ERIC Identifier: ED469279
Publication Date: 2002-08-00
Author: Smith, Stephen W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA. ERIC/OSEP Special Project.
Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques to Social Skills
Instruction. ERIC/OSEP Digest.
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.
interventions (CBI) can be a viable approach for teachers to re-mediate
behavioral deficits and excesses by providing students with the tools necessary
to control their own behavior. CBIs involve teaching the use of inner speech
("self-talk") to modify underlying cognition's that affect overt behavior
(Mahoney, 1974; Meichenbaum, 1977). Since theorists consider the internalization
of self-statements fundamental to developing self-control, deficient or
maladaptive self-statements are viewed as contributing to negative beliefs about
oneself, which can contribute significantly to childhood behavior problems,
including aggression. Kendall (1993) noted that cognitive-behavioral techniques
for the remediation of social deficits can incorporate cognitive, behavioral,
emotive, and developmental strategies, using rewards, modeling, role-plays, and
self-evaluation. As such, a student's cognition about social situations
encountered throughout the school day can be examined and modified through
verbal self-regulation (i.e., using self-talk to guide problem solving or some
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.
RESEARCH ON COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS
There is an
emerging research base on CBIs. Cognitive-behavioral strategies have ameliorated
social deficits, including aggression and disruption (cf. Etscheidt, 1991;
Smith, Siegel, O'Connor, & Thomas, 1994). More recent studies of the
characteristics of aggressive children and the effects of CBIs indicate that
teaching students cognitive strategies can decrease hyperactivity/impulsivity
and disruption/aggression and strengthen pro-social behavior (see Conduct
Problems Prevention Research Group (CPPRG),1999; Robinson, Smith, Miller, & Brownell, 1999).
AN EXAMPLE OF A CBI
In 1991, Susan Etscheidt wanted to know
if a specific CBI could decrease the aggressive behaviors of students with EBD
as compared to students who did not receive the instruction. She also wanted to
determine if the addition of a positive consequence (e.g., listening to music at
the end of class) would further enhance the effectiveness of the CBI.
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
In Etscheidt's program, students used the following sequential strategy when
approaching a problem situation:
Stop and think before acting. Students are taught to restrain aggressive
responses through the use of covert speech.
Identify the problem. The students are required to distinguish the specific
aspects of a problematic situation that may elicit an aggressive response.
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
Evaluate the consequences of possible solutions. Students assessed the benefits
of each possible solution.
Select and implement a solution. The students carried out the selected
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.
Researchers at the University of Florida
are studying the effects of a CBI, the Tools for Getting Along: Teaching
Students to Problem Solve curriculum, on 4th and 5th grade students who exhibit
behavioral problems. It has been found that the curriculum can help students
reduce their aggression and classroom disruption and the effects can be
maintained. The curriculum was designed to help students learn to find positive
solutions to social problems. The curriculum was designed using a
problem-solving framework focused on understanding and dealing with frustration
and anger, since anger is a frequent correlate of disruptive and aggressive
behavior and can be preceded by frustration. The lessons include anger
management and problem-solving concepts similar to Etscheidt's program in which
students use a sequential strategy when approaching a problem situation. Also
included are direct instruction, modeling, guided practice, and independent
practice for skill development, along with opportunities for skill
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
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.
Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group.
(1999). Initial impact of the Fast Track prevention trial for conduct problems:
I. The high-risk sample. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67,
Etscheidt, S. (1991). Reducing aggressive behavior and increasing self
control. A cognitive-behavioral training program for behaviorally disordered
adolescents. Behavioral Disorders, 16, 107-115.
Harris, K. R., & Pressley, M. (1991). The nature of cognitive strategy
instruction: Interactive strategy construction. Exceptional Children, 57,
Kendall, P. C. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral therapies with youth: Guiding
theory, current status, and emerging developments. Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology, 61, 235-247.
Lochman, J. E., Nelson, W. M., & Sims, J. P. (1981). A
cognitive-behavioral program for use with aggressive children. Journal of
Clinical Child Psychology, 10, 146-148.
Mahoney, M. J. (1974). Cognitive and behavior modification. Cambridge, MA:
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.
Robinson, T. R., Smith, S. W., Miller, M. D., & Brownell, M. T. (1999).
Cognitive behavior modification of hyperactivity/impulsivity and aggression: A
meta-analysis of school-based studies. Journal of Educational Psychology,
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.