Study proposes RTI model to change teacher behavior

Elementary Pupils Counting With Teacher In ClassroomIf a response-to-intervention (RTI) approach can work to change student behavior, why not turn the tables and use it with teachers to change their behaviors, propose researchers in a new study in Education and Treatment of Children.

The small study of 4 teachers used RTI to increase teachers’ use of praise in the classroom, both specific, conditioned praise and the ratio of positive to negative interactions with students. The urban middle school in the study was in its second year of implementing Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS).Administrators typically rely on professional development to change teacher behaviors, the study says.

One drawback of many professional development activities is that teachers don’t have the opportunity to practice the skills they learn and get feedback.  “A logical extension of the RTI approach would be its application to adult behavior within a professional development context.  Many current approaches to professional development are not supported by systems-level mechanisms to help sustain teachers’ efforts or enhance content knowledge,” the study says.

In this study, researchers used an RTI model to give teachers the opportunity to practice important skills and to get feedback. The training teachers received as part of the school’s move to SWPBS was considered by researchers to be Tier 1 or the primary-prevention effort of a 3-tier RTI model.Seven teachers who had unusually high rates of problem behavior in their classrooms self-nominated for more support (tier 2 and tier 3 interventions); 4 were able to complete the study.

“The use of praise has been shown to be one of the most consistently effective teacher behaviors associated with improved student behavior,” the study says.

“Teacher praise has been found to be most effective when it is contingent, descriptive, personal, and genuine.”

The recommended rate for praise under the SWPBS program was 6 instances of specific, contingent praise per 15 minutes.  The other important standard was a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions with students.  Teachers who needed further support in increasing praise received the following (Tier 2):

  • a brief consultation with rationale and examples of specific, contingent praise weekly data from a 15-minute class
  • observation measuring ratios of positive to negative interactions with students compared to the baseline measure
  • weekly praise from the researcher contingent on improved rates of specific, contingent praise statements

If the teacher met both criteria, for praise and the ratio of positive to negative reaction, he/she moved to maintenance. If only one criterion was met, the teacher remained in Tier 2 and if no criterion was met the teacher received the Tier 3 intervention.  Teachers who needed Tier 3 support received the following:

  • feedback after each observation session both via email and in-person daily interactions with researchers
  • scripts to use when praising students, suggestions for self-prompts (sticky notes or a reminder on the board)
  • further individuation of support if neither criterion was met, which might include reinforcers such as $10 giftjcertificates, modeling praise, etc.

Researchers also conducted class observations of 3 randomly selected students in 12-minute blocks to monitor changes in student behavior. Students of teachers in Tier 2 and 3 did show improvements in behavior as the interventions progressed, the study reports.

Of the 4 teachers in the study, one met both performance criteria after receiving Tier 2 support and 2 required more intensive support (Tier 3) to reach their goals   One teacher met one of the criteria and stayed in Tier 2 for the duration of the study.

“Although a functional relationship between teacher behavior and the level of professional development feedback was not established in the current data-based case study, the results do describe an application of an RTI approach to teacher training and suggest that a relationship may exist between the level of teacher support and a change in rates of teacher praise, indicating a direction for future research,” the authors conclude.

“Increasing Teachers’ Use of Praise with a Response-to-Intervention Approach,” by Diane Myers et al., Educational and Treatment of Children, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2011, pp. 35-59.

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