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Emotional-Behavioral Difficulties in the Classroom

A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements of the Degree of Bachelor of Arts
Liberal Studies

Dominican University of California

Christina Gonzales
May 2016

This capstone has been presented to and accepted by the Faculty of Education in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The content and research
methodologies presented
in this work represent the work of the candidate alone.







Rosemarie Michaels, LS Instructor




Rosemarie Michaels, Program Chair, Liberal Studies


Title Page
Signature Sheet
Table of Contents



Section I: Introduction
Arrival Story
Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Study 5
Research Questions 5
Definition of Terms 5


Section II: Review of the Literature 7

Theories for Plan of Action 7
Specific Strategies 11
Summary 16
Section III: Methods
Data Analysis


Section IV: Findings 20

Observation Reports 20
Finding 1
Finding 2
Finding 3
Finding 4
Finding 5
Analysis of Themes 26
Summary of Findings 27
Section V: Discussion and Conclusions
Limitations 31
Implications 31
Conclusion 32
About the Author



It is inevitable that teachers will be faced with students who exhibit emotional-behavioral
difficulties (EBD) sometime in their careers. As an educator it is important to know how to best
address this in the classroom and give these students better opportunities to succeed. These types

of behaviors in students can either be externalized, meaning students have an acting-out style of
behavior, or internalized, meaning students exhibit an inhibited style of behavior such as
depression or anxiety. This study specifically focused on students who tend to exhibit their
emotional-behavioral difficulties in an external manner. It can often be challenging for teachers
to figure out how to support and meet the needs of students with EBD. The purpose of this study
was to explore strategies that experienced teachers use to help students. A sole research question
that was answered in this study was: What are effective teaching strategies for working with
students with emotional-behavioral difficulties? To answer the research question, data was
collected in two ways, through a literature research and classroom observations over the course
of two semesters in a San Francisco Bay area elementary school. Some of this research focused
more on benefiting the emotional and social side, while others focused more on engaging
students and improving academic success. Results indicate there is in fact a wide variety of
approaches and strategies that can be used to best help students with EBD succeed in all areas:
academically, emotionally, and socially. The key to helping these students is understanding the
needs of that individual student and differentiating their instruction based on those needs.

Arrival Story
I have always taken a lot of interest in the students who struggle with behavioral issues in
the classroom and am always curious in observing how each teacher decides to handle the
situation. In many of my fieldwork placements I have witnessed classrooms with students who

have these issues and each teacher handles it differently, some are successful and some are not. I
believe that as a teacher it is your responsibility to try to reach these students and get them
engaged in learning. But the tricky question is how do you do that? It can be hard to manage a
classroom of twenty-something students and at the same time finding ways to keep particular
students from acting out. Ive seen teachers who just give up on these students and see it as a
hopeless cause, which should never be the solution. Every child should get a fair shot at their
education, and while some may take more measures to get them there they still deserve it.
Sometimes the strategies teachers use work well, and sometimes they dont work at all. It made
me curious in exploring what types of strategies are truly beneficial for these students so as to
help other teachers in finding ways to help their students who struggle with behavioral problems
as well.

Statement of the Problem

It is a reality that teachers will be faced with students who have emotional-behavioral
difficulties (EBD). These behaviors can either be externalized, meaning it causes the student to
have an acting-out style of behavior, or it can be internalized, meaning it causes an inhibited
style. In this study, the focus is on students who tend to exhibit their emotional-behavioral
difficulties in an external manner within the classroom. A teacher will need to learn how to help
these students succeed both socially and academically.
How do teachers successfully handle situations like these, however? What is the best
strategy for these students? The truth is there are a variety of ways teachers approach the
situation. Unfortunately, many strategies are not effective or beneficial for the students or the
classroom environment. In this study we will focus on successful strategies for working with

students who have EBD. A lot of research has been done on what schools can implement to help
these students and what environments they can benefit from.
This study is important because it can help address this problem that teachers face. It can
be a great resource and helpful guide for preservice teachers on strategies they can use with their
own students. As teachers it is our duty to try and help every child succeed and the hope is that
this study will give preservice teachers the tools to allow all students to thrive.
Purpose of the Study
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to learn from teachers the effective strategies they
use for helping students with emotional-behavioral difficulties and providing a resource to
preservice teachers.
Research Question
This study will address the following research question:
What are effective teaching strategies for working with students with emotionalbehavioral difficulties?
Definition of Terms
Emotional-Behavioral Difficulties/Disorders (EBD) - When a child has emotional and
behavioral problems that play-out in the classroom. These behaviors can either be externalized,
meaning it causes the student to have an acting-out style of behavior, or it can be internalized,
meaning it causes an inhibited style. (Smith et al., 2015.)
Response to Intervention (RTI) - A strategy implemented in schools that changes the roles and
functions of school counselors. These school counselors provide teacher consultation to
facilitate problem solving among student support teams, improve classroom instruction
experiences, and monitor progress. (Smith et al., 2015, p. 451).

Check-in/Check-out Intervention - A strategy designed to improve a students behavior in the

school setting by providing frequent feedback and monitoring of behavioral progress by school
personnel who have regular contact with target students (Smith et al., 2015, p. 451).


This study examines how to best aid and address students who struggle with EBD. The
first section, Theories for Plans of Action, focuses on two articles. The first article looks at
how emotional intelligence is key to creating a healthy environment in education systems. It
fosters student-teacher connections, awareness of student emotions, and teaches how to develop
healthy emotional responses. Following that is an article on what type of classroom environment
could be more beneficial, general education or self-contained, and the different aspects of each.
The second section, Specific Strategies, focuses on two more articles that provide specific
strategies to be used in schools and classrooms. One strategy is check-in/check-out intervention

that was proven to be very effective with students. The second strategy is the keystone strategy,
which is a practical approach for teachers to utilize to manage problem behaviors in the
classroom. In the end I will summarize the information that was found in the literature.
Theories for Plans of Action
The purpose of this first article is to draw attention to why focusing on emotions is
important in education and to address how to create emotionally intelligent schools. The authors
describe emotional intelligence as the ability to reason with and about emotions to achieve goals
and success in life (Brackett, 2015, p. 24-25).
Emotional intelligence means being able to recognize, understand, label, express, and
regulate emotions. Brackett states it is important to understand the students emotions so that
teachers can serve their students more effectively, and it is important for teachers to recognize
their own emotions and how it can affect their teaching. There are four key reasons why
emotions matter in the school environment. The first is that emotions can either enhance or
hinder classroom performance, learning, and a students attention. If a student is interested in
what is being taught then a student will pay more attention and be much more engaged.
Secondly, emotions are important in decision making because they can either negatively or
positively affect decisions. In one of his studies Brackett took a group of middle school teachers
and wanted to see how emotions might affect their grading. He split the teachers into two groups,
one group was asked to write about a negative memory for five minutes prior to grading and the
other group was asked to write about a positive memory for five minutes. Then the teachers were
all given the same essay to grade and the results were compared. The teachers graded much
lower after writing the negative memory than after writing the positive one. Thirdly, being aware
of emotions is key to creating good student-teacher relationships. And fourthly, emotions can

greatly influence our physical and mental health. High levels of negative emotions is bad for
your health, whereas people who have learned how to properly manage these negative emotions
experience greater psychological well-being. After we are aware of the huge role emotions play
in the education world we then need to understand the necessity for there to be emotional
intelligence in schools.
Results show how extremely important it is for teachers and students to become
emotionally intelligent. With the study done on middle school teachers mentioned before it was
found that the teachers who spent five minutes writing about a negative memory actually rated
the essay a full grade lower than the teacher who wrote about a happy memory. And what is even
more surprising is that afterwards only 14% of the teachers thought that the activity to set their
mood beforehand had actually affected their grading. This goes to show just how unaware some
teachers are at recognizing their emotions and the negative consequences poor handling of
emotions can have. Other observational studies done by Brackett (2015) have shown many
positive outcomes associated with emotional intelligence, such as improved cognitive and social
functioning, higher academic performance, and psychological well-being among students.
Among teachers it was found that there was a great reduction in stress and teacher burnout.
Despite all this research, however, not enough attention is being put on incorporating
emotional intelligence into our school systems and teaching it to students and teachers.
Emotional intelligence is more broadly being labeled and social and emotional learning (SEL)
these days. Many are pushing for schools to take social and emotional learning more seriously
because they recognize the improvement it can make in the lives of students (Brackett, 2015).
There are many ideas of what is best for EBD students and this is just one example. The next

study, however, focuses less on student-teacher connections and more on what teachers
specifically do in their classrooms in terms of learning.
It has been well noted that students who suffer from emotional and behavioral disabilities
(known as EBD) often show higher rates of problem behavior and lower academic abilities
(Maggin et al., 2011). These students are often referred to self-contained classrooms meant to
give them academic and social support they might not be receiving in a regular general education
classroom. Despite the goals of these classrooms, however, research has shown that there is lack
of progress for these students even in this new classroom environment (Maggin et al., 2011).
This raises the question of whether these self-contained classrooms use the best approaches and
are more beneficial to these students than general education. The purpose of this study is to
examine the differences in self-contained and general education classrooms and the instructional
and management approaches used to address the needs of students with behavior problems.
In this study there were two different sets of participants involved: teachers and students.
Researchers were given permission to conduct their study in two schools and then asked teachers
to participate along with students in their classrooms. In total, 111 K-4 teachers and their students
participated in the study. Of those who participated, 34 were self-contained classrooms (133
students) and 77 were general education classrooms (135 students). There were two components
to this study: observational and self-report. The observational component consisted of a range of
academic measures being observed directly by members of the research team in the classrooms.
The self-report component consisted of rating scales and checklists completed by the teachers
through their own direct observation with their students. Three categories were focused on to
assess in the study. Category one was effective instructional strategies, which encompasses
opportunities to respond (OTR), praise, and active instruction. This means seeing how many


times students are given the opportunity to respond, how often they receive praise from a teacher,
and how much time is spent learning through teacher instruction. Category two was effective
instructional practices, which focused on the use of evidence-based curriculum and material
content. Category three focused on the format in which instruction was being given to the
Results found that for category one self-contained and general education classrooms
spent the same amount of time engaged in active instruction, as well as the same OTR rates and
rates of praise. Unfortunately all teachers OTR rates were low, with about one OTR per 15
minutes. All teachers rates of praise were low also, with only two per 15 minutes. Despite these
low rates, students still appeared to remain highly engaged in both types of classrooms. Results
for category two found that less evidence-based content was given to self-contained classrooms
and they had a very low number of writing assignments compared to general education. Results
for category three found that teachers in self-contained classrooms actually provided nearly as
much small-group instruction as whole-class instruction. If there are advantages to self-contained
classrooms its in their structure for there is a lower student-teacher ratio which allows for more
individual instruction if needed. Teachers in general education classes do not get that kind of
The researchers successfully used their observations and self-report data to show the
differences in instruction and management that are occurring in both classroom settings and give
some insight into which ones were beneficial. OTRs and praise from teachers does not affect
student engagement and active instruction is equal in both settings. Self-contained classrooms
might have a structural advantage with lower teacher-student ratio, but they were lacking
evidence-based content and had a very low number of writing assignments.


Specific Strategies
Over the years strides have been made in researching and developing new strategies that
help students who struggle with emotional-behavioral difficulties in the classroom. In this study
Smith et al. (2015) examine how effective the strategy of check-in/check-out intervention with
peer monitoring can be. The purpose is to see how the check-in/check-out strategy using a fellow
student with emotional-behavioral difficulties to mentor a younger student with similar
difficulties can reduce problem behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors instead.
The participants of this study included two students and several collaborators. These
students served as the mentor and mentee of this case study. The mentor was a 16 year-old
African American boy in the 10th grade named Tyler. Tyler had a history of disciplinary referrals
for disrespectful and aggressive behaviors in the classroom and now participated in the special
education program for short periods of time during the day. Tylers mentee was an 8 year-old
African American boy in the 3rd grade named Jacob. Jacob had been referred due to emotional
and behavioral problems he often displayed in the classroom. The collaborators included the high
school counselor who supervised the implementation, Jacobs general education teachers, and
three graduate students who collected data.
Now, before we go into the procedures and methods of the study we must first define
what the researchers used to measure their outcomes. Before the intervention even began the
researchers used the Functional Assessment Informant Record for Teachers (2002), also known
as FAIR-T, to assist teachers in identifying problem behaviors of a student and figuring out what
factors affect this problem behavior. They also used direct behavior observations from what the
graduate observed in the study and Daily Behavior Report Cards. These report cards were
completed by his teachers daily throughout all of the study.


There were many steps to the method of this study. The first was the pre-intervention
preparation, where Jacobs teachers would complete the FAIR-T. What was discovered was three
behaviors that needed to addressed in the intervention: lack of responding to teacher prompts,
getting out of his seat a lot, and not listening to the teachers instructions. Jacob was also tested
on what rewards or reinforcers would work better for him. The second step was to train Tyler on
the check-in/check-out procedures that would be used. The third step was the baseline, where
Jacobs teachers used the daily behavior report card to assess him for three days before the start
of the study without his knowledge. Then researchers conducted three direct behavior
observations of Jacob. The fourth step was the intervention which was done in the span of seven
days. Jacob and Tyler were introduced to each other and the check-in/check-out was explained to
Jacob. The daily behavior report card was also explained to Jacob. The fact that his teachers
would be monitoring these three behaviors meant that he would need to react with appropriate
replacement behaviors in order to earn daily points. The fifth step is check-in where Tyler would
meet with Jacob at the school counselors office. Jacob would spin the reinforcement spinner that
would let him know what reward he would get if he got enough points that day. Then they would
review his daily behavior report cards from the day before and Tyler would give him positive
encouragement. Step six was Jacobs teachers filling out his daily report cards for the day. Step
seven was check-out, where Jacob and Tyler would again meet up at the end of the school day,
go over the report cards, and add up how many points he had received.
Results showed that this intervention was moderately effective for Jacob. During his
baseline period where he was unaware that he was being graded on the report card scale he
earned 52% of the total points, but during the intervention he earned 67% of the total points,
showing an increase in appropriate replacement behaviors within the classroom that allowed him


to earn more points. And not only did this intervention positively affect Jacob, it also affected
Tyler. At his follow-up interview, Tyler expressed his interest in doing this with another student
in the future and that this peer-mentoring role made him think more about his own behavior in
school as well.
Although this study only tested one example of this check-in/check-out intervention with
peer mentoring for students with emotional-behavioral difficulties a good point can be made to
its effectiveness. It could possibly be a very useful strategy to implement in schools to help
students who struggle with these difficulties. This is more an intervention strategy that would be
taken on by a school and not necessarily an individual teacher. The following study focuses on a
strategy that can be incorporated by teachers.
Ducharme and Shector (2011) aim to bring to light a proactive classroom management
strategy known as the keystone approach. Functional analysis and assessment is another
proactive strategy often recommended by clinical researchers, but the authors of this article argue
that the keystone strategy is far more practical for teachers.
The authors goal is to replace reactive management strategies with proactive ones.
Reactive approaches are techniques used to immediately terminate the problem behavior, such as
punishments or threats. This only produces a short-term outcome, however, and does not get to
the root of the problem. Students with problem behaviors often exhibit them when facing a
particularly challenging situation that they can not manage effectively because they do not have
the skill set needed to cope with it. Proactive classroom management strategies focus on
discovering the source of the problem and then teaching a skill set and replacement behaviors for
long-term improvement.


Ducharme and Shecter (2011) explain functional assessment and intervention, an

approach often used for clinical treatment that has been adopted by educators to help struggling
students. First, a hypothesis is developed of what purpose and function the problem behavior
serves based on observing the student. Then, a possible intervention method is provided to
change the environmental conditions to test how it affects the problem behavior. If this particular
method helps then you can now see the relationship between their behaviors and the antecedents
of that behavior. This allows you to now develop a specific intervention for the student.
Ducharme and Shecter (2011) argue however, that functional assessment is not always a practical
approach for teachers. It requires a large time commitment and can be challenging for those who
dont have training or expertise on doing this. Instead they propose an alternative approach:
keystone intervention.
One problem that often arises with children who have behavior difficulties is they often
demonstrate multiple behavioral difficulties, not just one. Therefore, a keystone behavior is a
relatively circumscribed target behavior that is foundational to a range of skills and related to
other responses such that, when modified, can have a substantial positive influence on those
other responses (Ducharme and Shector 2011, p. 261). The keystone intervention model was
then developed to define what keystone skills were important and most relevant to approaching
classroom management. These skills are compliance, social skills, on-task behavior, and
communication skills.
Compliance is the willingness of a child to follow requests or instructions of authority
figures. Ducharme et al. conducted a series of studies to test an approach to treating this problem
behavior, which was Errorless Compliance Training (ECT). In this training they taught parents to
encourage their children to respond to requests by making it part of their routine and starting


with small requests that the child wouldnt mind doing, such as telling them to eat your cookie.
Over time the requests would expand to requests less-favored by the child, such as turn off the
television. After the child complies to these requests, no matter what stage, the parents would
provide praise. By the end of the studies parents were able to deliver any type of request and
have the child responding compliantly.
Social skills are the ability to effectively interact with other people and understand social
rules and be able to follow them in order to avoid conflicts. Students with problem behaviors
very often lack social skills. In one study they took the time to teach these students how to
initiate social interaction with their peers. They had them keep track of how many interactions
they had and encouraged them with pursuing more. In another study they did role-playing and
modeling of acquiescence behavior, which is the ability to give in to the needs and will of other
children, in order to teach them.
On-task behavior is when a student is actively engaged in classroom activities and
focused on the learning. Students with problem behavior often avoid being on-task to escape
difficult tasks that they dont know how to overcome. In this study they taught students other
ways of handling the situation such as asking for assistance when needed and had parents do
home-based academic reinforcement.
Another crucial skill is communication. Some students lack the ability to verbally convey
their needs which then leads to them acting out. Researchers use Functional Communication
Training (FCT) in this study that teaches children to verbally request attention or assistance and
then were reinforced and praised when they successfully did so.
Overall, the training and tactics used to address each of these skills and curb problem
behaviors were very successful in each study. Other intervention methods, such as functional


analysis, could be impractical or unrealistic for many teachers, which is why these keystone
strategies were created. It addresses a wider range of problems rather than just one and gives
teachers the resources to effectively prevent problem behaviors in their own classrooms. Which
is good for everyone because it allows more time to be focused on learning.
All of the literature describes approaches that can be used to create an environment that
supports EBD students. It is important to reach them both emotionally and academically if
teachers truly want them to succeed. Brackett and Simmons (2015) focused on the emotional
side that is often not acknowledged in the education system but definitely should be. Many
positive outcomes spring from focusing on emotional intelligence and these techniques can very
easily used with EBD students, especially since their display of disruptive behavior often stems
from inability to properly handle emotions. Maggin et al. (2011) looked at the differences of selfcontained classrooms and which aspects are actually helping students academically. They found
that self-contained classrooms and small-group instruction could benefit these students, but these
types of classrooms are lacking in academic content. Smith et al. (2015) described a specific
strategy known as check-in/check-out intervention that was found to help improve students
behavior in the classroom. Ducharme and Shector (2011) focused on a proactive classroom
management strategy known as the keystone approach. The aim of this approach is to teach
replacement behaviors and develop four crucial skills in students with behavior problems:
compliance, social skills, on task behavior, and communication skills. In conclusion, the
literature points to successful strategies to use in classrooms to help students with EBD succeed.



The focus of this Capstone Project is the academic and social success of students who
deal with emotional-behavioral difficulties. These behaviors can be played out either externally
or internally, but for this study I will just be looking at the external display of these behaviors,
which usually means the student has an acting-out manner. The purpose of this study is to learn
effective strategies teachers use to help students with emotional-behavioral difficulties and


providing a resource to preservice teachers. It will address the research question: What are
effective teaching strategies for working with students with emotional-behavioral difficulties?
This study follows qualitative design using classroom observations. To answer the
research question, the researcher observed two classrooms in one elementary school, grades 3rd
and 1st. These observations took place at a school in the San Francisco Bay area. The researcher
first contacted these teachers to ask permission to observe in their classroom. She then spent
about four months in each individual classroom attending once or twice a week throughout the
course of those months. The researcher spent a total of 60 hours in classrooms during the Fall
and Spring semesters. The results from what she observed were recorded a total of five times.
Both of these teachers have had experience teaching and have knowledge on how to handle to
the different needs of their students.
Two teachers from two different grades in a public school in the San Francisco Bay area
were observed in their classrooms. The two teachers were chosen because they are teachers at the
school where the researcher is currently doing her fieldwork.
Teacher #1 is a Caucasian female teacher in her forties who has been teaching for over 15
years. She teaches the 3rd grade and was suggested to the researcher for fieldwork because she
had just won an award acknowledging her teaching. This teacher is also a former graduate of
Dominican University of California and has a Special Education Credential. Teacher #2 is a
Caucasian female teacher who has been teaching for 20 years now. She currently teaches the 1st
grade but has taught many grades over the years ranging from 1st to 5th.
Data Analysis


The researcher recorded her observations twice in the fall and three times in the spring.
These recorded observations were then reviewed to look for common themes and a thematic
analysis was done.


This research study followed a qualitative design using observations. Two participants
were observed and the observations were recorded. These participants are both elementary
school teachers from the San Francisco Bay area. The observations were analyzed using the
following research question: What are effective teaching strategies for working with students
with emotional-behavioral difficulties?
Observation Reports
1. 9/16/15 / 8:40-10:40 am / Reading and Vocabulary / Teacher #1


The researcher observed a 3rd grade classroom with a female teacher at a school in the
San Francisco Bay area. For the most part the researcher observed a generally well-behaved class
with not many too many outbursts or problems. There was one student who occasionally acted
out in class and was not very good at following directions but Teacher #1 was great at handling
the situation. She wasnt always trying to suppress him, which is something the researcher has
seen other teachers do with students like him. Instead she occasionally lets him have his fun,
such as when he tells a joke to the class and it cracks everyone up. She laughs along for a bit and
lets everyone get the giggles out of their system and then moves on. Sometimes though, he
would get a little out of line and she had to remind him to focus. When this happened shed look
at him and say in a kind, but straightforward tone, You need to go pull yourself together now.
He knew that this is his cue to go outside. Whenever she said this it is her giving him permission
to step outside the classroom for a minute to compose himself and once he got it out of his
system he could come back in to rejoin the class. This strategy seemed to be very effective in
calming him down and helping him refocus.
The researcher learned the importance of not shutting down students with EBD like is
commonly done, but to give them a way of showing when its okay to be themselves and when
its time to focus on school. Young children often have a lot of energy and need the opportunity
for self-expression and if youre constantly shutting them down that does nothing but fuel their
want to act out. It is also crucial to build strong student-teacher bonds to be able to handle these
situations the best. When there is a mutual respect between the two it makes understandings like
what Teacher #1 and her student have more capable.

11/11/15 / 8:40 am- 10:40 am / Reading, Writing, Vocabulary / Teacher #1


The researcher observed a 3rd grade classroom with a female teacher at a school in the
San Francisco Bay area. In this classroom the students have already been broken up into six
reading groups and during the time that the researcher is there observing they would get into
these groups. The researcher would work with one specific reading group and assist the students
with the task at hand. There was one particular student, whom we shall call Danny, in the
researchers reading group who struggled with some behavioral problems. He had difficulty
focusing on a task and staying still and silent, he would always be doing some kind of activity
such as humming or tapping. The researcher started noticing that he would sometimes have a
type of toy with him during reading groups. It was a yellow ring with a rubbery exterior and
rubbery points all over. This particular day he had it with him again and the researcher began
wondering whether there was a correlation between this new toy and his behavioral issues.
Teacher #1 explained that it was used to help him stay focused. He is very often making noises or
doing something with his hands and so the ring is something he can hold that will give him
feedback when he squeezes it. It gives him something to do and a place to focus his energy.
The researcher had never seen the implementation of a physical toy to help students with
EBD but after seeing the positive effects it had on Danny thought of was a fantastic strategy. He
was able to focus a more on the task at hand and for the most part stayed caught up with the rest
of his group. He would still occasionally go off task but it happened a lot less frequently, and
when it did occur it was easier to get him back on task. The researcher learned how beneficial
such tools can be for aiding students with EBD.
3. 1/20/16 / 9:00 am to 11:30 am / Vocabulary/Reading/Literacy
The researcher observed a 1st grade classroom with a female teacher at a school in the
San Francisco Bay area. At this point the students were learning about different seasons and


certain facts and vocabulary associated with those seasons. On this particular morning most of
the students were working on a chart of summer and winter while Teacher #2 worked with a
handful of students on their reading skills at the back table. For their chart the students had a big
piece of white paper with a line drawn straight down the middle and two bare, uncolored trees,
one on each side of the line. What the students were expected to do was color and decorate the
tree according to how it would look in that season and then write facts about that season around
each tree. She had an example of her own tacked up to the wall for students to refer to so they
knew what facts to write. These facts included the time the sun rises and sets, the months of the
season, and the weather conditions.
This particular morning she asked the researcher to work with one student in particular,
well call him Jose, and stressed that he really needed one-on-one attention. The researcher went
over to Joses table to find that he was seated with two of his closest friends and, as one would
expect of energetic little boys, they were enjoying goofing around with each other and had
completely abandoned their projects. Many attempts were made to get the boys focused again
but nothing seemed to be working. After about three attempts of trying to get Jose to start his
work he got irritated and snapped, No! The researcher was speechless and didnt know quite
how to handle the situation anymore. Unsure of where to go from there she began helping other
students who came looking for assistance. Teacher #2 noticed this and stressed again that he
really needs one-on-one help and explained that he just moved here from Mexico last May so he
still struggles with his English. She suggested the researcher take him away from the table to the
carpet in the front of the room. She said this for two reasons: to eliminate the distraction of his
friends, and so that he could be closer to her example on the wall. It turns out that since he
struggles with his English it helps him a lot to be able to see the words closer up and to have


them pointed out and explained so he could understand. The researcher came to realize that Jose
hadnt just snapped because he was irritated with her, he snapped because he was frustrated by
the project and the fact that he couldnt understand what he was supposed to be doing or writing.
Once he got on the carpet and the two started working on it together his outlook changed. He
worked diligently on it for the remainder of reading time. He wasnt a bad student, he was an
extremely bright little boy who just needed a little push with vocabulary to get to where he
needed to be.
The researcher realized that Jose in his own way struggles with behavioral problems at
times and it stems from a frustration with not understanding the language. Many students
struggle with behavioral problems for a variety of reasons and as a teacher you must learn how to
best help each of your students. The first really important step as a teacher is understanding the
root of the problem and what is bringing it about. In Joses cases Teacher #2 was very aware of
his struggles with English and knew it was something that needed to be worked around in order
for him to succeed. The second step is then to come up with a strategy or some type of tool that
will benefit the student. In this case Teacher #2 knew that just having someone work one-on-one
with him is the push that he needed.

2/3/16 / 9:00 am- 11:25 am / Writing, Reading, Vocabulary

The researcher observed a 1st grade classroom with a female teacher at a school in the

San Francisco Bay area. On this morning the students were learning about the difference between
the past and present. They first listened to Teacher #2 talk about it, do interactive activities with
it, and then they read about it on their own. While the teacher was teaching the researcher was
working with students in hall on their writing books. These writing books were aimed at teaching
them how to write their letters properly and then put the letters together to form words. The


students either just needed a little more direction on how to form their letters or needed someone
there to remind them to slow down so they can focus on improving their handwriting.
Part of what the researcher has been learning about through research is the importance of
differentiated instruction. One of the key aspects of helping these students be successful is
understanding that they might need a different approach to instruction in order to focus on
learning. Sometimes this means they need one-on-one instruction and guidance, sometimes it
means giving them a device or tool they can utilize in the classroom, and sometimes it means
having something for them to work towards, such as a type of reward system. Teacher #2 did an
excellent job of understanding the different needs of each of her students. She incorporated
differentiated instruction as much as she could in her classroom for the benefit of all her students.
While this was extremely helpful for students with EBD in her classroom, the researcher also
saw how it benefited the other students. On this particular morning she saw a prime example of
Teacher #2 taking into consideration the students different paces. In each of the writing
workbooks the students were on different pages. When handing the researcher the workbooks
she described who they would be working with and to encourage the students to get at least a
couple pages done but that the researcher should gauge how many they can do based on their
stamina. She understood that for some students sitting and writing was a really difficult task to
do for a long period of time, so she was more concerned that they put their best effort in with the
pages that they did do.
As a future teacher the researcher saw this approach as very admirable, that instead of
setting an expectation of how much a student should complete you place more value on the
amount of effort they put into the work that they do. This approach is especially important when
it comes to such a subject as writing because everyone learns how to write at a different pace. Its


not something that can be forced or rushed, its something that requires lots of practice and
patience in order to improve and thats important for students to realize.

2/24/16 / 9:00 am- 11:25 am / Writing, Reading, Math

The researcher observed a 1st grade classroom with a female teacher at a school in the

San Francisco Bay area. On this particular day Teacher #2 wanted the researcher to give a math
assessment to four students in a quiet area and to put in their best efforts. The goal wasnt to help
them with problems but to encourage them to try their best and observe to give feedback to the
teacher. The first student, whom well call Brad, continually struggles a lot with doing his work.
Brad has a very difficult time staying focused on his work and sitting long enough to get
anything done; hes always squirming out of his seat and wandering away from the task at hand.
To him its like a game of chase when you try to get him to sit again and focus.
In previous weeks there were great examples shown of strategies for helping students
who struggle with emotional-behavioral difficulties but this time the researcher did not come
across a new strategy. Instead they got more in the way of a reality-check in regards to what all
the research was being done on, EBD. Sitting with Brad through that assessment took a lot of
energy. The researcher tried her best to encourage him he could do it, to make completing the
assessment sound exciting, and to keep him focused. It wasnt very successful, however, and just
getting through one problem with him was an accomplishment in and of itself. After this
experience the researcher started realizing just how challenging it can be to have a student with
emotional-behavioral difficulties in your classroom and how easy it can be for them to fall
behind. You could read a lot about how to handle it but until youre actually dealing with it
yourself its completely different. It also made me start wondering what a boy like Brad could
really use to help him with his schoolwork.


Analysis of Themes
The Importance of Differentiated Instruction. Throughout each of these observations
the common theme that the researcher noticed as a means of helping students with EBD was
differentiated instruction. Teacher #1 and Teacher #2 each had their own strategies for addressing
these issues in their classrooms but they had one thing in common, the method they chose was
based on their knowledge of the needs of their students. There will never be just one fool-proof
strategy that can be used across the board for every student, the strategy that teachers choose will
depend on that individual student. For example, the observation on 11/11/15 Teacher #1, through
her assessment of her student Danny, had decided that what he needed was a physical toy. This
particular student struggled a lot with staying still and being focused no matter the attempts made
to make the activity and subject more engaging. Therefore, having a material toy instead that he
could squeeze and focus his energy on tremendously improved his ability to sit still in class and
allowed him to be more engaged in his learning. The observation on 1/20/16, however, showed
that sometimes the type of instruction a student might need is one-on-one instruction. During this
observation an English language learner tended to act out when he did not understand what was
being asked of him. But once someone was able to sit with him and explain and work through
the assignment with him he was very successful. Differentiated instruction is crucial for the
academic success of students with EBD but it does not just stop there, it is something that should
actually be used with all students. Every child is usually at a different place when it comes to
reading, writing, math, and so forth. One of the trickiest parts of teaching is knowing when to
tailor the instruction to the needs of the students, and this was a great example of this in the
observation on 2/3/16. Teacher #2 tailored individual students writing pages based on their
stamina and emphasize the value of quality over quantity. Each of these strategies, though very


different from one another, are clear examples of differentiated instruction being used in the
classroom and each had positive effects on the students they were aimed at assisting.
Summary of Findings
Overall, in each of these observations students struggled with emotional-behavioral
difficulties and the teachers faced the task of how to best help that particular student. None of the
strategies used by the teachers observed were the same, but they all had one common underlying
theme: differentiation. The teachers all understood that the key to helping these students succeed
and learning how to approach the situation in the classroom is differentiation. Differentiation
means that every student is different and learns in different ways, therefore teachers adapt the
learning depending on the different needs of their students. Sometimes this meant having a toy
the student could use to give them feedback and help with focus, other times it meant giving
them one-on-one instruction when possible. There are many different ways and strategies
teachers use with students with EBD, but the important part is making sure that you use the
strategy that best fits the needs of that particular student.


The purpose of my study was to learn effective strategies for helping students with
emotional-behavioral difficulties through a review of the literature and classroom observations.
From this, the hope was to also provide a good resource for fellow preservice teachers.
My research question was: What are effective teaching strategies for working with
students with emotional-behavioral difficulties? In each article I reviewed, the authors lent a
different strategy or approach for helping students with EBD.


Brackett (2015) focused on the importance of emotions and the role they play in the
classroom. Brackett has conducted many observational studies that reflect positive outcomes
associated with emotional intelligence. It is important for teachers to pay attention to emotions in
the school environment because they can either hinder or enhance a students learning and
engagement. Also, being aware of emotion is key to building healthy student-teacher
relationships and to understanding the individual needs of the students.
Smith et al. (2015) looked at how effective check-in/check-out intervention with peer
monitoring can be for students with EBD. Check-in/check/out intervention is when the student
would check-in at the beginning of the school day at the school counselors office and spin the
reinforcement spinner that showed him what reward he would get if he earned enough points
throughout the day for good behavior. At the end of the day he would return to the counselors
office to go over the report cards, and add up his points. During these check-in/check-out times
there would also be an older student mentor who also struggles emotional-behavioral difficulties
there to help encourage the student. This intervention method showed an improvement in
appropriate behavior for the student (from 52% to 67%) and also had an impact on the older
mentor, who expressed that his peer-mentoring role caused him to think more about his own
behavior in school.
The third study by Maggin et al. (2011), compared the instructional context for students
with behavioral issues in self-contained classrooms and general education classrooms. Results
found that there was actually very little difference between the two. They have the same amount
of effective teaching strategies as well as the same amount of whole-group and small-group
instruction. One difference was that self-contained classrooms used less evidence-based content
and curriculum and gave a very low number of writing assignments to students. Therefore,


pulling a student with EBD out of a general education classroom and placing them in a selfcontained one does not necessarily benefit the student.
In the fourth article, Ducharme and Shecter (2011) focus on in-depth strategies for
assisting teachers with managing problem behaviors in the classroom. The authors argue
functional assessment and intervention is not always a practical approach for teachers and
propose an alternative strategy: the keystone approach. The keystone approach focuses on
modifying a range of problem behaviors by using intervention that is focused on just one or more
target areas. These target areas are compliance, social skills, on-task behavior, and
communication skills. These are skills children EBD often lack but are crucial skills for every
child to have in order to be successful academically and socially, which is why it is important to
teach them these skills. The study found that targeting just one skill and helping students acquire
that one skill also improved their other skills.
My findings did not entirely reflect my Review of the Literature, but the strategies I
observed were equally as effective in aiding students with EBD. Teacher #2 used two strategies
to address these students in her classroom First, the teacher focused on individual instruction. A
student acted out when an activity was too difficult or he did not understand what was expected
of him. The teacher realized that he needed one-on-one instruction to give him extra support and
explain things in a way that helped him better understand the task at hand. Once he was given
this kind of support he was successful in his schoolwork and stayed on-task with the assignment.
Second, the teacher differentiated instruction consistently. This means tailoring instruction to
meet the needs of the individual student. Teacher #2 understood that each child learns differently
and at a different pace. One of their activities on this particular day of observation involved
students working in their writing books to practice their handwriting. Instead of assigning a set


number of pages to each student she wanted to gauge how many pages they complete based on
their stamina. She understood that for some students sitting and writing was a really difficult task
to do for a long period of time, so she was more concerned that they put their best effort in with
the pages that they did do. These findings do not relate to what was found in my review of the
literature, but it does show that there are in fact many different strategies for helping students
with EBD.
Teacher #1 used a totally different strategy for her student with behavioral problems
because his needs were different. This particular student was very fidgety during lessons, had
difficulty focusing, and trouble staying-on task which then led to him acting out. The teacher
decided to use toys as an intervention method. The student was given a yellow rubber ring with
rubber spikes all over it. The goal of this was to provide him with something to focus on,
something he could hold and squeeze that would give him some sort of feedback. After receiving
this tool we saw great improvement in his focus during class and his ability to stay on task.
Again, this does not relate directly to what was found in the review of literature, but rather
illustrates another strategy used by teachers.

There are two limitations to this research. The first limitation was the difficulty finding
academic research articles pertaining to my topic. Not a lot of research has been done on specific
strategies for emotional-behavioral difficulties in the classroom. The second limitation was the
number of teachers observed. Only two teachers were observed, both from the same school, for a
total of one semester each. Therefore, these may not be generalizable observations.


The research and findings show that there are many different effective strategies that can
be used to aide students with emotional-behavioral difficulties who exhibit problem behaviors
within the classroom. It appears that the key to figuring out which strategy or intervention to
implement is first discovering and understanding what the individual needs of that student are.
From there teachers can then implement a strategy to reduce these problem behaviors and help
the student become more successful academically and socially.
If this research were to be carried on further, I would recommend finding more articles
that relate to practical strategies used in the classroom. One of my articles focused on checkin/check-out intervention with peer monitoring, which is not necessarily something teachers can
implement on their own, it is more of a strategy developed by the school itself. Another of my
articles focused on comparisons between self-contained classrooms and general education
classrooms, and while this is beneficial to know which is impacting EBD students more it is not
actually a specific strategy to be utilized by teachers. I would also recommend observing more
teachers and possibly doing a few interviews to widen your research and incorporate even more
effective strategies.

In conclusion, there is not just one or two strategies that every teacher uses and that will
effectively reach every student with EBD. There are many different strategies and interventions
that can be effective. The key is first paying attention to the emotions, needs, and behaviors of
that individual student. With focusing on the root of the problem and finding ways to address that
particular issue we can ensure more positive, long-term effects on the improvement of the
student rather than just suppressing the problem behaviors every time they arise. Some students
will need a reward system, some may benefit from the use of toys, while others need one-on-one


attention or a differentiated instruction approach. Teachers can take the time to first understand
the needs of the student, then try different approaches to help this student. This may require trial
and error and a little extra time, but every student is worth the time put in to help them become
About the Author
The author is a junior Liberals Studies major at Dominican University of California and
is preparing to enter into the credentialing program in the fall. She began in the Liberal Studies
program as a freshman and upon graduating intends to continue on to receive her Special
Education Credential. The author has worked very hard to get where she is today and truly loves
the career path she has chosen.

Brackett, M., & Simmons, D. (2015). Emotions matter. Educational Leadership, 22-27.
Ducharme, J. M., & Shecter, C. (2011). Bridging the gap between clinical and classroom
intervention: keystone approaches for students with challenging behavior. School
Psychology Review, 40(2), 257-274.
Maggin, D.M., Wehby, J. H., Partin, T. M., Robertson, R., & Oliver, R. M. (2011). A comparison


the instructional context for students with behavioral issues enrolled in self-contained and
education classrooms. Behavioral Disorders, 36(2), 84-99.
Smith, H. M., Evans-McCleon, T. N., Urbanski, B., & Justice, C. (2015). Check-in/check-out
intervention with peer monitoring for a student with emotional-behavioral difficulties.
Journal Of Counseling & Development, 93(4), 451-459. doi:10.1002/jcad.12043