Behavior Disorders In The Inclusive Classroom: What Strategies Are Best?

Lacey Easterday, Haysville, KS
Lacey Easterday, Haysville, KS

There are several students in classrooms today who have differing needs such as learning disabilities, disorders, individual education plans, and more. Many students also suffer from Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD), and researchers have found that these students are among the lowest academic achieving students in schools. The graduation rates of these students are much lower than those with learning disabilities and other disorders (Mooney 2008). This is due to the behavioral and social issues that can lead to loss of academic understanding, such as lack of teacher praise, limited Opportunities to Respond (OTR), learned helplessness, negative reinforcement, negative classroom environment, and teacher attitude.

We must first look at the type of environment in which students with EBD participate. Meadows, Neel, Parker and Scott (1994) studied students with emotional and behavior disorders who were part of a self-contained classroom. Thirteen of the nineteen students were ‘mainstreamed’ into a regular classroom setting for core academic subjects. Surveys were filled out by the students, the teachers, and other staff members involved with the students at the school. Students who were mainstreamed were found to have higher academic achievement and better social skills than their peers who did not mainstream. However, similar studies have found that students in the self-contained rooms had more one to one instruction due to a smaller group setting, thereby making it easier for these students to learn (Maggin 2011). The students in the Meadows study (1994) who mainstreamed did not receive any accommodations from the general education teachers, and expectations were placed on all students regardless of the EBD diagnosis.  The study showed that students who had mainstreaming as a part of their academic day were more successful students, attentive, hard-working, and focused. This was true both academically and socially. Students in self-containment on the other hand, struggled with emotional and behavioral issues. In order to accommodate students with more serious issues into mainstream education, teachers will have to individualize their teaching more. This will require more support from the counselor, principal, and other relevant school support systems.

The teacher plays a large role in student success in the classroom. Research shows that teachers are ill-prepared to deal with students having EBD. Teachers also provide little or minimal praise to these students, both in the self-contained setting and general education classroom. One hundred and twenty-five teachers were surveyed as part of a study to measure their attitude towards students with EBD as part of the general education setting (Barker, Van Reusen, Shoho, 2001). The survey noted that teachers felt they lacked resources to deal with these students, they felt they did not have the appropriate training, and most teachers did not accommodate for students they knew had EBD.

So, if teachers are dealing with these struggles, what is the solution to achieving an inclusive classroom? Several strategies show positive results for all students, especially students with EBD.  These include peer-mediated interventions, self-mediated interventions, and teacher-mediated interventions (Mooney, Pierce, Ryan 2008). Peer-mediated interventions include peer to peer interactions where students are responsible for taking control of the learning task. These strategies include cross-age tutoring, peer tutoring, and peer assessment.  Self-mediated interventions include activities in which students take ownership of the task. Students will who participate in self-mediated interventions practice self-monitoring and strategy instruction. Teacher-mediated intervention involves the teacher modeling the task in an “I do, we do, you do” manner. Specific strategies for use are outlined in an article by Mooney, Pierce, and Ryan (2008).

Cognitive Behavior Model

Music teachers deal with the same struggles as they work with students with EBD. We must teach to all students, providing and inclusive classroom. “Teachers can help children with behavior disorders, such as ADHD, by learning more about the origins of the disorders and implementing strategies that meet the students’ needs” (de l’Etoile 2005).  The Cognitive Behavior Model engages the brain and the body and can be of use for students with disabilities. This focuses the student on appropriate behaviors. The Cognitive Behavior Model combines three well known theories of behavior: operant learning theory, social learning theory, and cognitive theory/cognitive training. Operant theory allows teachers to focus on desired behaviors while still presenting class content, in combination with the social theory which teaches student with EBD the desired behaviors through modeling and having consistent consequences. This combination teaches social learning and motivates them intrinsically to learn content. The cognitive theory focuses on a student’s ability to self-monitor or self-regulate.

All these skills together create the Cognitive Behavior Model. Students with EBD can struggle in these areas and de l’Etoile provides suggestions for ADHD, EBD and students with learning disabilities (2005). Strategies that can be used for all students are named by Maggin, Moore, Robertson, Oliver, and Wehby (2011). They suggest giving students more opportunities to respond (OTR), using active instruction such as aural, kinesthetic, and visual instruction, and hands on learning, and using teacher praise effectively (ratio 4:1). Strategies to effectively reach this goal include Kagan-based cooperative techniques, such as turn and talk to a partner, talking to a shoulder partner and small groups. When asking students to share out, ask them to share their partner’s answers so that you can see if the student is actively listening. Other strategies include having all students complete a task with manipulatives, such as pointing to heart beats (as icons for pulse) or placing dots on lines and spaces, and having a partners check their work.

Students who struggle with EBD fall easily into the trap of low academic achievement and social skills. Sign and Sutherland believe students who struggle in this way, do so partly because of learned helplessness, and negative reinforcement (2004). This is why we must be cautious and work hard at implementing the strategies outlined above.

There is truth that lies behind the idea of learned helplessness and negative reinforcement. Five solutions are provided as social validities. First the ratio of teacher to student praise must be high. Mooney (2011) states that the ratio of teacher praise to negative comments should be 4:1. Second is motivational homework made by the student, teacher, and parents. Could teachers come together with the child study team to make motivational homework possible for students? Could projects be centered around the students’ interests but still meet academic and behavioral criteria? It is necessary to pull in those who have much more knowledge on the subject, (i.e. speech therapist, occupational pathologist, counselor, principal, etc.) to create appropriate work.  We must be cautious though because this is an area where learned helplessness can occur. Third, counseling can provide students the opportunity to express things which cannot always be expressed in other settings. Fourth, though it is impossible to fully do, teachers must strive for errorless teaching. While we strive for excellence and errorless teaching, reality shows that teachers will make mistakes. Teachers must be prepared in all areas of content, using best strategies to teach all student including those with EBD. Finally, medication is sometimes necessary.

Learned helplessness is still a problem and something that has to be considered.  “Given the development of helpless behavior patterns, students with EBD may learn to respond to all academic instruction as aversive, regardless of the difficulty level. For these students, it may be easier not to attempt tasks than to risk failure, for even if success is achieved, reinforcement from the teacher may be unlikely to occur or have little value for the student” (Signh, 2004, p. 178).

The strategies outlined above effectively help students with EBD because of the brain and body engagement used by the Cognitive Behavior Model. Students with EBD need more support in ways such as active learning, OTR, and teacher praise. Teachers must maintain a positive outlook, an appropriate attitude towards inclusion in the general education classroom and a move away from inappropriate placement in self-contained classrooms and toward self-containment that effectively integrates some degree of mainstreaming. Each student’s case should be individually reviewed to be determined if mainstreaming should be expanded to include special area classes. Special area classes, such as music, teaches qualities that can support a student’s social skills, making them feel successful. If we can support students, making them feel successful, then we may be able to raise their engagement in the academic setting and therefore eventually change their outlook. This can ultimately change their academic and social outcome for later in life.


Barker, K., Van Reusen, A., Shoho, A., (Dec. 2000- Nov. 2001). High school teacher attitudes toward inclusion. The High School Journal, 84(2) 7-20. Retrieved from

De l’Etoile, S., (May 2005). Teaching music to special learners: Children with disruptive behavior disorders. Music Educators Journal 91(5) 37-43. Retrieved from

Maggin, D., Moore Partin, T., Oliver, R., Robertson, R., Wehby, J. (February 2011). A comparison of the instructional context for students with behavioral issues enrolled in self-contained and general education classrooms. Behavioral Disorders 36(2) 84-99. Retrieved from

Meadows, N., Neel, R., Parker, G., Scott C. (May 1994). Academic performance, social competence, and mainstream accommodations: A look at mainstreamed and nonmainstreamed students with serious behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders 19(3) 170-180. Retrieved from

Mooney, P., Pierce, C., Ryan, J. (2008). Evidenced-based teaching strategies for students with EBD. Beyond Behavior 17(3) 22-29. Retrieved from

Singh, N., Sutherland, K., (February 2004). Learned helplessness and students with emotional of behavioral disorders: Deprivation in the classroom. Behavioral Disorders 29(2) 169-181. Retrieved from

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