Use of behavior-specific praise to improve learning outcomes in inclusive classrooms
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General education teachers need to be equipped with effective evidence-based practices to meet the needs of the growing population of students with an emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD), at risk for EBD, or who engage in challenging behavior in the classroom. General education teachers often lack training on working with these students and may be overwhelmed by the challenges these students may present (Allday et al., 2012). While research targeting improved academic outcomes for students with EBD is limited, there is enough to provide some foundational strategies for teachers (Lane, Barton-Arwood, Nelson, & Wehby, 2008; Sutherland & Wehby, 2001). However, the gap between research on practices that effectively improve academic outcomes for this population and those practices being implemented continues to exist. One example of this disconnect is teachers’ inconsistent use of praise for students with EBD; praise is not used consistently in classrooms with students with EBD (Briere, Simonsen, Sugai & Myers, 2015; Gable, Tonelson, Sheth, Wilson & Park, 2012). The current study examined if teachers’ knowledge of and practices in providing behavior-specific praise (BSP) to students with EBD, at risk of EBD, or who otherwise engage in challenging behaviors align with the indications from current research; that is, do teachers have the background knowledge and skills to improve the learning-task engagement and academic performance of elementary students with EBD, at risk of EBD, or who engage in challenging behaviors in the classroom? Descriptive statistics (e.g., frequency distributions, mean) were calculated to gain an understanding of the teachers’ current knowledge and practices delineated in the survey. Qualitative data from open-ended questions were analyzed to identify themes and patterns; six themes emerged. Findings from this study revealed that most teachers know and understand the difference between general praise (GP) and BSP and they are using BSP with students with emotional/behavioral difficulties in inclusive classrooms. Teachers in this study indicated that they felt emotional/behavioral difficulties interfere with overall student learning and engagement during academic instruction and academic tasks, but less than half indicated that they felt confident supporting the academic needs of students with emotional/behavioral difficulties; participants also indicated a need for additional strategies to manage the behavior of these students.