motivate them by using positive reinforcements like rewards, merit points, words of appreciation, earning free time, using the computer alone or with a friend etc. according to their grade levels. I do get positive outcomes as far as students behaviour is concerned but that one or two days assignments are not long enough to prove my point. Thus when I enrolled for my Special Education Part 1 AQ Course, I knew it is the time when I can really look forward to get deeper understanding and knowledge on this topic.
There have been many studies and reviews on my inquiry subject which indicate that there is a positive impact on the learning of students having behavioural exceptionalities. But for me it is a matter of research and study so that I can find out the implications for my own teaching practice.
After carefully examining my inquiry question, I planned to follow the methodology outline which described assumptions, beliefs, experience data and discussion/literature review. The brief outline of methodology which I followed during my inquiry research work is given below:
Reflection on my own assumptions, beliefs and past teaching experience:
I described and reflected on my current assumptions, beliefs and past experience related to the chosen topic. I used my past teaching experience in India as a benchmark to see how I can correlate the practices which I had been using successfully in my class in India with my classroom experience in Ontario.
Reflection on Literature Review Data:
I searched some websites, read some books, journals, articles which are directly related to my inquiry subject. I tried to keep an eye on current educational journals and newspaper articles which could prove to be an asset for my inquiry work. The main idea behind this was to find out what researchers/educationists have written or said about use of positive reinforcements and its impact on learning of students having behavioural exceptionalities.
Sources of Collection of Data:
I collected data by using the following sources for my research work:
Peer Discussion (peers are certified teachers)
Interview with educators using questionnaires
Analyzing Research Work and Data Analysis:
I compared my own beliefs, assumptions and experience with the literature review and the data collected from peer discussion, and interviews conducted with teachers on my inquiry subject. The reason behind this comparison is that I would try to figure out how this study will help me in my future teaching assignments. This enabled me to bring personal knowledge to the inquiry topic being investigated.
Drawing Conclusions and future implications:
The conclusions were drawn on the basis of comparison of beliefs, assumptions, practices and discussion/literature review data. I drew conclusions with reflection on the implications of my future teaching practices, further inquiry and the teacher and learning context.
Personal Reflections & Literature Review:
I searched various websites, read a few books, reports, journals, articles etc. to find out what researchers/educationists have written or said about impact of positive reinforcements on students who are having different kinds of behavioural exceptionalities. Before started working on this inquiry topic, I thought it is a challenging task for me only to deal with the problem behaviour and how it can be minimised by using some positive reinforcements. But after having a wider view of the situation, I realized that it is a current global issue and lot of research has already been done on this and other related issues.
As an educator, everyone experiences a number of challenges and so did I. I had taught in Delhi, Capital city of India for many years in various streams and grade levels. I have experienced personally that a positive reinforcement program works on all kinds of students no matter what age group or grade level they belong to. The rewards should be specific and used at an appropriate time. Things like candy, stickers might be okay for younger students but students from older grades prefer other kinds of privileges like no homework, pizza party, and lunch at cafeteria etc.
During my past teaching career I came across many students with disruptive behaviour. Some of the students had uncooperative behaviour, some were always trying to grab my undivided attention, some had very low self-esteem, some were always acting out, and some had violent and aggressive nature while others were simply hyperactive. All those behavioural issues couldn't be corrected by using same kind of strategies and were posing a challenge for me for all those years. I had attended lots of workshops on managing behavioural issues and improving classroom management skills. A number of experts, researchers, studies, school authorities and parents are of the opinion that use of positive reinforcements is a significant tool to change student behaviour in a positive way.
Positive reinforcements are nothing but catching a student doing something we want him/her to do and rewarding it so that good behaviour/act is repeated. I always try to catch the good not the bad. I have noticed that when I have practiced these strategies in my classrooms it had given me positive results as students were driven towards positive goals rather than focusing on negative consequences. In my opinion use of positive reinforcement like rewarding my class groups or even individuals when a certain prefixed goal or behavioural pattern is followed with little gifts of their choice or choosing a favourite game to play or just having free relaxed time had worked very well. The schools where I had earlier worked at did have students from diverse eco-socio and culturally diverse backgrounds. School wide behavioural management policies were also in place and they usually used to work hand in hand with teacher's individual behaviour management programs and strategies.
During my occasional teaching assignments in Ontario, I am always trying to use verbal praise and other rewards if possible in meaningful ways. I think using praise excessively does not reinforce good behaviour. I gained valuable information about behavioural exceptionalities and the strategies that are used for intervention to obtain positive results. I got myself updated on how behavioural interventions are used in Ontario schools and learnt about the identification, diagnosis and various placement options available to students with behavioural exceptionalities during the course of my inquiry.
As I wanted to learn more about how special education program works in Ontario, the Special Education Advisory Committees Learning website proved to be very useful. I got to know about the legislation, role and responsibilities of various stakeholders like Ministry of Education, School Principals, teachers, SERT's, parents/guardians and others in meeting needs of special education program. The funding of special education program is also an integral part that cannot be overlooked by educators in Ontario.
After reviewing the literature of many authors on my inquiry subject, I got to know that the correct and timely use of positive reinforcement may prove to be very beneficial to manage problem behaviour in the classroom. Many authors and researchers are of the view that positive behaviour supports and interventions are the basis of applied behaviour analysis. . According to Safran & Oswald (2003) "If teachers and administrators are prepared for behavioural challenges, students, faculty, and staff can weather behavioral storms in a healthier and more productive manner. PBS can indeed help schools reshape disciplinary practices."
Teaching and successfully meeting the special needs of students having behavioural exceptionalities is very challenging and complex task. As it is mentioned in Education for All (Ministry of Education, 2005) research has shown that children having behavioural difficulties like ADHD are more at a risk for academic underachievement. There are many inattention symptoms like difficulty staying on task, forgetfulness and tendency to lose things are directly related to academic underachievement. Research in this area clearly indicates that many students who are having behavioural exceptionalities are lacking behind in academics and have learning difficulties in reading and mathematics. When planning for accommodations for these students reinforcement incentives may be used successfully as a measure of instructional accommodations. Providing a positive climate, external rewards, watching for praiseworthy behaviour and providing immediate feedback are some of the strategies that work for the students having any behavioural disorders.
Many researchers have taken keen interest in studying the effect of using an edible item as a means of noncontingent reinforcement. Ingvarsson, Kahng & Hausman (2008) have concluded in their study that there is a decrease in escape maintained problem behaviour and increase in compliance as a result of using an edible item. Some of the teachers and parents show their concerns and have the opinion that the children should work without any rewards or edibles. But on the other hand there is research that supports the effectiveness of using positive reinforcement for students having behavioural exceptionalities that may have been caused by one or more reasons. Stahr, Cushing, Lane & Fox (2006) suggested that students having ADHD prefer tangible rewards like stickers, toys etc. as a means of using positive behaviour interventions.
Rogers (2003) suggested in his book about behavioural recovery that motivating students with rewards and encouraging the appropriate behaviour is really very important. The behaviour disorders could be in the form of attention deficit disorder (ADD), hyperactive, socio-economically disturbed, conduct disorder (CD), and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). Many students with ADD, lack the motivation to be successful learners (Salend, Elhoweris, & Garderen, 2003). Use of extrinsic rewards like verbal praise, stickers, special privileges like gym time, extra recess, choir etc. are very useful tool for reinforcing appropriate behaviour.
Gagnon, Rockwell, & Scott (2008) describe that positive behaviour supports (PBS) is a multitiered and research based approach to student behaviour and it has proved to be an appropriate and effective approach in both regular and exclusionary settings. In their research paper the authors have cited many resources and studies which give a clear indication that punitive approaches to managing student behaviour are actually ineffective. PBS is not a new approach but is based upon the principals of ABA (Safran & Oswald, 2003). Lot of studies have shown that PBS is highly successful in reducing problem behaviour.
When educators are dealing with behavioural exceptionalities of students, they must consider both school wide or group behaviour plan as well as individual behaviour intervention plan. Tillery, Varjas, Meyers, & Collins (2010) have studied teachers' perspectives and approaches to behaviour intervention strategies like use of praise, rewards etc. and their knowledge about positive behaviour intervention and supports (PBIS). The teachers have been using marble jar, stickers, free time and verbal praise as rewards to reduce behavioural problems in their classrooms. Wong & Wong (2009) have rightly stated in their book how to be an effective teacher that it is the teacher who makes the difference in what happens in the classroom. It is very important for the teacher to be respectful towards students, give attention by responding quickly and proactively so that there is a reduced level of disruptive behaviour.
Many educators are of the opinion that use of behavioural modification approach is very useful to prevent problem behaviour. This approach follows the assumption that all behaviour is modifiable by principles of reinforcement (Bennett & Weber, 2008, p121). Use of potent reinforcement like food, toy, coupons that may be traded (token economy system) should be accompanied by social reinforcers like a smile or verbal praise. If teachers are acting proactively and prepared for the frequent outbreaks of problem behaviour, the negative behaviour is reduced and then rewards may be offered for the desired appropriate behaviour to the students.
The following sources were used by me for collection of data to inform the inquiry question:
Interview with educators using questionnaires (Regular classroom teachers and Special Education Resource Teachers)
Interview with Educational Assistants
Observation (My own observation of students with behavioural exceptionalities in actual classrooms)
Peer Discussion (Peers are certified teachers)
I tried to design my data collection procedure in such a way so that I can collect maximum information on how theory on use of positive reinforcements on students with behavioural exceptionalities is actually used in practice in Ontario schools. I collected data by interviewing four classroom teachers, two SERT's and three EA's. As I determined how to get at this information, I kept in mind that although I am using the initial inquiry question to stay focused, I would need to take care to avoid rigidity and assumptions. I designed some interview questions and recorded their responses. My purpose for interviewing these teachers was to explore in greater depth the effectiveness of positive reinforcements in dealing with day to day problem behaviour in regular classroom. As I am working as an occasional teacher, I had the opportunity to observe the special need students having behavioural disorders. Also I discussed my inquiry topic with peers who are certified teachers. Some of my peers had firsthand experience in dealing with students having ADHD, ADD and other behavioural disorders.
While analyzing the data collected through teacher's interview, observations and peer discussion, I found that the opinions/views of the participants were quite informational. When I interviewed classroom teachers and SERT's and asked their opinion on my inquiry question they told me that use of positive reinforcements is an integral part of their behaviour management program. I also got to know more about my inquiry topic. They informed me that the school boards are providing universal and targeted support in this field. There are mobile behaviour support teams at both elementary and secondary level.
Students with behavioural exceptionalities may include oppositional and defiant behaviour, self control and anger managing problems, excessive fears and anxieties, physical aggression etc. We talked in detail about developing behaviour management/intervention plan that is known as PBIP. The basic goals of teachers are to identify triggers, establish accommodations and identifying motivation tools to minimize problem behaviour and to ensure successful learning. All the teachers, EA's I spoke to had consensus on the use of positive reinforcements as a powerful tool to encourage positive and safe learning climate for their students. They had been using different kinds of rewards systems in their classrooms like having a marble jar, using group point's incentives, Gotcha coupons, card system etc. They also agreed on providing immediate feedback and using verbal praise at the appropriate time to reduce problem or undesired behaviour. Some of the schools are using verbal praise and awards on daily basis for students who have been caught by their teachers doing something good.
I discussed my inquiry topic with peers as well. They were generally of the opinion that there is going to be a decrease in problem behaviour by using positive reinforcements with students having special needs. They informed me that there are four steps required implementing an effective positive reinforcement program and they are: select and define behaviour to increase, choose reinforcers, deliver positive reinforcement and then finally monitor student performance. Some of the incentives or rewards for appropriate behaviour are: becoming a class helper, class monitor, earn points for a class video, free choice activity, pick something from the prize box or treat box, free tickets or coupons, leader for the day, free gym time etc.
Reflections and Future implications:
I added my future course of action to implement my findings of this research work in future teaching practice related to my inquiry subject. I shall try my best to reflect on the recent and pending changes in education as well as their implications for teachers and learners in my final inquiry write up. I would love to see how will my research project maximises my effectiveness as a teacher and how will it maximise student learning.
Note: Issues of equity and privacy/ethical considerations will be taken care of both in the development of the inquiry and the use of data.
Bennett, S., Dworet, D., & Weber, K. (2008).Â Special Education in Ontario Schools. Thornhill: Highland Press.Â
This book is a very helpful resource in knowing the impact of Bill 82, the Education Amendment Act passed in 1980 has made special education a normal, functioning part of Ontario's educational system. All school boards are legally required to provide special education programs and services for exceptional students. There are 12 types of special needs or exceptionalities that may be identified and addressed through a special education program. Chapter 9 deals with behavioural exceptionalities in detail and the Behaviour Modification Approach assumes that all behaviour is modifiable by principles of reinforcement, p.121. This book gave me a clear insight on my inquiry topic and I was able to find out a clear correlation between student behaviour and positive reinforcements. The authors also discussed various causes, assessment strategies, conceptual models, various teaching approaches and other educational implications related to behavioural exceptionalities.Â
Gagnon, J. C., Rockwell, S. B., & Scott, T. M. (2008). Positive Behavior Supports in Exclusionary Schools: A Practical Approach Based on What We Know.Â Focus on Exceptional Children,Â 41(1), 1-20. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from the ProQuest Research Library database.Â
In this article it is stated that school violence and disruptive school behaviour are considered major concerns by all stakeholders in education system. Decreasing disruptive behaviour and providing safe environment of learning for all students has become very challenging. Positive behaviour interventions and supports are required to address the behavioural difficulties of students with disabilities. Use of expulsion to end the problem behaviour by schools does not end the issues. Thus using positive behaviour intervention program is the best way if used properly with the support of administrators, policy makers, teachers and parents. PBS should be the important component of Individual Education Plan of students with behavioural disabilities and use of proactive approaches help dealing with disruptive behaviour to a great extent.Â
Ingvarsson, T. T., Kahng, S., & Hausman, N. L. (2008). Some effects of noncontingent positive reinforcement on multiply controlled problem behavior and compliance in a demand context.Â Journal of Applied behavior Analysis,Â 41(3), 435-440.Â
This article provided me the clear insight of my inquiry topic as it deals with the study of an 8 years old girl with severe problem behaviour and autism and the use of noncontingent reinforcement of an edible item on her problem behaviour. The results of various other studies and researchers also exhibit that there is a decrease in escape maintained problem behaviour when we use positive reinforcement in the form of verbal praise, appropriate responses and preferred edible items.Â
Ministry of Education. (2005).Â Education For All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students with Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6. Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario.Â
This report recommends practices that are based on research and experience to help Ontario teachers to improve and reinforce instructional strategies in numeracy and literacy to special needs students from grade K to 6. The expert panel has mentioned in the report that students with different types of behaviour problems are showing weaknesses in reading and problem solving skills. It means that behavioural disorders are linked to learning disorders in reading and mathematics. The behavioural disorders could be hyperactivity, anxiety or attention problems. I got valuable information from this document as it helped me to find out how to know my students well and to make learning profiles for them. I also learnt about using "tiered" approach to early identification and intervention. This report also put emphasis on creating a positive learning environment by positively reinforcing students' success in daily tasks from an early age. Watching for praiseworthy behaviour and providing external rewards also helps to secure desired academic and behaviour results.Â
Rogers, B. (2003).Â Behaviour Recovery: Practical Programs for Challenging Behaviour and Children With Emotional Behaviour Disorders in Mainstream SchoolsÂ (2 ed.). Melbourne: ACER Press.
Â After reading this book I got clear understanding of behavioural and emotional disorders and ways to motivate students in their educational learning process. Sometimes group rewards have more impact than the individual rewards when used in a consistent manner with students having behavioural and emotional disorders. The author has given lot of case studies which are very helpful in understanding the problem behaviour. He also discussed the key elements of behaviour recovery model in detail. The objective should be to keep students aware of their own behaviour and respect right of others.Â
Safran, S. P., & Oswald, K. (2003). positive behaviour supports: Can schools reshape disciplinary practices?.Â Exceptional Children,Â 69(3), 361-373.Â
Everyone is getting affected by the increase of aggressive behaviour in our schools. The use of traditional disciplinary practices is not able to reduce the severity of problem behaviour. This article highlights the use of positive behaviour supports (PBS) that is based on applied behaviour analysis (ABA). The authors stress upon the need of using the proactive approach to prevent problem behaviour by altering a situation beforehand. A school wide token system ("Gotcha" coupons),rewards like ice cream parties and lunch in the cafeteria can be used to encourage students to comply with the school/classroom rules and learn important social skills.Â
Salend, S. J., Elhoweris, H., & Garderen, . v. (2003). Educational interventions for students with ADD.Â Intervention in School and Clinic,Â 38(5), 280. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from the ProQuest database.Â
Student with attention deficit disorder (ADD) are often lacking behind in their academic performance because of their learning difficulties. The authors state that a number of educational interventions are to be used by the teachers such as clear and complete directions, individual assignments, multiple opportunities to answer their questions etc. Teachers usually use extrinsic techniques to motivate them e.g. stickers, verbal praise, special privileges to encourage their learning and enjoying classroom experience.Â
Stahr, B., Cushing, D., Lane, K., & Fox, J. (2006). Efficacy of a Function-Based Intervention in Decreasing Off-Task Behavior Exhibited by a Student with ADHD .Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions,Â 8(4), 201-211.Â
Many times we notice that disruptive behaviour like talking out; tapping, not following directions etc. are common off task behaviour in classrooms which results in loss of valuable instructional time for all students. This article is about studying the results of function-based-interventions with a student who has been diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and language and speech impairment. During the course of intervention candy was used as a positive reinforcement tool to reduce the off-task and escape motivated behaviour. I got to know that use of positive reinforcement in the form of candy and verbal praise helped the classroom teacher to reduce the undesired behaviour and help the learning of the student with behavioural exceptionalities.Â
Tillery, A. D., Varjas, K., Meyers, J., & Collins, A. S. (2010). General Education Teachers' Perceptions of Behavior Management and Intervention Strategies.Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions,Â 12(2), 86-102.Â
Teachers have their own understanding of behaviour management and prevention. Many a times they are not familiar and fully trained in positive behaviour intervention supports (PBIS) and deal with the problem behaviour in as per their own perception. The authors discussed use of marble jar and school wide behaviour chart as the tools often used by teachers to control/reduce problem behaviour. Rewards such as candy, stickers, extra recess, free time, treats go a long way as far as reducing or dealing with problem behaviour is concerned.Â
Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2009).Â The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective TeacherÂ (4 ed.). Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.Â
I found this book very useful for my inquiry subject as it has a complete chapter on positive expectations. The authors talked about ways how to help all students to succeed by increasing positive student behaviour. It is important to be respectful when dealing with students and praising positive behaviour will lead to less disruptive behavioural problems. In this chapter author also talks about the importance of giving attention to students by responding quickly and proactively so that they feel valued and wanted in the classroom. This book gives practical and valuable tips to manage the classroom that is uncontrollable and thus helps making the teacher's life less miserable.Â