Reducing Students' Refusal and Resistance
Walker, Hill M., Sylwester, Robert, Teaching Exceptional Children
Near the end of her lesson, Ms. Corbin, the elementary art teacher, instructs the class to begin cleanup in preparation for recess. Most students begin this task immediately, but some are slow to do so. Sarah half-heartedly begins clean-up and starts to talk with her friend, Mary.
Ms. Corbin: "Sarah, stop talking and start cleaning up."
Sarah: (Ignores teacher and continues talking.)
Ms. Corbin: "Sarah, if you want to go to recess, you'd better clean up your desk right away, and to my satisfaction."
Sarah: "Who are you to tell us what to do? I don't want to clean up this stinking desk. Who cares about recess anyway?"
Ms. Corbin: "Sarah, you go to the office right now. We'll talk to the principal and your parents about this and see what it takes for you to get back into my class."
Sarah: "- you! I don't care about ever getting back in this class!'
Student noncompliance is one of the most frustrating, intractable, and time-consuming behavior problems with which teachers must struggle daily. Resistance to teacher directives, particularly extreme defiance like Sarah's, is frequently involved in the referral of students for disciplinary reasons and for specialized assistance (Lloyd, Kauffman, Landrum, & Roe, 1991).
Morgan and Jenson (1988) characterize noncompliance as a "gatekey" behavior that too often leads to other, more serious forms of student destructive behavior (i.e., oppositional-defiant behavior, bullying, stealing, vandalism, peer conflicts, and so forth). Patterson, Reid, & Dishion (1992) have presented a detailed analysis of the progression or escalation of antisocial behavior from trivial to severe among at-risk children and youth. They note that noncompliance to parental directives is often the first behavior in this chain of escalating events that frequently ends up in delinquency and school dropout.
Professionals often speak of noncompliant, oppositional, or defiant behavior disorders among children and youth. Used in this sense, noncompliance usually refers to a generalized behavior pattern of active resistance to rule-governed behavior (i.e., to the behavioral expectations and demands of adults). Noncompliance, as a descriptive term, is also used to refer to a failure to comply with the specific requests, commands, or directives of teachers and parents. There is an extensive professional literature on this form of noncompliant behavior within home and school settings (see Forehand & McMahon, 1981; Schoen, 1986; Strain, Lambert, Kerr, Stagg, & Lenkner, 1983). This second form of noncompliance is the focus of this article.
The Escalation of Simple Noncompliance
Student resistance to teacher directives is a major obstacle to teachers' ability to manage the classroom and to deliver instruction. It is also one of the most serious obstacles to the development of positive, adult-child relationships (Shores, Gunter, &Jack, 1993). Recent research by Wehby, Symons, and Shores (1995) shows that teacher directives given to aggressive students often set the occasion for negative, hostile interactions that can damage the teacher-student relationship and lead to teacher rejection. Similarly, Colvin (1993) has developed a 7-stage conceptualization of the behavioral escalation process involving teachers and agitated students (see also Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). Simple teacher directives to such students often trigger intensely hostile confrontations that can escalate out of control.
Aside from its powerful role as a "gatekey" behavior and as a trigger for behavioral escalation, student resistance to teacher directives has long been regarded as an irritant by teachers. Prompt compliance to teacher instructions and commands is a highly valued student attribute in the context of teaching. For example, in a national survey of teacher expectations regarding the mainstreaming process, Walker and his colleagues asked a national sample of teachers to rate the importance of 56 descriptions of adaptive classroom behavior and to indicate their tolerance for 51 descriptions of maladaptive behavior (Hersh & Walker, 1983; Walker, 1986). …