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



February 2017

Tier 2 Interventions & Keystone Behaviors

By Randy Sprick and Randi Saulter

School staff are often faced with helping students whose challenging behaviors prevent success in the classroom. With limited resources, intervention needs to be effective, humane, and also personnel-, time-, and cost-effective. 

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)
In a three-tiered system, we work at three levels to help students with behavioral challenges.  

Click here to learn more about organizing a multi-tiered system of support in Behavioral Response to Intervention: Creating a Continuum of Problem-Solving & Support by Randy Sprick and colleagues.

Tier 2 Behavioral Interventions

While many schools have structures in place for Tiers 1 and 3, Tier 2 interventions are sometimes difficult to organize. Tier 2 interventions, or targeted services, are for those students whose needs aren’t adequately met by the universal prevention efforts of Tier 1. Typically, 10%-15% of students will benefit from additional Tier 2 services.

An important step in developing a Tier 2 intervention is to determine which behaviors should be the focus of initial intervention efforts. Identifying behavioral goals that allow the teacher to see improvements and the student to be successful in the shortest period of time is essential. 

Identifying Behavioral Goals

Knorr, Jenson, and Lopach (2017) recommend targeting behaviors that can affect and improve other related behaviors. These authors view problem behaviors like the stones in an arch. The middle stone, or keystone, holds the arch together. Similarly, certain keystone problem behaviors are interconnected with other problem behaviors. If you remove the keystone, the whole arch falls apart. If we can effectively reduce problematic keystone behaviors, other interconnected problem behaviors automatically fall away.


On-task is a keystone behavior. The average student in a general education classroom is on task approximately 85% of the time. Students with significant off-task problem behaviors are on task approximately 50% of the time (Rhode, Jenson, & Reavis, 2010). If we improve the on-task behavior of these students from 50% to 85% with an intervention, we get an improvement in learning and attending. As a bonus, we also frequently get automatic improvement in other problematic classroom behaviors, such as talking out, out of seat, and bothering other students.

Following Directions

Following directions is another example of a keystone behavior. Noncompliance is often interconnected with a student’s arguing, disrespectful behavior, and rule breaking. If an intervention improves a student’s ability to follow directions, noncompliance decreases, accompanied by an automatic reduction in arguing, disrespect, and rule breaking.

Some Suggestions

The Tough Kid On-Task in a Box is a program for kids who lack concentration, are unfocused, or are focused on anything but instruction. The Tough Kid On-Task in a Box is an evidence-based Tier 2 intervention that employs video peer modeling and self-monitoring.

The Tough Kid Electronic Home Notes uses the Google platform to help teachers and behavioral interventionists design custom home notes. Instead of a student carrying home a paper note, the electronic home note is emailed directly home– with nothing to get “misplaced” or altered before arriving home. The Tough Kid Electronic Home Notes includes a system for automatic data compilation as well as a highly motivating and customizable reinforcement component.

View the on-demand recording of Bill Jenson's webinar: Tough Kid Tier 2 Interventions: On-Task in a Box and Electronic Home Notes.


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