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How to Manage Disruptive Behavior in Inclusive Classrooms

by Vera I. Daniels

The Same or Different Disciplinary Strategies?

Generally, classroom teachers can use the same disciplinary

practices to manage the disruptive behavior of students with disabilities
that they use to manage the behavior of students without disabilities.
Much of the undesirable behavior exhibited by both groups is similar in
nature. The differences, however, may originate in the teacher's selection of







interventions for students with disabilities, teachers should ensure that

the strategies are developmentally appropriate and take into consideration
the student's disability and due process rights. Here are 10 questions that
may help you diagnostically analyze situations that foster disruptive
behavior in students with disabilities. These discussions may provide








Question 1. Could this misbehavior be a result of inappropriate

curriculum or teaching strategies?

Inappropriate curriculum and teaching strategies can contribute to

student misbehavior but not all misbehavior is attributable to these
factors. Some misbehavior may arise as a function of the teacher's inability
to meet the diverse needs of all students. Consider these factors:

Group size.

Group composition.

Limited planning time.

Cultural and linguistic barriers.

Lack of access to equipment, materials, and resources.

If the misbehavior evolves as a result of inappropriate curriculum or

teaching strategies, redress the content and skill level components of your
curriculum, its futuristic benefit for the student, and the formats you use
in instructional delivery. When you identify the instructional needs of

students within the context of the classroom, using a diagnostic

prescriptive approach, and make curricular adaptations both in content
and instructional delivery, you can greatly reduce the occurrence of student

Question 2. Could this misbehavior be a result of the student's

inability to understand the concepts being taught?

When there is a mismatch between teaching style and the learning









misbehavior may also result when students refuse to learn concepts

because they are unable to see the relationship between the skills being
taught and how these skills transcend to the context of the larger
environment. In these situations, you should employ strategies and
tactics that show students how component skills have meaning in the
classroom and in the community. If you find that the cause of the
inappropriate behavior is related to the student's lack of prerequisite
skills or abilities to acquire concepts, you can use a simple procedure
known as task analysis. By using this procedure, you can pinpoint
specific functional levels of students on targeted skills and provide
sequential instructional programs that will move the student with

disabilities toward mastery of a targeted goal at a pace appropriate for the






Question 3. Could this misbehavior be an underlying result of the

student's disability?

Some disruptive behavior may be a result of the student's







behavior may result from deliberate actions taken by the student to cause
classroom disruption. Determining the underlying cause of a student's
disruptive behavior involves a careful analysis of the behavior, as follows:

Try to clarify what kinds of behavior are causing concern.

Specify what is wrong with that behavior.

Decide what action should be taken to address the behavior.

-Specify what behavior you desire from the student.







circumstances that contribute to the problem behavior (Charles, 1996).



You should analyze the disruptive behavior and render a

professional judgment as to its cause. Redl and Wattenberg (cited in
Charles, 1996) suggested that teachers employ a procedure of "diagnostic
thinking" when faced with incidents of student misbehavior. These
procedures include forming a first hunch, gathering facts, exploring
hidden factors, taking action, and remaining flexible. While such a task is
not easy, having a knowledge base of the general characteristics (e.g.,
academic, behavioral, social/emotional, learning, physical) of students
with disabilities and the associated etiologies (causes) can be helpful.
Question 4. Could this misbehavior be a result of other factors?

Many aspects of classroom life may contribute to students'

misbehavior: the physical arrangement of the classroom, boredom or
frustration, transitional periods, lack of awareness of what is going on in
every area of the classroom. Remember, however, that classroom climate
and physical arrangements can also encourage desirable behavior. You
should regularly assess your teaching and learning environment for
conditions or procedures that perpetuate or encourage misbehavior.
Because inappropriate behavioral manifestations of students can also stem
from certain types of teaching behavior, teachers need to become more
cognizant of the kinds of behavior they emit and the relationship between

their teaching behavior and the resultant behavior of students. Examine

your instruction and interactions with students in ongoing classroom life,
as follows:

The development of relevant, interesting, and appropriate curriculums.

The manner in which you give recognition and understanding of each

student as an individual with his or her unique set of characteristics and

Your own behavior as a teacher, and characteristics such as those

identified by Kounin (1970 withitness, overlapping that reduce
misbehavior, increase instructional time, and maintain group focus and
movement management of students.

Question 5. Are there causes of misbehavior that I can control?

As a teacher, you can control many variables to thwart undesirable

behavior. You may modify or change your curriculum; make adaptations in
instruction to address multiple intelligences; and make changes in your
communication style, attitude toward students with disabilities, and
expectations of these students. Analyze how much positive feedback you

give students. If you find that you use limited feedback (encouragement or
praise), which accentuates positive behavior of students (and also
communicates respect and promotes self-esteem and self-confidence), you
may be contributing to behavior problems. Feedback (both verbal and
nonverbal) is an important factor in the learning paradigm that is too often
neglected, overlooked, or haphazardly orated.

Question 6. How do I determine if the misbehavior is classroom


This is a difficult question. Conducting a self-evaluation of teaching

style and instructional practices as in the previous questions may
provide some insight into whether the behavior is related to the disability
or is classroom based. You may find a classroom ecological inventory
(Fuchs, Fernstrom, Scott, Fuchs, & Vandermeer, 1994) helpful in







classroom ecological inventory could help you assess salient features of

the learning environment of your school or classroom. In such analysis,
you can gather specific information about the student, the behavior, and
the environmental conditions and settings associated with the behavior

(Evans, Evans, & Gable, 1989). By taking into account the learning
ecology, you can be more decisive and selective in your use of resources for
managing student behavior and, at the same time, obtain a more accurate
and complete picture of a particular student for developing a more
appropriate and comprehensive behavior-change program. Classroom
ecological inventories can be useful for collecting information about a wide
range of events, variables, and conditions that can influence and affect a
student's behavior. Conducting a functional analysis or functional
assessment can also be useful in examining cause-effect relationships of
students' behavior. Functional assessments can also help you address
serious problem behavior displayed by "target" students. These analyses
examine the circumstances or functional relationships between, or
surrounding, the occurrence or nonoccurence of the challenging behavior.
The assessments can help you identify variables and events that are
consistently present in those situations (Dunlap et al., 1993; FosterJohnson & Dunlap, 1993). You may identify events, variables, and
circumstances that contribute to the problem. In addition, you may devise
a comprehensive, individualized approach to designing interventions
logically related to the target behavior and, in the process, better meet
the student's specific needs.


Question 7. How do I teach students to self-regulate or self-manage

You can teach students to self-regulate or self-manage their behavior by
teaching them to use the skills of self-management:

Self-instruction, self-recording, or self-monitoring.

Self-reinforcement, self-evaluation, and self-punishment.

Multiple-component treatment packages (Carter, 1993; Hughes, Ruhl, &

Peterson, 1988; Rosenbaum & Drabman, 1979).

Many studies (e.g., McCarl, Svobodny, & Beare, 1991; Nelson, Smith,
Young, & Dodd, 1991; Prater, Joy, Chilman, Temple, & Miller, 1991)
focusing on self-management techniques have shown the effectiveness of







productivity. These studies included students from many different

populations, ranging from average achievers to students with mild,
moderate, and severe disabilities. Teachers have found many advantages
in using self-monitoring procedures: These procedures improve target
behavior, stress the student's role in behavior change, allow generalization


to non-school environments, free teachers for other tasks, and teach

students responsibility and self-determination (Frith & Armstrong, 1986).
Furthermore, these procedures are relatively simple to implement; they
quickly reach a point in which little supervision is required; and, they
help students become more successful and independent in their
classroom and in everyday life (Dunlap, Dunlap, Koegel, & Koegel, 1991).
Of course, teaching students self-management skills should not be
regarded as a substitute for a high-quality curriculum of instruction
(Dunlap et al., 1991) that emphasizes academic and social learning skills.
Here are some steps for teaching self-management skills:

Defining the target behavior.

Defining the desired behavior.

Developing the data-collection system.

Teaching the students how to use the self-management system.

Implementing the system.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the system (Carter, 1993).


Additional steps may include identifying functional reinforcers and fading

use of the self-monitoring procedure (Dunlap et al., 1991).

Question 8. How do I determine what methods of control are

appropriate without violating the rights of students with disabilities
mandated under P.L. 105-17?

Determining which behavior-reduction methods to use with students with

disabilities is not as difficult as you may think. As mentioned previously, the
behavioral interventions typically used with students without disabilities
can also be used with students with disabilities with a few exceptions. Yell
and Shriner (1997) provided a comprehensive account of major issues
effecting the discipline of students with disabilities addressed in Section 615
K of P.L. 105-17 (the IDEA Amendments of 1997):

Disciplinary procedures.

Behavior-intervention plans.

Manifestation determination. "Manifestation determination" refers to a

review process (conducted by the student's IEP team and other qualified
personnel) to determine the relationship between a student's disability
and misconduct. This review process is conducted when school officials

seek a change of placement, suspension, or expulsion for more than 10

school days.

Interim, alternative educational settings.

The "stay put" provision.

IDEA protection for students not yet eligible for special education.

Referral to law enforcement and judicial authorities. When applying

behavior-reduction techniques, use a common sense approach and be
reasonable in your application.

Regardless of the behavioral infraction, before you discipline any student

with disabilities, you should talk to administrative officials (e.g.,
principal, special education supervisors, school attorney) about the
rules, policies, regulations, and procedural safeguards outlined in the
IDEA Amendments of 1997 that govern the discipline of students with

Question 9. How do I use reinforcement strategies to reduce disruptive



Teachers can use many types of reinforcers to teach desirable behavior.

Madsen and Madsen (1983) identified five categories of responses available
for teaching desired behavior: the use of words, physical expressions,
physical closeness, activities, and things used as rewards or positive
feedback (see box, "Positive Feedback"). Remember that the effectiveness of
such reinforcers is contingent on continuous, systematic use across time.
Also, consider the appropriateness of each response for your individual
students. Other reinforcement-based intervention strategies may also be
effective: differential reinforcement of low rates of responding (DRL);
differential reinforcement of other behavior(s) (DRO), also referred to as
differential reinforcement of zero responding; differential reinforcement of
incompatible behavior (DRI); and differential reinforcement of alternative
behavior(s) (DRA). Many teachers have found such strategies effective in
developing alternative response behavior to inappropriate, disruptive, or
undesirable behavior. Even though these procedural alternatives use a
positive (reinforcement) approach to behavior reduction, teachers have found
both advantages and disadvantages in the use of such procedures. In
deciding whether to use differential reinforcement procedures, you should
review the works of Alberto and Troutman (1995) and Schloss and Smith


Question 10. Is it appropriate for me to use punishment?








procedure, has been used and abused with students with disabilities
(Braaten, Simpson, Rosell, & Reilly, 1988). Because of its abuse, the use of
punishment as a behavioral change procedure continues to raise a number
of concerns regarding legal and ethical ramifications. Although punishment
is effective in suppressing unacceptable behavior, it does have some

The reduction in disruptive behavior may not be pervasive across all


The effect may not be persistent over an extended period of time.

The learner may not acquire skills that replace the disruptive behavior
(Schloss, 1987).

A decision regarding the use of punishment as a behavior reduction










punishment-based interventions should be eliminated, whereas others favor

a variety of behavior-control procedures, including punishers (Braaten et al.,

1988; Cuenin & Harris, 1986). Inasmuch as the use of punishers inhibit,
reduce, or control the future occurrence of an unacceptable behavior, the
effects of punishers are limited. By itself, punishment will not teach
desirable behavior or reduce the desire of misbehavior (Larrivee, 1992).
Whereas the use of punishment remains a matter of individual choice,
currently used punishers by classroom teachers include the following:

Response cost.

Time out.


Contingent exercise.

Aversive conditioning (Braaten et al., 1988; Cuenin & Harris, 1986).

Questions such as whether, when, or if you might use punishment will

always be tainted with controversy. Whatever decision you make, keep the
following cautions in mind:

Punishment should be used discriminately, rather than routinely.

It should be combined with positive procedures.


Punishment should be used only in response to repeated misbehavior for

students who persist in the same kinds of misbehavior.

It should be employed consciously and deliberately as a part of a planned

response to repeated misbehavior.

Punishment should be used only when students are not responsive to

reward-based interventions or praise/ignore strategies (Larrivee, 1992).

Punishment should be used only as a "treatment of last resort" (Larrivee),

and only after you have taken appropriate steps to ensure that the due
process rights of students will not be violated and that the procedures
will not cause psychological or emotional harm to the student.

Final Thoughts

There is no "one plan fits all" for determining how teachers should respond
to the disruptive behavior of students with disabilities in inclusion settings.
An initial starting point would include establishing classroom rules, defining
classroom limits, setting expectations, clarifying responsibilities, and
developing a meaningful and functional curriculum in which all students
can receive learning experiences that can be differentiated, individualized,
and integrated. Many publications describe effective classroom-based

disciplinary strategies (Carter, 1993; Schloss, 1987), but few (Ayres & Meyer,
1992; Carpenter & McKee-Higgins, 1996; Meyer & Henry, 1993; Murdick &






strategies for students with disabilities in inclusion settings. Classroom

teachers can use a variety of strategies to discipline students with
disabilities in inclusion settings. The approaches most likely to be
successful combine humanistic and cognitive behavioral attributes and take
into consideration the teacher's diagnostic-reflective thinking and choicemaking skills regarding the following:

Student's behavior.

Student's disability.


Instructional program.

Classroom environment.

Due process rights.

In formulating a discipline plan, teachers must first clarify personal

values in terms of acceptable and unacceptable classroom behavior. By

setting classroom rules, defining limits, clarifying responsibilities, and

developing a meaningful and functional curriculum, teachers can begin to
build a system of discipline that will accentuate the positive behavior of
all students. Finally, classroom teachers should contact appropriate
administrators and seek information on administrative policies, rules, and
regulations governing disciplinary practices for students with disabilities.

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ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Ayers, B., & Meyer, L. H. (1992). Helping teachers manage the inclusive classroom:
Staff development and teaming star among management strategies. The School
Administrator, 49(2), 30-37.
Braaten, S., Simpson, R., Rosell, J., & Reilly, T. (1988). Using punishment with
exceptional children: A dilemma for educators. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 20(2),
Carpenter, S. L., & McKee-Higgins, E. (1996). Behavior management in inclusive
classrooms. Remedial and Special Education, 17(4), 195-203.
Carter, J. F. (1993). Self-management: Education's ultimate goal. TEACHING
Exceptional Children, 25(3), 28-32.
Charles, C. M. (1996). Building classroom discipline (5th ed.). New York: Longman.
Cuenin, L. H., & Harris, K. R. (1986). Planning, implementing, and evaluating timeout
interventions with exceptional students. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 18(4), 272276.
Dunlap, L. K., Dunlap, G., Koegel, L. K., & Koegel, R. L. (1991). Using selfmonitoring to increase independence. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 23(3), 17-22.


Dunlap, G., Kern, L., dePerczel, M., Clarke, S., Wilson, D., Childs, K. E., White,
R., & Falk, G. D. (1993). Functional analysis of classroom variables for students with
emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 18(4), 275-291.
Evans, S. S., Evans, W. H., & Gable, R. A. (1989). An ecological survey of student
behavior. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 21(4), 12-15.
Frith, G. H., & Armstrong, S. W. (1986). Self-monitoring for behavior disordered
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effective individualized interventions for challenging behaviors. TEACHING Exceptional
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Hughes, C. A., Ruhl, K. L., & Peterson, S. K. (1988). Teaching self-management
skills. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 20(2), 70-72.
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One of the first things we learn from
our teachers is discernment: the ability to tell
truth from fiction, to know when we have lost
our center and how to find it again.
Discernment is also one of the last things we
learn, when we feel our paths diverge and we
must separate from our mentors in order to
stay true to ourselves.
I do have simple plan ahead of my professional career. I am
planning to take the Licensure Examination for Teachers. Indeed, I am
hoping to pass this at once. It would be such a blessing to immediately
find a teaching job where I can show my skills and flexibility. If I will be
given an opportunity, I would like to work in huge public school where I
can improve my teaching styles and broaden my knowledge. I know it


need thousands of steps and hundred miles to pursue Masteral degree,

yet I would still love to extend and widen my capacity as a teacher.