Using Choice to Increase Time On-Task, Task-Completion, and Accuracy for Students with Emotional/behavior Disorders in a Residential Facility

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Choice-making of task-sequence was implemented to determine the effect on the percentage of time on-task behavior, task-completion, and accuracy for five students with E/BD served in a residential setting. An ABAB design was used to examine a potential functional relation between choice-making and the dependent variables. All sessions were conducted by the classroom teacher during independent academic tasks in math and language arts classes. Results suggest that choice of task-sequence had an overall positive effect for time on-task and task-completion but little effect on accuracy. Limitations and future directions for choice-making are discussed.


During the primary and secondary school years, students with and without disabilities spend nearly 15,000 hours in school (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). Much of the 15,000 hours are directed and controlled by adults in the environment. When opportunities to make choices are offered, they are often mediated by adults in the degree and type of choices students can make (Jolivette, Stichter, Sibilsky, Scott, & Ridgley, 2002). Findings of several literature reviews indicate that providing choice-making opportunities for students has had positive effects on students' social and academic behaviors (Kern et al., 1998; Lancioni, O'Reilly, & Emerson, 1996; Morgan, 2006; Shogren, Faggella-Luby, Bae, & Wehmeyer, 2004). While choice-making has been empirically reviewed and confirmed as a viable strategy for students with developmental and severe disabilities, less literature exists that would allow similar conclusions to be drawn about students with other disabilities, including emotional/behavior disorders (E/BD) (Jolivette et al., 2002).

Students with E/BD exhibit numerous social and academic problems (Landrum, Tankersley, & Kauffman, 2003; Reid, Gonzalez, Nordness, Trout, & Epstein, 2004; Trout, Nordness, Pierce, & Epstein, 2003; Wehby, Lane, & Falk, 2003). These students typically have issues with interpersonal relationships, depression, somatization, and learning difficulties which cannot be attributed to intellectual, sensory, or health factors (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act: IDEIA, 2004). Given that many students with E/BD may exhibit inappropriate classroom behaviors, it is possible to postulate that a link exists between poor academic performance and inappropriate behavior further compounding the academic difficulties experienced by these students (Reid et al., 2004; Trout et al., 2003). As a result, students with E/BD are typically one to two grade levels behind their same aged peers in all academic subject areas with the greatest deficits in math and spelling (Trout et al., 2003). In a meta-analysis, Reid et al. (2004) also found that 75% of the students with E/BD scored within the 25th percentile of overall academic achievement. Thus, the presence of these academic deficits for students with E/BD may likely result in negative short- and long-term outcomes compared to their peers without disabilities (Trout et al., 2003).

Students with E/BD are more likely to be placed in more restrictive placements as a result of their poor academic achievement over any other disability category (Gagnon & Leone, 2005). Day and/or residential placements, considered to be highly restrictive, account for nearly 80,000 students with E/BD (Gagnon & Leone, 2006). Students identified through the school referral process and labeled E/BD who are placed in residential programs are more likely to have histories of abuse as well as a DSM-IV diagnoses of mental illness which also may become the basis of treatment in these facilities (Barth et al., 2007; Gagnon & Leone, 2006; Gagnon & Leone, 2005). The manifestation of these behaviors in the classroom often results in the instructional emphasis on behavior management rather than academic instruction (Gagnon & Leone, 2006). …


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