For any teacher, managing student behavior in the classroom can be difficult and complex, but when successful, teachers may find behavior management professionally rewarding. Often, however, managing student behavior is personally involving and professionally frustrating. Students of all ages will sometimes engage in behavior that includes disrespect for authority, hyperactivity and inattention, lack of self-control, and sometimes aggression. Behavioral excesses and deficits detract from learning opportunities and preclude positive peer relationships. Despite the best efforts, teachers and school administrators are continuously looking for behavior management programs that can be implemented school-wide for all students along with specific interventions that can help those students who need more attention.
CBI incorporates behavior therapy (e.g., modeling, feedback, reinforcement) and cognitive mediation (e.g., think-aloud) to build what can be called a new "coping template." For example, not hitting or pushing a peer when teased can be mediated by inner speech such as "That makes me mad, but first I need to calm down and think about this." The fundamental assumption of a CBI is that overt behavior (e.g., hitting or pushing a peer when teased) is mediated by cognitive events (e.g., "I'm going to let him have it") and that individuals can influence cognitive events to change behavior. Cognitive strategies incorporate a "how-to-think" framework for students to use when modifying behavior rather than any explicit "what-to-think" instruction from a teacher. Most important is that CBIs are student-operated systems, thus allowing students to generalize their newly learned behavior much more than teacher-operated systems that rely on external reward and punishment procedures (Harris & Pressley, 1991).
Adult or expert modeling is considered basic to the cognitive-behavioral perspective. Meichenbaum & Goodman's (1971) seminal study compared the effects of modeling alone with the effects of modeling and self-instructional training, a type of CBI, on decreasing impulsive behavior. The results supported the superiority of a combined approach. Thus, it is important for teachers to model the behavioral and, especially, the cognitive skills they are teaching. For example, teachers can "think out loud" as they talk about how they might handle their own anger ("What she just said makes me really angry, but I won't say anything now. I'll talk to her later"), evaluate the outcome ("I'm glad I didn't say anything. It turned out to be just a misunderstanding"), and learn from experience. A teacher's explanation of the cognitive strategies they use and their metacognitive awareness of those strategies (i.e., thinking about their thinking) serve as a powerful model for students to emulate.
Etscheidt's program components were adapted from the Lochman, Nelson, and Sims (1981) Anger Coping Program, which provides students with a way to change aggressive responses into appropriate alternatives by modifying their thinking processes regarding the circumstances surrounding certain situations. The instruction also assists students in developing, evaluating, and selecting appropriate alternative responses. Etscheidt's goals included increasing self-awareness; identifying a student's reaction to peer influences; providing avenues to identify problem situations; and using problem-solving techniques to identify, evaluate, and select alternative solutions for a specific social situation.
In Etscheidt's program, students used the following sequential strategy when approaching a problem situation:
1. Stop and think before acting. Students are taught to restrain aggressive responses through the use of covert speech.
2. Identify the problem. The students are required to distinguish the specific aspects of a problematic situation that may elicit an aggressive response.
3. Develop alternative solutions. Students generate at least two alternative solutions to a problematic situation, either thinking about something else until able to relax and/or moving to another location in the room to avoid further provocation.
4. Evaluate the consequences of possible solutions. Students assessed the benefits of each possible solution.
5. Select and implement a solution. The students carried out the selected alternative.
Etscheidt employed three comparison groups. The first group received the CBI, the second group received the CBI and the positive consequence, and the third group (control) received neither the CBI nor the positive consequence.
The results indicated that the two groups who received the CBI demonstrated more self-control than the control group students. In fact, the students in the control group exhibited significantly more aggressive behaviors than those who received the training. Finally, Etscheidt found that the addition of a positive consequence did not significantly increase the effectiveness of the CBI.
Teachers who use Tools for Getting Along help students develop self-management of behavior through the purposeful manipulation of overt speech and eventually, the use of covert verbalizations. The use of paired or small-group learning, opportunities to enhance generalization by having students solve real life problems, and a self-monitored point system to reward participation are also encouraged. For example, a "Tool Kit" provides students with cumulative review, practice, and periodic opportunities to relate learned concepts to their experiences at home or school. Teachers instruct students to self-assign points for completing the Tool Kit and participating appropriately in class.
Formal lessons range from 30-40 minutes and are taught 2-3 times per week. Following an overview of the general, step-by-step problem-solving approach in Lesson One, three lessons are devoted to problem recognition, a necessary first step in any problem-solving skill sequence. In the curriculum, problem recognition includes recognizing anger in oneself and others and understanding how anger and frustration can create and/or exacerbate problems. Lessons Five and Six detail step two strategies to prevent the escalation of frustration and anger and to engage students' cognition (i.e., "calm down and think"). The remaining lessons cover the steps of problem definition, solution generation, strategy selection, and outcome evaluation. A total of 20 lessons cover the 6 problem-solving steps. Each lesson begins with a cumulative review and ends with an opportunity to practice learned skills.
There is a need for innovative methods to teach children to control their own behavior especially when adults are not around to monitor their activities. As teachers continue to teach in diverse classrooms, behavior management will always be a significant part of the school day. Cognitive-behavioral interventions can be used by teachers to provide students with methods to successfully control their own behavior. CBI may offer a viable method for assisting students to become more independent, thus creating better learning environments with higher levels of safety.
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Harris, K. R., & Pressley, M. (1991). The nature of cognitive strategy instruction: Interactive strategy construction. Exceptional Children, 57, 392-404.
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Mahoney, M. J. (1974). Cognitive and behavior modification. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
Meichenbaum, D. H. (1977). Cognitive-behavior modification: An integrative approach. New York: Plenum Press.
Meichenbaum, D. H., & Goodman, J. (1971). Training impulsive children to talk to themselves: A means of developing self-control. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 77, 115-126.
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Smith, S. W., Siegel, E. M., O'Connor, A. M., & Thomas, S. B. (1994). Effects of cognitive-behavioral training on aggressive acts and anger behavior of three elementary-aged students. Behavioral Disorders, 19, 126-135.