Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Curb Disruptive Behaviors in a Psycho-Educational Classroom: Guidelines for Setting Goals

In our last blog, Should Teachers Give Rewards to Students for Good Behavior? A Psycho-Educational Perspective, we discussed the importance of linking rewards with behavioral goals to maximize the efficiency of our behavior management plan. Now, I want to elaborate on the technique of goal setting to regulate students’ motivation, but first, a brief description of the concept of goals:
The concept of goals is at the heart of most theories of motivation. Goals are internal (within the individual), as opposed to rewards that are externally regulated, and represent something that we want to accomplish; simply put, the goal is the result or outcome that we are trying to reach. We call this mental representation or goal our aim, purpose, or objective. The concept of goal is a motivational concept that influences behavior in several ways:
  1. Goals narrow our attention to goal-relevant activities and away from what we perceive is irrelevant to the goal.
  2.  Goals guide our behavior and give us direction.
  3. Goals lead to effort and strengthen our persistence; that is, we are more inclined to work harder and to work through setbacks to reach our goal. In other words, goals direct and motivate our effort.
  4. A well-developed goal identifies strategies to deal with problems.
We may talk or dream about things we want in our lives, but we do not have a plan to reach them. The difference between just a dream and a goal lies in our plan. Dreams are visions and belong in our imagination; goals are plans that we outline, so that we have a map that we see and follow.  Goal setting is more than just scribbling vague ideas on a piece of paper. An effective behavioral goal is like a road map, focused and detailed. In the classroom setting, a behavioral goal specifies what the habitually disruptive student is going to do, clearly indicating what acceptable performance is. In goal setting, we must write a goal that is clear (not vague), so that the child knows what to do, challenging, so that the child feels energized and motivated, and achievable, so that we give the student a genuine chance to succeed. We can set either a directional goal where we motivate the child to reach a particular conclusion (to think or believe in a particular way), or an accuracy goal, where we motivate the student to be more accurate or to develop proficiency. With habitually disruptive students, the psycho-educational teacher will be more effective if he or she intervenes first at the directional level, influencing the student’s belief system to reinforce a particular conclusion, followed by interventions at the accuracy level, so that, with the student, we continue to search for behavioral improvement. Some guidelines for setting goals follow:
  1. Set a main goal or long-term goal, but do not expect the habitually disruptive child to achieve the goal all at once, that will be too overwhelming to the child.  Sub-divide the main goal into smaller and more easily reached goals or mini-goals (also known as short-term goals or proximal goals); succeeding at each mini-goal motivates the child to achieve the main goal. Celebrate and reward each time the child reaches a mini-goal.
  2. Combine easier goals with at least one hard goal. The easier goals build the habit of following through and you can reward the student quickly. The harder goal forces the student to grow.
  3. In order for the child to perseverate in reaching a behavioral goal (goal commitment), she must believe that the goal is important to her. Spend time connecting emotionally with the child (i.e. establishing rapport and creating an alliance with the child) and help the child see the meaning of the goal from her own perspective, not from the teacher’s perspective. Help the child understand and articulate why she wants the goal. The stronger the child’s motivation, the greater she will make an effort and will perseverate.
  4. Self-set goals are more effective in influencing behavior than goals selected by someone else. Work in cooperation and collaboration with the child, and help the child identify self-set goals such as becoming more competent, feelings of pride and accomplishment, satisfying her curiosity, or increasing her feelings of self-control and autonomy.
  5. When you help the child list self-set goals, you are strengthening self-esteem. You are sending the child the message that she is worthy of these goals, that she is capable of developing the personality traits that will allow her to reach the goal, and that you trust her and have confidence in her ability to follow through and succeed.
  6. In order for the child to perseverate and commit to a goal, she must believe that, with time and an effective plan, she will reach the goal. Help the student understand that her habitually disruptive behaviors are the result of a lack of plan, or if the child tried before, tell her that the behavioral strategies attempted were inadequate. In other words, the strategy failed, the child did not fail. By definition, goal setting is the process of developing and testing strategies. Be flexible, adjusting and modifying the plan or strategies when needed.
  7. If you need to change strategies, explain it to the child as a victory, not a defeat, because both the child and you have the insight to realize that something needs to change. In other words, the child is growing up and maturing.
  8. A clearly stated goal that follows a specific plan has a greater chance to succeed than a general goal. To elicit specific behaviors, it is important that the child clearly understands what he is going to do, that is, the goal canalizes the student’s behavior.  To develop a specific plan, you can follow an outline that answers, who (people involved), what (what do you want to accomplish), where (setting), when (time line or period), how (steps) and why (purpose and benefits). Using this format, you create a set of instructions for the student to carry out.
  9. State behavioral goals positively, that is, what the child is going to start doing, instead of in a negative way, or what the child is going to stop doing. Keep the child focused forward (what she wants), not in the past or what she is leaving behind.
  10. Determine how you are going to measure the child’s progress towards each mini-goal and main goal. How both the student and you will know when the child reaches the goal? You can use qualitative measures (strategies or procedures that the student knows and applies) or quantitative measures (competency, or the child’s ability to follow the procedure well, e.g. 80% proficiency or three out of five times).
  11. Give periodic feedback, that is, give the child information about how well he is doing. The student needs to know where his performance is in relation to each mini-goal and the main goal, so that you both determine if the child needs to try harder, if you need to adjust the plan (e.g. developing an easier goal), or if you need to change the strategy or method.
  12. For students with chronic and/or recurrent behavior problems, be sensitive and reward partial success and effort. Alternatively, you can develop performance improvement goals based on the child’s past performance (e.g. 10% more, then 20% more). Reinforce progress in meeting the goal.
Related Articles...
Psycho-Education for Teachers: Understanding the Child Guidance Process Part 1- Definition, Elements, and Steps
Psycho-Education for Teachers: Understanding the Child Guidance Process Part 2- Skills, Techniques, and Procedures
Handling Angry Students: Psycho-Educational Strategies that Work

Of Interest to Teachers...
Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code. To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

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