Making Choices-Improving Behavior-Engaging in Learning

By Jolivette, Kristine; Stichter, Janine Peck et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview
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Making Choices-Improving Behavior-Engaging in Learning


Jolivette, Kristine, Stichter, Janine Peck, McCormick, Katherine M., Teaching Exceptional Children


Do you have students who display inappropriate types of behavior, or who seem depressed, or who lack friends? Perhaps these are students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD; see box), and maybe the students present challenges that you find difficult to deal with and that interfere with their educational progress.

This article highlights one strategy, providing opportunities to make choices, that is effective in increasing appropriate behaviors for students with EBD (Munk & Repp, 1994), most notably when used by classroom teachers during ongoing classroom routines (Jolivette, Wehby, Canale, & Massey, 2001b; see also the box on page 28, "What Does the Literature Say?" for a link between the research literature on choice and related behavioral characteristics of students with EBD.)

We present a hypothetical case example to show how a teacher might incorporate choice-making opportunities for a student with EBD who is failing math in school. In the course of this article, we suggest practical strategies that both special and general education teachers may use in their academic curricula to encourage students to make appropriate choices. These opportunities may have benefits that long outlast the particular task or situation, to enhance relationships within the classroom, engage students in learning, and promote a positive classroom environment.

Opportunities to Make Choices

Choice-making opportunities provide students the opportunity to make decisions that may affect their daily routines (e.g., choice of academic task). For example, a student may choose

* From a list of explorers which explorer to write a report on.

* To begin another game with a different peer during free time.

* To use colored markers while illustrating a picture as part of a book report.

* The type of medium (poster, costume, movie) to use for a presentation on a country in social studies.

These varied choice-making opportunities occur frequently in most classrooms. They may seem trivial at first glance, but such choices can have significant implications for the type and level of student participation (Jolivette, Stichter, Sibilsky, Scott, & Ridgely, 2001 a).

Several recent classroom investigations into the use of "choice" for students with EBD have shown that this strategy is effective in increasing (or decreasing) specific behaviors in school (Cosden, Gannon, & Haring, 1995; Dunlap et al., 1994; Jolivette et al., 2001b). These results suggest that providing students with EBD the opportunity to make choices during academic situations can promote increased levels of functional and prosocial student behavior. Here are some findings:

* Cosden et al. (1995) found that student accuracy and completion of academic tasks increased when the students were provided with opportunities to choose the task or reinforcer.

* Dunlap et al. (1994) found that the levels of task engagement increased while levels of disruptive behavior decreased when students were provided with opportunities to choose the academic task to complete. Jolivette et al. (2001b) found that student task engagement increased, as did the number and accuracy of attempted problems, when students were provided with opportunities to choose the order in which to complete three tasks (same concept but variable formats).

Case Study: Isaac

Isaac is a 7-year-old first-grader with EBD who attends a combined first/second-grade special education class for students with EBD. He had a full-scale IQ of 79 (verbal = 85 and performance = 74), according to the WISC-III. Isaac's teacher reports that he performs below grade level in mathematics and that he is noncompliant and off task during independent math seatwork activities.

Isaac performs at the grade equivalence of beginning kindergarten (K.0) on the WoodcockJohnson Calculation, Applied Problems, and General Math subtests (Woodcock & Johnson, 1989).

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