Thesis Purpose Statement

Effective Behavior Management Strategies to Support Special Needs StudentsDereka L. Holland

Texas A&M Commerce


Will be completed by due date.

Thesis/ Purpose Statement

This paper examines the behavior interventions and supports used in the classroom by teachers with special needs students to help manage or change behavior school wide. My aim was to explore different research-based strategies and measure how well they were effective with my students in the classroom and across the school campus. With these effective behavior strategies, I hope that they can support teachers in helping decrease the negative behaviors in the classroom with students of disabilities.

Literature Review

Behavior management is vital to the learning environment and can be a major distraction if it is not controlled or managed. According to Lavay, French and Henderson (2007) behavior management means more than controlling students to make them behave. It can be a little different with students who are disabled. Their misbehavior can be triggered and completely out of their control. The teacher must think effectively about the best way to manage students who face these behavior challenges. The goal of this literature review is to compare how other authors view behavior management and the best way to manage it with students who are disabled. In Building Classroom Management by C.M Charles and Karen Cole, the authors explain the teacher’s role in managing the classroom starting with developing management skills. They discussed how important effective communication in a classroom management system is for teachers and students. While reading I noticed that some of the recommended behavior strategies for the general population were different than students with disabilities. The authors stated that these students have difficulty controlling their own behavior. (Charles and Cole, pg.297) Some suggestions were to remain calm, use pictorial/visual cue cards, use a nonconfrontational and unemotional tone.

Behavior Intervention Plan

In the article, A Practical Plan for Managing the behavior of students with disabilities in General Physical Education by Barry Lavay, Ron French and Hester Henderson stated that behavior management is grouped into three categories described as behavior, psychodynamic and biophysical. Lavay et al stated that, no one specific behavior management approach will work all the time with all students. The authors mentioned this because some educators are comfortable repeating the same approach that they are comfortable with based on their experiences. In this article the authors mentioned the difference between a behavior management plan and a behavior intervention plan which is developed by a team of professionals such as the ARD committee for a student with a disability who has severe behavior problems. The behavior intervention plan is created and implemented in the students IEP. Lavay et al suggested using the behavior management eclectic and ecological model when creating a behavior intervention plan or behavior management plan. The model consists of designing a plan, identifying the behavior, develop and implement the behavior intervention plan, observe, and evaluate. (LaVay et al. 2007)

Time Outs

With experience I noticed that many teachers use time-out corners but now have been given a new name such as cool down spots. According to Costenbader & Reading-Brown (1995) timeouts should only be used when less restrictive interventions have not been successful. The authors stated that many educators make an exception for this rule when the student is extremely acting out and it is a safety concern for others.

Self-Advocacy Strategy

In the article, Behavior Management through Self-Advocacy: A Strategy for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities by Ronen Sebag (2010) suggests implementing a behavior management model that focuses on self- determination and self-advocacy to improve the students understanding of themselves and their strengths and weaknesses to support their ability to create strategies and goals for behavior improvement. The author believes that no single strategy will solve all situations like the reading of Barry Lavay, Ron French, and Hester Henderson. The author describes the self- advocacy behavior model as a model that is student centered, student directed, and student driven. It is different from models like a behavior management plan or behavior intervention plan because the educators are the creators, and they implement this strategy. The self-advocacy behavior model allows the student to identity the problem behavior, create a strategy to improve this negative behavior, reflect on how well the strategy was effective and make the necessary adjustments if needed.

Using Rewards

Using a reward system to encourage positive behavior has been a go to for many teachers and administrators in the classroom and school wide to motivate and teach students the expectations. The authors Witzel and Mercer (2003) stated that in special education dealing with student behavior is important for minimizing distractions and having students focus. According to Witzel and Mercer, students with learning disabilities have indicated that their feeling competence tie directly into self-esteem. Based on the readings, it is best to infer that self-advocacy, self-esteem and motivation are key factors in behavior for students with disabilities. The authors believe that educators should determine the problem and work to reduce the problem and improve student performance which involves teaching adaptive skills to the student’s environment in and outside the classroom. Then motivate the student to want to behave such as reward. They argue that rewards do not always bring a positive reinforcement. Witzel and Mercer stated, “how the delivery of the reward is received affects the possible long-term motivational effects of the reward. During research the findings appear to be unclear because the researchers had differences against the use of tangible rewards. Instead, research suggest that educators use a proposed motivational model which can help teachers develop positive behavior interventions.

Behavior Analysis Technique

In the book, Solving Discipline and Classroom Management Problems by Charles H. Wolfgang (2009), the author suggests using the behavior analysis technique when dealing with misbehavior. When using this technique, it requires the teacher to collect data and establish a behavioral objective that identifies the learner, the antecedent condition, or the occasion when the behavior occurs and identify the criteria for acceptable performance. Data can be collected by event recording, graphing the total number of disruptive events for each school day or an anecdotal report. In my classroom I collect data on my most problematic behaviors and meet with ARD committee and/or parents to create a behavior plan. Data is the most efficient tool a teacher can have because it supports as evidence. We will never be able to fully control a student’s behavior, but we can manage it to have a successful learning environment and positive climate and culture classroom.


The research was conducted at a public school, Dr. Billy E. Dade Middle School which is in a high-poverty area. The population of students is about 800. Of the 800 students, 150 of them are identified as special needs and/or 504 students. These students’ disabilities consist of a learning disability (LD), emotional disturbance (ED), autism spectrum disorder (AUT), intellectual disability (ID), other health impairment (OHI) such as ADHD, speech or language impairment, visual impairment, and deafness. The research was particularly based on my seventh-grade special education unit class that consists of ten students who have one or more of the disabilities mentioned. The class consist of three girls and seven boys. These students may receive special services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or adaptive physical education in the classroom. The students receive 70% of their instruction inside the classroom and 30% in the school cafeteria and elective classes. Each student has an individualized education plan that is put in place with individualized goals and objectives pertaining to that student. Inside the classroom, I am the teacher of record and I also have one teacher assistant inside the classroom. For this action research paper, I chose to focus on the behavior problems that are severe in my classroom so that I can improve and help other special education teachers.

Data Collection

My data collection consisted of observing three other special education teachers besides my class to observe behavior problems and the interventions teachers used when a negative behavior occurred. This allowed me to observe the behavior management methods that teachers are using. While observing the other teachers, I conducted a short interview with them about the behaviors that I saw. The teachers were given a quick survey towards the end of my study. In one class, the teacher was able to recognize a student getting ready to misbehave before he did it, based on his body language. After observing and noting some behaviors in other classes, I started collecting data on my own class. I created an anecdotal note form that included the date/time, location, what happened before and what happened after. Data was collected for two to three weeks. I reviewed each students red folder which has all confidential information such as medical records and individualized education plan pertaining to the student. My data collection would begin after 8:20 which is when the instructional day begins. I interviewed my teacher assistant to receive her viewpoint on the strategies being used in the classroom and how we can improve the behavior management strategies that are in place. To help promote positive behavior, I use ClassDojo as a communication tool with parents and as a point system for behavior. Students and parents can see the point system and the notes about their behavior each day.

Data Findings

The findings from the teacher observations showed that we were all using the same behavior intervention strategies. With the behavior strategies that I recommended to those teachers, some students responded positively to them, and a few didn’t. In my class, I found that it was easier to intervene and implement the behavior strategies with the girls quicker than the boys. Before the beginning of class every day, we reviewed the classroom expectations and consequences verbally and using visual/pictorial cues. I noticed when I start the class with setting the expectation that reduced the negative behaviors in the morning. I know that repetition is important for special education students, so it’s important that I continue repeating the behavior expectation. When a negative behavior occurred, I resulted to using positive reinforcement, time-out or thirty minutes of the cool down spot, and student-teacher conference to review the behavior, why it happened and what can be done differently. I found that using time-outs does not guarantee the behavior will be corrected, the student improved for the moment just to return to his desk. After learning and using the ClassDojo system, it helped to improve behavior. Students were able to recognize when they received points for negative or positive behavior. Parents began to establish effective communication with me in how I can support their child and provided techniques that were used at home to manage behavior issues. By the end of the two weeks, my behavior problems decreased from the whole class having a bad day to about two or three students a day. At the end of my study, I reviewed the surveys that were given to the three special education teachers. All three of the teachers agreed that classroom behavior is the main challenge that they have and that more training is needed campus-wide on how to manage behavior issues of students with disabilities. Two of the three believed that the time-out method was an effective behavior management strategy to help promote positive behavior. All three teachers agreed that it was important to for the teacher to model and set the expectation of classroom behavior. One teacher stated that providing the students with immediate feedback can relive some of negative behaviors and can help correct it. As a result of my findings from the survey, all three teachers commented it’s important for special education teachers to continue to take training and educate themselves on ways to improve behavior management with special education students.

Survey given to teachers.


Will be completed by due date.


Charles, C. M., & Cole, K. M. (2018). Building Classroom Management: Methods and Models. Pearson.

Costenbader, V., & Reading-Brown, M. (1995). Isolation timeout used with students with emotional disturbance. Exceptional Children, 61(4), 353–363.

Lavay, B., French, R., & Henderson, H. (2007). A practical plan for managing the behavior of students with disabilities in general physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 78(2), 42–48.

Sebag, R. (2010). Behavior Management through Self-Advocacy: A Strategy for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities.

Shagoury, R., & Power, B. M. (2012). Living the questions: A guide for teacher-researchers. Stenhouse Publishers.

 Witzel, B. S., & Mercer, C. D. (2003). Using rewards to teach students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 24(2), 88–96.

Wolfgang, C. H. (2009). Solving discipline and classroom management problems: Methods and models for today’s teachers. Wiley.