Action Research: Decreasing Acting-Out Behavior and Increasing Learning

By Schoen, Sharon Faith; Nolen, Jen | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Action Research: Decreasing Acting-Out Behavior and Increasing Learning


Schoen, Sharon Faith, Nolen, Jen, Teaching Exceptional Children


Did I yell out?

Did I stay on-task?

Did I act respectfully to the other students and teachers?

Did I use proper outlets to calm down?

These are questions on a student's self-monitoring checklist that a teacher used to help the student control off-task behavior. The checklist is just one activity that successfully decreased negative behavior and promoted learning in this action research project. This article describes how the project helped one student with learning disabilities increase his positive behavior-and be more successful socially, behaviorally, and cognitively.

When teachers decide to explore a problem encountered in the classroom, such as a student's problem behavior, they need a systematic approach that incorporates analytic examination and continuous refinement of the teaching/learning process. Action research is just such an approach.

By definition, action research is founded on a commitment to improve the quality of life of others through critical reflection and inquiry (Archer, Holly, & Kasten, 2001; Johnson, A. P., 2003). The process evolves as teachers gather information about and reflect on their students' needs, abilities, and learning styles to enhance educational outcomes (Schoen & Bullard, 2002; Schoen & Schoen, 2003). Questioning, assessing, exploring, researching, discussing, documenting, evaluating, monitoring, analyzing, refining, and revising become recursive aspects of the process.

Examining Acting-Out Behavior: An Action Research Project

The acting-out behavior of a sixth-grade male student who participated in general education and part-time special education classes involved a myriad of misbehaviors. Here is a brief example:

After entering the classroom, Edward threw his book bag down on the floor by his desk. Then, he wandered out into the hall. He returned and flicked a classmate on the back of the head. Edward sat in the back of the room, even though his assigned seat was in the front row. During the 30-minute lesson, Edward was off-task approximately 40% of the time. He spent 5 minutes secretly shooting rubber bands at peers. His giggling disrupted other surrounding students. Edward engaged Dominick in a game of paper football. The teacher asked Edward to leave. Edward's response was to shout, push desks, and stomp out of the room.

Four Steps to Belter Behavior

The teacher and a researcher took deliberate steps, as follows, to diminish these types of interfering behaviors and enhance engagement in task activities.

Step 1: Framing the Question

Edward is a sixth-grader in a public, urban school. He participates in general education with pullout special education instruction in reading and math. The student is classified as learning disabled, and he currently resides in a foster care home.

Edward excels in the area of art and enjoys assisting classmates. When focused on his work, he completes tasks appropriately. Distractions in the class and reactions to peers, however, often precipitate acting-out behaviors. Obviously, such outbursts interfere with learning, both for Edward and his classmates. The problem necessitated thoughtful action.

Step 2: Collecting Data

We collected many kinds of data to inform decision making and action planning.

Observations and Interviews. Focused observations in the form of an antecedent, behavior, consequence (ABC) analysis gleaned over a 5-day period clarified the problem behavior. Edward's acting-out behavior converged into patterns of misbehavior. These persistent patterns revealed categories of Edward's typical actions, including slamming materials, yelling at teacher/peers, muttering under his breath, storming out of the room, destroying his work, and tuning out (head down on the desk).

Interviews with the social worker, special education teacher, and student provided further insights about Edward. The social worker, assigned to Edward's case for 3 years, offered illuminating information. …

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