Behavior Management: Teaching Tough Kids
Tough Kids in the Classroom
As both general and special education teacher, I have had a variety of assignments throughout my career. I have taught in public schools on all grade levels from pre-kindergarten to high school. I have a lot of experience teaching kids labeled in the education world as Tough Kids.
The nine years that I taught learning disabled students were spent working with at-risk youths. Many of the students were minority males from impoverished backgrounds. In this type of student, cognitive problems combine with social issues that create co morbid, or multiple learning problems. This combination makes for very needy and very tough kids.
What Is A Tough Kid?
As a new school year begins and new teachers embark on their chosen career, my reason for writing is to share a special management system that can be very helpful for teachers in tough teaching assignments. Dr. William Jenson, Ph.D., educational psychologist, researcher, and co-author of a series of books called Tough Kids found that every year almost all teachers will have at least one student that will take up to 30% of their time in trying to get this student to be compliant. This statistic in turn is the reason why many teachers leave the profession within two or three years.
Kids labeled as tough kids are generally non-compliant 40 percent of the time. They are argumentative. They may be aggressive both verbally and physically. One or a few can cause lost learning for students and much stress in a teacher's life.
Although teaching in some areas is tougher than others, and certain populations, such as special education are more difficult to manage, behavior disorders in children know no single racial, socio-economic or gender stereotype. Biological factors affect how children behave as well as environmental ones. This supports Dr. Jensen's finding that tough kids make up about three percent of the population, increasing the chance of having at least one in every class.
- positive reinforcement
- negative reinforcement
- differential reinforcement of alternative behavior
- differential reinforcement of lower rates of behavior
- Premack principal
- response cost
- response duration schedules
- self recording and reinforcement
The Tough Kid Tool Box
Behavioral psychology is the science of changing behavior by arranging consequences that will increase a desired behavior or decrease unwanted behaviors. A parent rewards a child for doing chores with an allowance and increases the likelihood that the child will repeat the positive behavior. A mother gives a screaming child a cookie while shopping and reinforces the crying. It is those areas of behaviorism that can create tough kids or compliant kids in the long run.
The components of the Tough Kid Series work together to provide the teacher with interventions that are designed around applied behavior analysis (ABA). The Tough Kid Practical Classroom Management Strategies manual explains various behavior theories that the interventions are based around and how to implement them.
Some of these theories are listed in the gray box above, right. Teachers like "hands on" materials as well as students. The Tough Kid Tool Box is a resource of ideas and reproducibles that include charts, contracts, game sheets and monitoring forms that make increasing compliance in tough kids much easier and more interesting.
The behavior reduction techniques in the Tough Kid Series will not make those behaviors go away forever. Replacement behaviors need to be taught. Use the Tough Kids Social Skills book to directly teach social skills such as dealing with teasing or staying out of arguments. There are suggestions for discussions, role-play and group and activities such as goal setting to accomplish the objectives.
The Tough Kid Series
Favorites From Tough Kids Tool Box
Here is a brief description of my favorite interventions from the Tough Kid Toolbox. Each of the interventions come with technique hints and troubleshooting tips to help design an intervention that is adaptable for different teacher's needs. It is suggested that the target behaviors that are to be changed, increased or decreased be specific and not general. For example, follow the classroom rules rather than improve your attitude. Strategies for tough kids that refuse to participate are given as well. I found that most if not all tough kids participated even if only part of the time.
- Mystery Motivators: A Mystery Motivator form has a square for each day of the week. Use an invisible ink pen and a developer with the Mystery Motivators. Starting with 3-4 days, write "M" inside the square with the invisible ink pen. If students meet a certain criteria during the day they get to use the developer pen to see if there is an "M" in the square that day. If so, they get the reward that is listed in the attached envelope. Several technique hints are given for variations of Mystery Motivators, like using with groups or teams. Thin out the number of days that have "M"s as time goes on.
- The On Task/Working Monitoring Form has 10 rows of 18 squares. Students are instructed to put a + in a box when they think about the form and catch themselves working or a 0 in the box when they are not. A contract can be used that will list the criterion for improvement, over what amount of time and what the reward is.
- A reproducible is given for several designs of Raffle tickets. Just duplicate them, cut them out (kids can do this) and pass them out when students are "caught being good." Kids love the raffle drawing. Do it at the end of each class or more and thin out to less often over time.
- A game-type spinner can be used to reinforce desired behaviors. The spinner is divided into 5 sections of different sizes with the most coveted rewards having the thinnest slice of the circle. The spinner can be used as a part of a contract or in conjunction with Mystery Motivators.
For ideas for all of these rewards think about the age levels of the tough kids and the things they like. Use free and inexpensive things. Extra free time is always welcomed at any age. High school tough kids would probably likr a choice parking space for the day. The best way to determine rewards is by providing a reinforcer menu that the kids help to form.
Dr. Jenson discusses the Tough Kid
About The Authors Of The Tough Kids Series
The Tough Kids Series of books for teachers is co-authored by Dr.Bil Jenson along with Ginger Rhode, Ph.D. and H. Kenton Reavis, Ed.D.
Dr. Jenson specializes in the management of severe behavior disorders. He has served as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah.He has published several books and research papers, as well as having managed several mental health facilities.
Dr. Rhode has served as the director of special education for a school system in Utah and has a background in teaching. She has published numerous journals, articles, book chapters and professional papers. Her topics of expertise include classroom and school wide management, social skills training and special education compliance issues.
Dr. Reavis is a specialist on behavior disorders and has served as Comprehensive System of Personnel Development Coordinator in the Services for At Risk Section of the Utah State Office of Education. His research and writings center around student management, school climate and pre-referral strategies for teachers.