Teaching Elementary Students with Behavior Disorders to Recruit Positive Teacher Attention: Effects on Math Proficiency

Article excerpt

Four elementary students with behavior disorders attending a day treatment facility were trained to recruit positive teacher attention. Data on student recruiting and academic productivity were collected across 59 twenty-minute sessions. A multiple baseline across students design demonstrated a functional relationship of recruitment training on the number of appropriate recruiting responses emitted by the students, and on the students' accuracy and completion of math seatwork. After training, all four students increased their appropriate recruiting responses to the target criterion (3 to 5 per session) and decreased their inappropriate recruiting responses to 1 or less per session. Additionally, their accuracy on math assignments increased. This study extends previous recruiting research to elementary students with behavior disorders attending an outpatient facility in Mississippi.

Keywords: emotional/behavior disorders, recruiting reinforcement, self-monitoring, math proficiency.


Students with emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD) frequently emit disruptive behaviors that directly interfere with their ability to learn academic skills. Consequently, they experience high rates of academic failure (Levy & Chard, 2001; Trout, Nordness, Pierce, & Epstein, 2003). In fact, students with EBD are the least likely of all students with and without disabilities to attain school success (Landrum, Tankersley, & Kauffman, 2003). Documented outcomes for these students include high grade retention and drop out rates, high failure rates on courses and competency tests, and poor adjustment to adult life (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Frank, Sitlington, & Carson, 1995).

Substandard academic outcomes for students with EBD can be attributed, in part, to the inadequate distribution of instructional time and the poor quality of teacher-student interactions. Persistent disruptive behavior patterns often require teachers to focus more attention on behavior management than on academic instruction. Wehby, Lane, and Falk (2003) documented that in self-contained EBD classrooms, teachers devote only 30% of the school day to academic instruction. This insufficient amount of instructional time is compounded by frequent negative interactions with teachers. Teacher interactions with students with EBD are characterized by low rates of praise, positive statements, and instructional requests; and high rates of reprimands (Sutherland, Adler, & Gunter, 2000; Jack et al., 1996; Wehby, Symons, & Shores, 1995).

This destructive pattern of negative school interactions and poor academic achievement can be reversed by systematically teaching students to recruit positive teacher attention. Teaching students to appropriately recruit feedback and praise serves the dual function of advancing academic performance and increasing positive interactions. Recruitment training typically consists of teaching students to complete a portion of an academic assignment, self-assess for accuracy, signal the teacher appropriately, politely ask for feedback, and self-record recruiting performance. Common training procedures include modeling, role-playing, and performance feedback. The following section describes the recruiting research to date.

Recruiting Research

Systematically teaching students to recruit feedback from adults has demonstrated positive effects for a wide range of learners completing a variety of academic, functional, and vocational tasks. For example, Stokes, Fowler, and Baer (1978) trained preschoolers to evaluate their work (e.g., tracing lines and letters) and to recruit teacher praise with a hand raise and a verbal statement such as "How is this?"

Prior to training, the preschoolers received a mean of 1.0 teacher praise statements per 10-minute session. After training, praise statements from teachers increased to a mean of 4.4 per session.

Other recruiting research has documented increased appropriate attention-seeking behaviors and increased praise from adults for: a) preschoolers with developmental delays learning to stay on task during transitions (Connell, Carta, & Baer, 1993); b) elementary and middle school students learning academic tasks (Alber, Heward, & Hippler, 1999; Craft, Alber, & Heward, 1998; Hrydowy, Stokes, Martin, 1984; Morgan, Young, & Goldstein, 1983); c) elementary boys with autism learning functional skills (Harchik, Harchik, Luce & Sherman, 1990); d) adolescent girls in a maximum security institution learning vocational skills (Seymour & Stokes, 1976); and e) high school students with mental retardation learning vocational skills (Mank & Horner, 1987). …