Awarding Points, Using Levels to Help Children Improve Behavior

Article excerpt

How can teachers encourage students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbance to stay on task? To speak nicely? To follow directions? To complete assignments? To achieve personal educational goals? Not necessarily to become the Perfect Student, but to improve their behavior, effort, and achievement enough to benefit from increased amounts of time spent in general education classrooms, away from their self-contained special education classrooms.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) encourages the education of students with disabilities in inclusive general education settings, to the maximum extent appropriate (CEC Public Policy Unit, 1999; Hallahan & Kauffman, 2000). Although most students with disabilities in the United States are educated in "less restrictive" settings, that is, general education class or resource room educational environments (U.S. Department of Education, 1999), well over 1 million are educated in more restrictive settings. For example, more than 250,000 students ages 6-11 years with specific learning disabilities and emotional disturbance receive their education in separate classes within a general education school (U.S. Department of Education). Many teachers of these classes, as they work toward helping their students return to greater or full-time participation in general education, are aware of the need to find and use interventions to motivate learning and manage classroom and school conduct of the students.

This article describes a points-and-- levels system (see box "What Is a Points-and-Levels System") for use in an upper-elementary special education setting. To supplement this description, we present simple ways to collect data and provide informal observations about students' reactions to this intervention.

Upper Elementary Setting

The first author taught upper-elementary students with learning and behavior disabilities, many of whom had considerable difficulty remaining on task. The setting was a separate, self-contained, special education classroom; and the teacher used the system in her math class. The points-and-level system seemed to harmonize with the structured, directive nature of the teacher's instruction and management.


The math group participants consisted of 11 fifth-grade students identified with disabilities, grouped for work on gradelevel four math. Two were identified with emotional disturbance, six with learning disabilities, and three with other health impairments (they had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Their reading and math grade levels varied, but all were tested with IQs between 75 and 100.


These students attended a public elementary school in a small city in the southeastern United States. Their teacher had 6 years of teaching experience that included teaching students with learning and behavior disabilities.

Her math class took place during 50 minutes at the end of the school day. Students were seated at desks and tables throughout the classroom. All students were expected to follow classroom rules and participate in the class. The class usually began with a roundrobin math facts game followed by a 1minute test on those facts. Next, the teacher reviewed the skill or skills taught the day before. Then the students either practiced that skill or were taught a new skill to practice. Usually a written assignment was given, and the students were expected to work on and, preferably, complete it.

Data Collection and Verification

The teacher specifically defined on-task behavior and recorded it each day during math class. Using the momentary time-sampling method (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987), the teacher recorded on-task behavior every 2 minutes on a different student, in turn, until all students had been recorded several times. To permit an estimate of recording reliability, on seven occasions a teacher assistant used the same procedure simultaneously but independently. …