Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Apr 22
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by Jess

While the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is becoming more widespread in public schools across the nation, teachers are still struggling with how to deliver "consequences" for inappropriate behavior. I often hear things such as, "I do provide positive reinforcement, but what message does it send to children if we do not also punish them when they engage in negative behaviors?" Or my favorite: "What message does it send to other students if this child is allowed to act this way?" The problem is that there is a misinterpretation of PBIS in many classrooms. Consequences do need to be delivered when problem behaviors occur; however, the term consequence is not synonymous with punishment or aversive treatment.

If you look at the picture cards shown in this post, you will see common consequences for challenging behaviors used in classrooms. Each one is punitive in nature with public display of humiliation the main theme across the consequences. Another popular consequence system is the color chart. I say, "Beware of the color chart!" As inviting as it looks, it is carefully designed to systematically recognize a student who engages in problem behavior by letting the whole class witness as the child shamefully changes his/her color because of "bad" behavior. If you like the way the color charts look, here's a simple solution: Have kids change their color when they do wonderful things instead. Individualize what is wonderful for each student and let them be cheered on for making good choices. However, that doesn't solve the problem of how to use consequences for problem behavior within a PBIS framework. I would like to offer an alternative hierarchy of consequences for problem behavior for teachers to consider:

1. Planned ignoring: Ignore the problem behavior, provide specific praise to a student who is in close proximity to the child displaying the desirable behavior, and then provide positive reinforcement as soon as the child stops the problem behavior and/or starts displaying the desirable behavior.

2. Nonverbal reminder: Use a supportive gesture or visual to gently remind the child of the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.

3. Verbal reminder: Positively redirect the child to engage in a more desirable behavior by stating the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.

4. Offer assistance: Provide any necessary prompts or assistance to help the child engage in a more desirable behavior. For off task behavior, this may mean helping the student get started. For behavioral expectations this may mean using modeling/request imitation. It may also mean providing gentle physical assistance.

5. Provide a safe space for de-escalation: If the child is unable to be redirected, allow the child to remove himself/herself from the situation and go to a pre-determined safe space until he/she can come back and participate and engage appropriately.

While this hierarchy would be beneficial for typically developing children and children with disabilities, it is essential for students with ASD. If you use punitive consequences with students with ASD be prepared for an escalation in problem behavior. They often internalize punitive consequence and say things such as, "I am a bad boy!" or "Mrs. Smith hates me!" In order to increase positive behaviors for students with ASD, we have to be committed to explicitly teaching expectations, positively reinforcing them when they meet those expectations, and provide supportive consequences when they are unable to meet the expectations to enable them to respond appropriately. Is the hierarchy I suggest foolproof? Of course not. But it may give teachers an alternative way to look at selecting consequences for problem behavior. I would love to hear some other ideas for supportive consequences...

About the Author:

Deb Leach is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. Her passion is working with families, educators, and community groups to help support the successful inclusion of individuals with ASD using principles of ABA and other evidence-based practices. Her focus is on finding ways to bring ABA interventions into the everyday lives of individuals with ASD to increase family, community, and school inclusion and reduce the need for segregated services. She provides training and consultation for educators, schools, school districts, caregivers, and community groups related to supporting individuals with ASD. She can be contacted at leachd33@gmail.com for more information.

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9 Responses to “Beware of the Color Chart”

  1. I cannot stand the color charts! Last year, when my kindy would come out of the class, the first thing she would tell me is what color she ended up on. It was so stressful for her.

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    • It’s October 2013, and I’m experiencing this with my kinder son. He’s suffering everyday with this color chart. And it’s always the first thing he says to me when I pick him up, “I was on yellow (or red) mom but I tried hard to stay on green” and cries for hours. It’s upsetting me so much that I’ve began to fight the school to have this system removed.

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  2. This is such a great breakdown of the PBIS model. I work as a behavioral therapist in schools for children with all types of special needs and it takes awhile for the teachers to fully understand the hierarchy and the appropriate “consequences” involved in dealing with problematic behaviors.

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  3. K said on May 5, 2012

    I am an elementary teacher, and I must admit: I love the color chart. I like that it encourages positive behavior while still keeping track of ALL behavior (not just positive). I also love that students who don’t behave positively have a chance to move back up the chart and redeem themselves before the end of the day. I think it’s a great way for them to prove to themselves that they are not, in fact, “bad.” I emphasize that moves down the color chart are simply mistakes as a result of a bad choice; everyone makes mistakes — even the teacher! — and we must accept our consequence and move on. Students who are upset about moving down the chart are usually told, “Think of this as a challenge. Accept it and rise to it!” and they usually do. In fact, I find that once a child has moved down the clip chart once during the day, he/she works extra hard the rest of the day in order to move back up as far as possible. It’s interesting.

    I must say that I respectfully disagree with your disapproval of the color chart. Have you ever taught 30 kinders for 187 days? I urge you to try a system where negative behavior gets no consequence and see how that works out. While I DO incorporate some of the strategies you suggested above, there comes a point in time where something a little more drastic must take place. I DO think it sends a message to the kids who behave well all the time that negative behavior is accepted if you don’t do anything about it, time after time. I was always the teacher’s pet with star behavior, and I remember thinking it was unfair for certain students to get away with “bad choice” behavior.

    While I would never publicly announce a student moving his clip down the chart or aim to embarrass a student, YES, the clip chart is VISUAL. That’s part of why it works so well. We have got to stop coddling children with the assumption that it’s best for their needs. Not everyone can be a “winner” every single day. There are consequences for every action — both positive and negative. Generations before this were raised much differently and, quite frankly, I think are turning out better than today’s kids. While our management needs to change with the times, I don’t understand why we’re so eager to overprotect the little ones. Life will not protect them when they’re out of school. Their bosses won’t care. The police won’t care. Isn’t coddling like this setting students up for failure after school?

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    • K, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. It sounds like you are using the color chart in the best way it can possibly be used by allowing children to work their way back up. All educators have individual philosophies about teaching and managing problem behavior. If the color chart works for you, and you don’t find that you have one student (or more) that is continually on red (or the worst color) then that is great. In my experience, children with severe problem behaviors do not respond well to the color chart. The public display of humiliation may set them off, and they won’t be eager to improve so they can move their color up. In fact, once their color is moved, they may actually behave worse. I am not suggesting that teachers just let kids engage in problem behavior without any consequences. I listed consequences in the post. More often than not, kids respond well with those consequences and are able to improve their behavior without the need for public humiliation. If the suggested consequences do not work, the child may need an individualized behavior intervention plan to address the function(s) of the problem behavior. I have taught in general education classrooms and used positive classroom management systems which entail public positive reinforcement and private redirection or de-escalation strategies as needed.

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  4. Sue S said on May 7, 2012

    This is such a difficult problem. I am in a self contained k-2 room. The PBIS is something that is carried out with praise for on target tasks, “I like how Emme is sitting”. Or “Nice stay in line E, F and G”. But there are several students who will have behaviors in are disruptive to the group. Our model is, “We encore bad behavior”. The students are asked not to look at or talk to the student acting out. This of course is discussed during morning talk time, what do we do when.”
    .Usually the students behavior increases to gain attention for a few weeks making ecnoring hard. Rewards for doing work are broken up for each assignment. Filling in a square on a chart. We do a group activity with the ones who have filled their charts bi-weekly.

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    • Sue,
      I’m not sure if you were asking a question or not, but I will share something in response to your post: There is much or to PBIS than providing praise for desirable behaviors and having peers ignore inappropriate behaviors. At the very least, Tier 1 interventions should entail ongoing explicit instruction for desired behaviors, positive reinforcement when students meet those expectations, and positive redirection when they do not. For kids who continue to have challenging behaviors, Tier 2 interventions should be initiated which may entail individualized behavior charts, self-monitoring strategies, visual supports, etc. If an individual child still has challenging behaviors, Tier 3 interventions should be initiated which would entail a functional behavior assessment and a behavior intervention plan that addresses environmental modifications, changes to teacher/peer behavior with an emphasis on antecedent interventions, and the teaching of replacement behaviors and/or new skills.

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  5. Schedule in some movement, even if it is just having students stand up at their
    desks and stretch every 10 or 15 minutes.
    One of the biggest reasons for its growing popularity is the flexible scheduling it affords.
    One you get a situation where students are deeply involved in the lesson, the class virtually runs itself.

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