Students arrive at school often with more baggage than contained in the backpack. Feelings of worthlessness, low-self concept, inadequate coping mechanisms necessary to engage in socially appropriate ways; and being ill equipped to handle authority may lurk in the recess of the students mind.
Students arrive at school often with more baggage than contained in the backpack. Feelings of worthlessness, low-self concept, inadequate coping mechanisms necessary to engage in socially appropriate ways; and being ill equipped to handle authority may lurk in the recess of the students mind. Carrying such a heavy load may well cause the student to react socially inappropriately by acting out, refusing to follow the rules, becoming violent or withdrawing (Yell, Meadows, Drasgow, & Shriner, 2009). Students exhibiting such behaviors may be labeled emotionally behaviorally disordered (EBD) and require interventions for remediation. Under current federal law schools must use models with proven methods of successful outcomes (Department of Education, 2004). The cognitive behavioral approach (CBA) is one such proven model that provides procedures for intervention plans (Yell, et al., 2009). This paper serves to inform the reader regarding the procedures used in the CBA model as well as the components of cognitive behavioral intervention (CBI) and the interrelationship between thoughts; emotions and behaviors. Understanding the influence one component has on the others, the effectiveness and limitation of CBA and the value of social skill training will be included. Finally, important considerations for developing curriculum, approaches and assessments will be revealed.
The responsibility of schools is to educate children so they may be valued members in society equipped to work, recreate and contribute to society. When children attend school with a load of emotional stressors or lack of skills necessary to work and play well with others, he or she may need CBI to assist or change the way difficult situations are handled, and to promote a healthy learning environment. CBI’s primary goal is to teach students how to manage their academic and nonacademic behaviors (Yell, et al., 2009). Self-instruction (or management) and verbal mediation are two procedures used in CBI to control behavior. Self-management interventions teach the student how to observe record and reinforce their own behavior. Three components to self-management interventions are self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self reinforcement. Self-monitoring has been used to successfully improve social skills behaviors using two facets; first being aware of the behavior and then being able to record data on the behavior. By forcing the student to monitor their own behavior, student awareness around social skill issues increase and targeted behaviors are reduced (2009). Self-evaluation requires the student to compare his or her behaviors against a standard. Self-monitoring as prerequisite for this strategy and students must be taught how to “(a) compare the behaviors they monitored to a preset criterion, and (b) evaluate their performance” (p.152).Initially the teacher and student set daily goals and systematic reinforcement is implemented with fading by the teacher as the student becomes accurate and independent in self evaluation. Self-reinforcement is a traditional behavior modification program whereby the students gets a preferred object, privilege or some form of positive reinforcement as the student behavior improves. Teacher involvement should fade out as student achievement increases and the student becomes more able to manage his or her behaviors (2009). The operative word through the self-management interventions is self. Students learning how to recognize analyze and change behaviors themselves under the guidance or facilitation of educational professionals. Verbal Mediation is another technique empowering the student to change behavior.
Verbal mediation–based interventions are basically positive self-talk phrases students are taught to overcome the negative deficient or maladaptive self- statements (2009) ruminating in his or her head. According to Yell et al. (2009) verbal –mediation based approaches include self-instructional training in which students are taught verbal prompts to help them make choices that affect non verbal behavior, problem-solving training which teaches the student to recognize, define, generate alternative solutions, evaluate those solutions and implement a plan to work through the conflict; anger-control training where students are taught how to give themselves self-instructions to facilitate the use of anger control procedures; and finally, the student monitors the solution to ensure quality results (2009).
Monitoring behaviors for students with EBD is a complex and often difficult process. Emotions, thoughts and behaviors are components of the student’s personality that have been developed and nurtured in some form from inception. Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) zeros in on the cognitive and affective domains in order to teach students how to better manage thoughts, feelings and consequently behaviors. Yell et al. (2009) outline the how these attributes interrelate and influence each other. Often students think in the present and react rather than think through a difficult situation. In REBT the student is taught that his or her behavior is somewhat hinged on a culmination of environmental experiences that have lead to the present circumstance. Personal problems are the result of perceptions that have evolved from the thinking, feeling, and behaving that individuals have experienced throughout their lives “(p.148). Furthermore, individuals cannot control events, people will always have personal problems and the problem is not the event itself but rather the students perception of the event that contributes to the student feeling, emotions the by product of which is behavior. Sometimes the environmental or biological factors have influenced the student over time in ways that have reinforced harmful or dysfunctional thinking and cognitive distortions. This may result in irrational and exaggerated thinking on the part of the student leading to a belief that his or her life is ruined due to a crisis. Although irrational thinking promotes harmful emotions and dysfunctional behaviors the cause of the irrational thinking lies in the student adhering to a “set of rigid and absolute beliefs” (p. 148). REBT proponents believe students can change thinking and thought processes to be able to see life’s challenges as manageable and gain improved quality of life (2009). Additionally, social skills training is an adjunct means designed to assist students with maladaptive behaviors to “interact effectively with others and avoid or escape socially unacceptable behaviors exhibited by others” (p.156).
Social skills instruction does not enjoy a stellar track record for improving student social skills across domains. Several reasons have been reported with results describing an overall lack of understanding that curriculum must be relevant and meaningful to the student, that students may learn a skill but not be able to perform or generalize that skill across domains, social skill trainings typically were taught in isolated settings rather than with a comprehensive approach, many curricula were designed for a targeted population of students, but were delivered to the total EBD population with less than effective outcomes; and at times the targeted goals were selected inappropriately and did not serve the needs of the student which was to replace maladaptive behaviors with socially appropriate adaptive behaviors (2009). Although the limitations of afore mentioned social skills training may seem bleak and worrisome toward helping this population of struggling students much has been learned. Programs with curriculum aligned to meet the needs of these students now exist providing socially valid outcomes. Best practice criteria for students with EBD encourage social skills training to incorporate a comprehensive approach including: “(1) social skills assessments; (2) assumptions of social skills instruction; (3) structured learning approach; (4) teaching of pre-social skills; (5) social skills strategy instruction; (6) published social skills curricula” (p. 157). Completing Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is the first step in generating a social skills training program for the student (Wheeler & Richey, 2010). The FBA consists of gathering information or data concerning the behavior needing attention. This can be done by structured interview or using a behavior rating scale. Next the teacher or other educational professionals will conduct behavioral observations looking for antecedents and consequences that are influencing behaviors as well as identifying any behavior patterns that have developed. Once this information has been accumulated across domains and carefully reviewed, the teacher will form a hypotheses related to the functions(s) of the behavior which may include a functional analysis with the aim of confirming the function of the behavior.
Principles guiding the effective teaching of social skills require a direct, structured approach to teaching (CITEd research center, www.cited.org. 5/10.11). Maintaining a balance between structure and activity in a classroom can be challenging for the teacher when planning for and implementing social skills training. The Center for Development and Learning (CDL) offers a Best Practices list for the classroom teacher. The list invites teachers to check off his or her strengths, identifying five strengths and 5 weaknesses, and creating a plan to improve on his or her weak areas. The ten categories on the list include “classroom management, physical facilities, student voice and involvement, activities and assignments, language and communication, time allocations; time allocations are balanced between teacher-directed and student–directed work, subject specific lessons individual and small group” (p.1) intensive subject exploration; student work and assessment, teacher attitude and initiative toward students and toward self (n.d.). Armed with self directed knowledge about his or her own classroom management strong points and those targeted for improvement, the teacher is prepared to meet the challenges ahead. As there is not always the perfect program or curricula for each student, the teacher must teach to the student relying on relevant, contextual teaching strategies, using language that is meaningful to the student and cooperative learning opportunities (Yell et al. 2009).
Every day students walk through the doors of the school building and into the classroom a backpack slung over their shoulder. In front of the class stands a teacher willing and wanting to impart knowledge designed to assist the students in learning life’s lessons. The effective, intelligent and professional teacher is girded with the best curricula and the most winning attitude toward the individual potential of each and every student. Ready to tackle what ever is hiding or falling out of that backpack.