Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

Fall 2010

Hey, Look at Me!

By Randy Sprick

It's October and your class is running fairly smoothly, except for one or two students—Johnny in the back row launches into Blue (Da Ba De) by Eiffel 65 every time you turn your back, and Jeanette by the window chronically argues whenever you give a direction or assignment.

What's going on? Could these students be engaging in attention-seeking misbehavior?

Attention-seeking misbehaviors are behaviors that a student engages in to satisfy his or her (often unconscious) need for attention. Chronic blurting out, excessive helplessness, tattling, and minor disruptions are examples of behaviors that may be attention-seeking in nature. When a student is seeking attention, any intervention effort that gives the student attention when he is misbehaving is likely to reinforce the inappropriate behavior.

Attention-seeking misbehaviors are cyclical and feed off of each other.

Image of the attention-seeking cyle: I misbehave, therefore I get attention; I want attention, therefore I misbehave.

It's time to break the cycle before misbehavior escalates any further.

Increasing Positive Interactions

Increasing positive interactions may be effective with any chronic misbehavior or problem with self-concept. Any time the function of a student's behavior is attention-seeking, this intervention is especially useful.

You can teach a child who fishes for attention through misbehavior how to get adult attention through responsible behavior. This can be done by demonstrating that responsible behavior results in more attention than misbehavior. Though the idea behind increasing positive interactions is deceptively simple, in practice it is among the most powerful intervention for changing student behavior.

By reducing the frequency, duration, and intensity of the attention you pay to students' misbehavior and focusing more of your time and attention on responsible behaviors, you can rebalance your ratio of interactions. The ratio of interactions is the number of positive interactions with a student to the number of negative interactions. Your goal is to make the ratio primarily positive. Redirecting a student's ingrained pattern of behavior through increased positive interactions requires patience and consistency on your part, but the results are worth your effort. Outcomes may include markedly improved student behavior and self-esteem, students who feel valued and hence more motivated, and an increase in instructional time vs. time spent on correction.

Follow these implementation steps:

Step 1: Plan more positive interactions.

  1. Review the problem and overall goal for the student.
  2. Self-assess or have an observer monitor your ratio of interactions.
    1. Set up an observation by an interventionist.
    2. Conduct the observation.
    3. Analyze interactions.
  3. Decide how you will respond to misbehavior.
    1. Brainstorm negative behaviors.
    2. Categorize the behaviors.
    3. Decide whether to ignore the misbehavior or impose a consequence.
  4. Develop a plan to increase positive interactions.
    1. Brainstorm a list of noncontingent positive interactions.
    2. Plan to provide contingent positive feedback.
    3. Plan to conference informally with the student regarding progress.
    4. Involve other staff members in interacting positively with this student.
  5. Continue to collect objective data to determine whether the intervention is helping the studentís behavior improve.
  6. Determine who will meet with the student to discuss and finalize the plan.

Step 2: Meet with the student.

  1. Help the student identify and rehearse the specific actions that will help him or her reach the goal.
  2. Discuss the plan for ignoring some misbehaviors and providing consequences for others.
  3. Review ways you and the student can engage in positive interactions.
  4. Set up a time to meet regularly with the student to discuss progress.
  5. Review the roles and responsibilities of all participants at the meeting.
  6. Conclude the meeting with words of encouragement.

Step 3: Follow the plan.

  1. Evaluate the impact of the intervention, making revisions and adjustments as necessary.
  2. When the student demonstrates consistent success, fade the intervention.
  3. Once the intervention has been faded, provide continued support, followup, and encouragement.

Teaching students to behave responsibly by increasing your ratio of positive to negative interactions seems almost too simple to be more than wishful thinking. But it works, and a mountain of evidence and research literature back it up. This is a powerful intervention that is a useful part of all classroom management and intervention plans.

Improving your ratio of positive to negative interactions with one student or a whole class teaches students that they can get attention through responsible behavior. As their pride in responsibility grows, small successes will beget new success.

Excerpts from CHAMPS: A Proactive and Positive Approach to Classroom Management and Interventions: Evidence-Based Behavioral Strategies for Individual Students.