Addressing Challenging Behaviors (Part 1, Secondary): Understanding the Acting-Out Cycle
As you’ve learned, challenging behavior can negatively impact the classroom, causing stress and costing instructional time for teachers and students alike. Understanding the acting-out cycle helps educators to prevent and address challenging behavior. The seven phases of the acting-out cycle are reviewed in the table below.
Student behavior is characterized as goal-directed, compliant, cooperative, and academically engaged. The student is responsive to teacher praise and willing to cooperate with peers.
Student misbehavior occurs in response to an event either within or beyond the school day. When a student encounters a trigger, he may become restless, frustrated, or anxious.
The student can engage in a variety of off-task behaviors. Some students might dart their eyes, tap their fingers, or start and stop their activities. Others might disengage or stare off into space.
The student’s challenging behavior intensifies and is often directed at the teacher. It’s at this stage that a teacher often first recognizes that a problem is occurring.
The student’s behavior is clearly out of control (e.g., yelling at the teacher, hitting others, destroying property) and may create an unsafe classroom environment.
The student is less agitated and may be confused or disoriented. Many students will withdraw, deny responsibility, attempt to blame others, or try to reconcile with those they harmed.
The student is generally subdued and may wish to avoid talking about the Peak incident. The student returns to the Calm Phase.
In this interview, Kathleen Lane offers some final thoughts about the acting-out cycle (time: 2:30).
Kathleen Lane, PhD, BCBA-D
Professor, Department of Special Education
Associate Vice Chancellor for Research
University of Kansas
Transcript: Kathleen Lane, PhD, BCBA-D
It is critical for all educators who interact with students of all ages to understand the nature of acting-out behavior. And while it may seem that challenging or acting-out behavior just simply comes out of nowhere, in actuality, it’s simply [laughs] not entirely true. Oftentimes, there is a precursor behavior, something that comes before this big peak behavior when it happens. And remember, students engage in some of these less than desirable behaviors for a reason. That behavior is occurring to tell you something. There’s a communicative intent to that behavior. That behavior is telling you what they’re trying to either get or what they’re trying to avoid. There’s something generally that sets the stage for this behavior. But if we, as teachers, can approach it this way as a problem-solving approach, rather than taking it very personally, like “This child was so disrespectful to me.” Yes, it does come across as being disrespectful, but there’s a reason why it happened. If we can approach it from this problem-solving perspective, we can intervene much earlier to allow that student to maintain their dignity. And it allows you an opportunity to maintain your role as the instructional leader in that classroom. It allows you to keep instruction moving forward, and it creates a sense of safety for all of the other students in that classroom to know that you’re going to do your personal best to continue to model that really respectful behavior towards others. Because that should be the ultimate goal. All students are here to learn and gain academic and social experiences. And part of that is going to be to learn how to manage behaviors when things feel challenging along the way. And if we, as teachers, watch carefully, we can actually see that challenging behavior is part of a cycle of behavior. And the good news is that teacher behavior, such as providing engaging lessons with clear objectives and explaining upfront what you’re looking for in terms of behavioral and social skills objectives as well as academic objectives, really sets the stage so that we can be clear on what we’re hoping to accomplish. And then we can be well prepared on how to respond when things go wrong. Kind of like when the wheels fall off the bus, so to speak. But we want to have a clear path for setting the stage for calm, positive, productive environments that are grounded in these really respectful relationships with kids, with a clear plan in place as to what to do at each stage in the acting out cycle with hopefully the goal of never getting to peak behavior.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your responses to the Initial Thoughts questions at the beginning of this module. After working through the Perspectives & Resources, do you still agree with those responses? If not, what aspects about them would you change?
What should educators understand about challenging behaviors?
How can educators recognize and intervene when student behavior is escalating?
The second module in this two-part series will highlight the seven behavioral strategies listed below. Each strategy is described along with the steps necessary to implement it. Teachers can use these strategies to manage challenging student behaviors and prevent them from escalating to more serious levels.
- Behavior-specific praise
- Active supervision
- High-probability requests
- Opportunities to respond
- Choice making
- Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior
If you are interested in learning more about these behavioral strategies, please view the following IRIS Module:
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.