Training Teachers to Give Effective Commands: Effects on Student Compliance and Academic Behaviors

By Matheson, Andrea Starkweather; Shriver, Mark D. | School Psychology Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Training Teachers to Give Effective Commands: Effects on Student Compliance and Academic Behaviors


Matheson, Andrea Starkweather, Shriver, Mark D., School Psychology Review


Abstract. This study examined the effects of effective command training with teachers on students' compliance rates and academic engagement. Three target students were selected who were exhibiting compliance rates substantially below peers. The students' teachers were taught how to provide effective commands. Results indicated that students' rates of compliance increased with increased use of effective commands. When verbal praise was added contingent on compliance, students' rates of compliance increased even more. In addition, academic engagement was shown to increase as student compliance increased and disruptive competing behaviors decreased. Implications for consultation and intervention in the classroom to increase student compliance and academic behaviors are discussed.

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Teachers are challenged to set the tone for instruction in their classrooms and to engage their students in academic lessons. It is important that students are compliant to teachers' instructions so that available learning time is not wasted. Managing students' inappropriate behaviors is a time-consuming task that reduces the amount of time teachers spend on teaching and the amount of time students spend on academic tasks. In urban school districts, student behavior that is incompatible with academic responses and on-task behaviors occupies 15% to 25% of class time in first through fourth grades (Greenwood, 1991). Rhode, Jenson, and Reavis (1993) suggest that compliance rates below 40% may prevent a child from benefiting from instructional opportunities. Effective classroom management can help ensure student compliance and establish and maintain an orderly learning environment (Doyle, 1985). Previous research has demonstrated positive correlations between well-managed classrooms and student engagement in academic tasks, more rapid pace of progression in academic material, and higher levels of academic achievement (Brophy, 1983; Gettinger, 1986; Good, 1979). Strategies to help teachers gain student compliance and increase the amount of time students are engaged in academic activities are needed. Consulting with teachers to improve the effectiveness of teacher commands may be one such strategy.

There is a long history of research on the use of effective commands by parents that demonstrates increases in child compliance (Forehand, 1977; Forehand & McMahon, 1981; Forehand & Scarboro, 1975; Peed, Roberts, & Forehand, 1977; Roberts, McMahon, Forehand, & Humphreys, 1978; Roberts & Powers, 1988; Schoen, 1986; Williams & Forehand, 1984). Effective commands are defined based on their effect on child behavior. In essence, commands that increase the probability of child compliance are effective whereas commands that do not positively affect child compliance are not effective. Previous research has delineated some of the qualities of commands that are important to establishing child compliance (Forehand, 1977; Forehand & McMahon, 1981; McMahon & Forehand, 2003). In particular, Forehand and McMahon (1981) identified effective commands as those that are directly stated, are specific and consist of one step, are developmentally appropriate, are phrased positively, and are given one at a time (e.g., there is at least a 5-second wait time between commands). Training parents to issue effective commands to improve child compliance is important, as parents often do not naturally provide high rates of effective commands relative to typically high rates of ineffective commands (Shriver & Allen, 1997).

Unlike the research conducted in clinical settings, there is much less research on the use of effective commands in classrooms. A few studies have examined the inclusion of command training with teachers as part of a multicomponent intervention package to improve student behavior in the classroom (DeMartini-Scully, Bray, & Kehle, 2000; Musser, Bray, Kehle, & Jenson, 2001). The command format used in these studies was derived from the work of Forehand and McMahon (1981). …

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