"Rather than all of the attention, time, energy, and resources we put into kids who sometimes behave inappropriately, the focus is on the kids who behave appropriately and also deserve and need reinforcement for their behavior."

We all remember the student who couldn't stay seated in class, or who talked back to the teacher and was sent to the principal on a regular basis. Maybe we were that person. These are the children, the ones with emotional and behavioral challenges, that Lakeisha Meyer is determined to help. The former school psychologist and new Assistant Professor of Education is focused on providing schools with straightforward, evidence-based guidance on the best ways to identify and assist students who need some extra help.

The first step toward helping students is to identify who needs what level of assistance. One model gaining popularity for academic issues is called Response to Intervention. Students are given a screening test in reading comprehension, for example. Children who perform poorly are provided with a short-term intervention, such as a reading coach who guides them through specific skills. Only students who do not respond to interventions are directed to special education.

Response to Intervention seems to work in many cases, but there are few guidelines as to exactly how it should be implemented. Which interventions should be used? How many different interventions should be tried and for how long before deciding a student will be better served in special education? With no universal guidance, schools are left to figure it out for themselves.

Schools also have few guidelines for how best to help children with emotional or behavioral problems. One approach to addressing those concerns is school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Under this model, every school year starts with lessons on how to behave in school. Teachers cover everything from how to act in the hallway to what level of voice to use in the lunchroom. Throughout the school year, teachers and administrators then reward students for behaving properly.

"Rather than all of the attention, time, energy, and resources we put into kids who sometimes behave inappropriately, the focus is on the kids who behave appropriately and also deserve and need reinforcement for their behavior," Meyer says.

In her previous partnership with the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline, Meyer saw that Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports can help reduce behavior problems, especially at the elementary school level, but like Response to Intervention, more data are needed on exactly how well it works and the best ways to implement the programs. Meyer is interested in the intersection between the two programs.

"Is it possible that they really are the same thing and we don't have to present it to schools as if here's the model you have to use for reading problems, and here's the model you have to use when you are looking at emotional behavioral problems?" she asks. Providing a common approach that works whether a student can't seem to stay seated in class or is having trouble reading could simplify life for school districts and ensure that all children get the education they need.

Posted Sept. 22, 2009

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