Behavior Management Strategies in the Classroom

Effective behavior management approaches in the classroom have the following general goals to assist teachers in selectively reinforcing students for:

  1. Impulse control
  2. Self-discipline
  3. Organizational skills
  4. Conformity to parent and school rules
  5. Reinforcement of social expectations by the use of positive incentives for improved behavior
  6. Negative consequences for inappropriate behavior

Specific Goals for Behavior Management of Attention Deficit Children

  1. Increasing attention to relevant stimuli
  2. Developing reflective systems
  3. “Stop, look and listen,” to improve alertness and increase attention
  4. Counting to 3 before acting
  5. Repeating instructions to yourself before attempting a task

Central to the development of the ADHD child’s behavior is the ability to inhibit impulsive behavior by the development of Stop, Think, Act and Review (STAR). A second approach is the development of STLL, which is Stop, Think, Look and Listen. Both styles promote the development of reflective responding.

Behavior management strategies have a definite and important place in the classroom management of ADHD students. Used alone, without medication, they have been found to be effective but not as effective as being used in concert with medication.

Types of Behavior Management Programs

I – Programs to Enhance Organization, Structure and Routine

The reticular activating system and prefrontal cortex of the brain are responsible for organization, planning, judgment and generally keeping an orderly approach to one’s behavior. The ADHD child is deficient in these skills and thus is notably disorganized, forgetful and unable to plan ahead and develop priorities.

Teaching structure, routine and organization are imperative as an antidote to the inherent biobehavioral weakness presented by the child’s neurology. Structure should equal anticipatability with an element of flexibility. It should not be misinterpreted as strictness and inflexibility. Structure must imply a flexibility to recognize individual differences and situation specific differences. ADHD children are often unresponsive to strict rules and will rebel against them.

Organize Yourself and the Class to be More Successful

Prepare a lesson plan to make sure materials are ready. Post your own schedule. Try to have all assignments completed in modules of 10 to 15 minutes.

Spend the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes of each day organizing the child. Each day have the children clean their desks or cubbies, throwing away trash, putting away loose papers in the correct folder, sharpening pencils; then review the schedule. Highlight changes and special activities, have the children repeat these in unison as a group. Have an organized child, preferably a friend; assist the ADHD child if the task is overwhelming. Utilize a monthly calendar and go over it with your students, discussing special events. Plan for a rolling 7-day calendar.

Color code students’ notebooks and materials per subject. Post the current day’s work on the board. Teach the assignments in a priority fashion. Give a time for each assignment and a time frame for the duration of each assignment. Give frequent breaks and more reinforcement. Check assignments frequently.

Enrich the environment to such a degree that the presentation of positive statements occurs at least ten times the amount of negative statements, making this an organized priority.

Have the ADHD child, and all children for that matter, have an organized notebook. Organize the notebook in respect to work to be done, completed work, papers to save to a file. Filing becomes the memory organization component lacking in the ADHD child.

If it’s not Written Down, Assume it’s Gone

ADHD children do not move information in memory from immediate recall to short and long term memory. Develop the habit of writing in a notebook any and all information required of memory. When you say it, they must write it, they must remember to read it.

ADHD children must have entrance and exit checks each day. Think of the ADHD child as a scuba diver entering the water, (the water being school). He is entering a long, extended dive where checks must be made upon entering and upon exiting. Without these checks, the scuba diver has an increased likelihood of drowning and without these checks the ADHD child will certainly drown.

Orient the student before and after each lunch break and provide constant encouragement. Organize your students’ families in respect to a team. Organize homework so that it is no more than 20 minutes for grades 1-6, 30 minutes in grades 7-9 and 40 minutes in grades 9-12. Homework would best be accomplished immediately after school in directed study or before school in directed study.

II – Positive Incentive Programs for Developing Behavior

The basic understanding here is that “pain is transient” and that “honey sticks.” Most children, even impulsive ADHD children are quite willing to change negative behavior to achieve what they want. Remember, discipline at its basic core means teaching, it does not mean punishment.

Utilize cueing and coaching as appropriate behavior, as much as possible. These are antecedent skills which remind the child to display behavior that you can reinforce and reward.

The essence of a good behavior management program is having desirable and undesirable behaviors, which are well-defined, establishing positive consequences for appropriate behavior and negative consequences for undesirable behavior and consistently and non-emotionally enforcing those consequences. The child determined the consequences. You are merely the mediator between his or her actions and consequences.

III – Psychological Interventions

Cognitive Therapy in the Classroom

The goal of cognitive therapy is to help the child, teen and adolescent to utilize language for problem-solving, rather than to continue impulsively respond to various situations. It is an effective intervention when used as a part of the multi model program. Cognitive therapy works by having  the child talk through a series of behaviors prior to the action. Children, teens and adolescents who talk through a problem mentally before acting do better in school and attain higher level thinking skills than those who do not. You can assist the cognitive development of ADHD children by helping students to verbalize problems and consciously think through the solutions. This can be done individually or in think-tank groups.

An example of this process is: If one is angry, one can hit another person, tell the teacher, respond to another teacher. When you… I feel… because.  Basically you are teaching a Stop, Think, Act and Review process.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training starts with the clear posting and discussion of rules for the society of the classroom. With young children, societal values have typically been taught through legends and stories that end with a moral. Use stories to teach rules. Improve writing skills and develop sensitivity by having children write an incident report subsequent to problematic behavior. Such a report should have the following components:

  • What do you believe happened?
  • Why do you believe it happened?
  • What were the consequences?
  • How did you feel about the consequences?
  • How did others feel about the consequences?
  • How could this have been prevented?
  • How can you use this situation to learn what to do in the future?
  • What did you learn from this incident?

Basically, an incident debriefing can turn a negative situation into a positive learning experience. Through modeling your own acceptance of childhood differences in behavior, you will encourage your class to accept the differences in behavior of their classmates.

Managing Attention Disorders in the Classroom

Do not Confuse Learning and Performance – Seek Learning, do not Penalize for Variability in Performance

General Strategies – Using Positive Reinforcement to Change Behavior and Motivate Students

Most ADHD children, by second grade, have received far more negative reinforcement and punishment than that of the average child. Therefore, we must provide ADHD children with a hyperenriched environment of positive reinforcement, subsequent to the display of pro-social behavior.

We also must develop an environment that elicits positive behavior through the use of structure, rules and anticipatable activities. If something cannot be said in a positive vein, with the ADHD child it is best not to say it. (e.g. You used your hands less today than yesterday.)

As an alternative to punitive consequences, attempt to carefully note instances of negative behavior, conference with the child, develop a reinforcement schedule for both the negatives and the positives.

Educate your class: Discussions of individual difference and handicapped awareness are appropriate at all levels.

Establish an environment of kindness and cooperation: There are areas where the ADHD child can excel. Establish them in leadership capacity in these areas, such as creative pursuits and activities requiring energy level.

Where appropriate, establish a “buddy system” and pair the ADHD child up with a quiet, organized, unflappable “buddy.”

Handle medication with sensitivity: Use the natural breaks in the environment to provide the child with the opportunities for medication.

Determine each child’s strengths and teach to those strengths: The ADHD child’s most dominant learning style and learning preferences need to be matched to the task requirements of the classroom. For example, a visual learner should have information provided visually to reinforce auditory input.

Organization: Should be taught as a classroom skill similar to the teaching of word processing technology.

Use encouragement generously: Overpower the children with positive reinforcements; even though they may be precocious in their social knowledge, they are still children.

Maintain a sense of humor: The unanticipatability and loose thinking associated with ADHD children can also be humorous if viewed from that context. Humor is a significant strategy to deflect the defiance of the ADHD child.

Emphasize quality of work, not quantity: When confronted with large amounts of work, or when turning in all their work, many ADHD students respond by completing the work quickly without regard to neatness or accuracy. If they feel the workload is more than they can concentrate upon or complete, they simply avoid it, refuse to do it, lose it or forget it. Thus, emphasis must be based upon quality within the context of limited quantity. Treasure errors as ways to experience growth.

Strategies Promoted on a System-Wide Basis

As a system, recognition must be carried out of the necessity to anticipate the problems associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and develop system-wide responses to these problems.

Examples of System-Wide Approaches

  • Differentiated school days. The school day can be segmented into “guided tutorial” at the end of the day for homework, differentiated starting times for older adolescents with sleep-phase disorders.
  • Recognition that technological supports will be necessary in the classroom, such as computers.
  • Recognition that class size and one-to-one teaching are necessary components of success for ADHD children.

The System Must Recognize the Four Basic Truths of Education for Attention Deficit Disorder Children

  1. Students will always work for incentive
  2. The incentives must be novel
  3. One-to-one involvement is key
  4. Intimidation only works to suppress behavior for brief periods of time

A Prevention Model Stresses Early Diagnosis of Basic Skills, Strengths and Weaknesses.

The appointment of a long-term advocate/ombudsman for each child. This may be an elementary school teacher for those individuals who are in the system throughout their career. An ombudsman role is to seek positives, even from the most outwardly appearing negative situation, and use it to enhance the child’s self-esteem and self-image, as well as to use it for teaching.

As a system, we must seek to be sensitive to child development issues and not accept the pressures of the child’s precociousness. Systems must be willing to give the children the gift of additional time.

There should be recognition that strong personality students fit best with teachers who enjoy the unique characteristics of their personalities. Therefore, a “bidding” system for placement should be developed or cooperative placement of students through school-wide and system-wide placement conferencing.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

Copyright © 2011 Karner Psychological Associates | All Rights Reserved.