Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What are the strategies? Why do they work?

Academic Engagement

Academic engagement is one of the key predictors of academic success. When a student is present and engaged in the instructional activities, the student is available to learn. Disengagement not only is correlated with lower skill attainment but is also a risk factor for dropping out of school. Therefore, it may be necessary to provide the student with strategies that promote their ability to engage (and remain engaged) in academic activities.

This strategy involves teaching the student skills that will increase the amount of time they are attending to and actively interacting in the academic environment. It breaks down academic engagement into observable and measurable definitions and determining methods for directly teaching the student when they are or are not showing engaged behavior.

Academic engagement is best measured by the engagement rate, which is the proportion of time that the student displays behaviors that are compatible with engagement. When using this strategy, be sure to include a goal/criterion level of academic engagement that the student must meet, as well as a reinforcement system for achieving the criterion.

Independent Responding

Some students may engage in challenging behaviors when required to respond to direct requests, including responses to content-related questions posed by the teacher or other member of the class. This may be due to the student lacking the skills to answer the question, having anxiety about answering the question in front of other students, or not understanding the question or the response expected.

This strategy involves teaching the student skills that allow them to answer questions and volunteer responses without assistance from others. Teaching the intervention involves careful pre-planning of the instruction that will be delivered to the class, daily or weekly and identifying the routines/activities in which it would be most effective to implement the independent responding intervention. Planning includes providing a preview of the questions that the student will be asked and providing the responses so that the student will be prepared.

As the student gets more comfortable and confident responding to questions, the teacher can gradually fade the delivery of pre-prepared responses. This can be accomplished by using cloze techniques or providing multiple choice responses from which the student can select to ensure a high likelihood of choosing the correct response. Fading can also include lessening the preview of the questions that the student is given before responding, which can be achieved by decreasing the number of previewed questions or the frequency of previewing. This intervention requires significant preparation with the student. The initial assistance will be gradually faded as the student increases their use of independent skills. The goal is for the student to become proficient at responding to questions and/or volunteering responses entirely on their own.

Specific Academic Skills

This strategy involves teaching a student basic skills, such as reading, writing, or math, that will allow the student to be actively engaged and to complete instructional activities. This intervention is selected and implemented when the student engages in challenging behavior due to a lack of skills to complete the tasks required of them. Implementation of this strategy may require seeking the expertise of individuals who specialize in specific academic areas. For example, for a student who cannot read at the level of the tasks that are presented during independent work time, a reading specialist may need to be part of the behavior team).

There are several reasons for using the strategy. First, it is vital for all students to learn basic academic skills. These skills are building blocks on which all content learned throughout the student’s school years and post-school years are dependent. Second, although teaching replacement behaviors can be extremely effective at reducing challenging behavior and increasing appropriate behaviors, if the student does not have the basic academic skills to complete the work, the replacement behaviors may not be sufficient for future success. Third, there is ample evidence that academic and behavioral challenges are closely associated. That is, behavioral challenges may impact academic challenges, and vice versa. Therefore, teaching basic academic skills can increase the student’s competence and confidence and decrease their need to engage in challenging behavior.

Functions and antecedents these interventions work for

In general, the student…

  • shows low rates of engagement
  • has shown minimal academic growth
  • lacks necessary academic skills to do instructional tasks

Challenging behavior occurs when the student…

  • is required to work independently or has difficulty staying engaged in the task
  • is attempting to complete a complex or abstract task
  • gets ‘stuck’ while working on an academic task and does not know how to work through the difficulty on their own
  • becomes frustrated during activities that require independent responses
  • is denied response-assistance from an adult or peer

Challenging behavior occurs for the purpose of…

  • avoiding or escaping academic work in general
  • avoiding or escaping having to complete a task or answer questions independently (either due to skill deficits, performance deficits, or anxiety about responding in front of others)
  • getting attention or assistance from staff or peers during academic time or when required to complete a task independently

Steps for Implementation

  1. Identify the routines and content that are present when the student engages in challenging behaviors.
    • The team should also consider appropriate “prevention” strategies that will motivate the student to be engaged in instructional tasks (e.g., interspersing preferred topics or activities within materials, modifying curriculum content, or providing increased opportunities to respond).
  2. Determine the function of the challenging behavior.
    • This determination will help identify the appropriate intervention steps.
      • Examples:
        • If the function is to escape because the student does not have the skills to respond correctly, the intervention will focus on preparing the student with the correct responses. It may also include teaching the student the specific skills.
        • If it is due to the student not wanting to talk in front of others for fear of being wrong or that the peers will make comments, the intervention may include preparing the student to know the questions that he/she will be asked and pre-preparing responses to the questions.
  3. Define the alternate skill (academic engagement, independent responding) into measurable and observable terms so that the student understands the exact expectations. Decide how the skill will be directly taught to the student.
  4. Develop a task analysis of the intervention selected and teach it to student by using the following procedures:
    • Provide instruction/explanation of the intervention being taught. Provide several real-life examples of how the skill is used.
    • Demonstrate the skill through modeling.
    • Provide the student with guided practice opportunities after modeling.
    • Provide immediate feedback during guided practice, including positive comments for correct steps and corrective feedback for errors. Corrective feedback should be followed by more practice opportunities.
  5. Decide upon prompting procedures to cue the student during implementation.
  6. Implement the intervention as practiced.
  7. Deliver reinforcement to the student for successfully engaging in alternate behavior, such as independent responding or meeting criterion for active engagement.
  8. Gradually fade prompting cues and practice opportunities contingent upon the student data showing increased mastery.
  9. Continue to probe throughout the school year to ensure generalization.

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

See the Self-Management & Problem Solving Intervention Pages for resources and examples related to those strategies.

General Resources:

Math – Revisit the basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division if the student is having difficulty with advanced math.

  • Sample Math Lessons – The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) developed a series of math lessons and guidance documents that can be used when first introducing basic concepts or with students in higher grade levels who continue to struggle with the basic concepts. Includes content on number system/counting, basic facts, place value concepts, place value computation, fractions as numbers, and computation of fractions
  • Count me In! Supporting Students in Your Class with Math Difficulty – A webinar from the NCII highlighting freely available tools and resources that can help educators consider a scope and sequence for math skills, assessment and intervention practices, instructional delivery, concepts and procedures for whole and rational numbers, intensification considerations, and more. The webinar reviews the content available from the Intensive Intervention Math Course Content. The course content consists of eight modules covering a range of math related topics. Each module includes video lessons, activities, knowledge checks, practice-based opportunities, coaching materials and other resources.

Reading – Assess and focus on the specific components of reading such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, or text comprehension.

Supporting Research

Barton-Arwood, S. M., Wehby, J. H., & Falk, K. B. (2005). Reading instruction for elementary-age students with emotional and behavioral disorders: Academic and behavioral outcomes. Exceptional Children, 72(1), 7–27.

Hagan-Burke, S., Gilmour, M. W., Gerow, S., & Crowder, W. C. (2015). Identifying academic demands that occasion problem behaviors for students with behavioral disorders: Illustrations at the elementary school level. Behavior Modification, 39(1), 215–241.

Graham, S. (1985). Teaching basic academic skills to learning disabled students: A model of the teaching-learning process. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 18(9), 528–534.

Hughes, C. A., Ruhl, K. L., Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (2002). Effects of instruction in an assignment completion strategy on the homework performance of students with learning disabilities in general education classes. Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice17(1), 1–18. 

Lalli, J. S., Kates, K., & Casey, S. D. (1999). Response covariation: The relationship between correct academic responding and problem behavior. Behavior Modification, 23(3), 339–357.

Lane, K. L., Harris, K. R., Graham, S., Weisenbach, J. L., Brindle, M., & Morphy, P. (2008). The effects of self-regulated strategy development on the writing performance of second-grade students with behavioral and writing difficulties. The Journal of Special Education, 41(4), 234–253.

Lane, K. L., Weisenbach, J. L., Phillips, A., & Wehby, J. H. (2007). Designing, implementing, and evaluating function-based interventions using a systematic, feasible approach. Behavioral Disorders32(2), 122–139.

Liaupsin, C. J., Umbreit, J., Ferro, J. B., Urso, A., & Upreti, G. (2006). Improving academic engagement through systematic, function-based intervention. Education and Treatment of Children29(4), 573-591.

McDaniel, S. C., Houchins, D. E., & Terry, N. P. (2013). Corrective reading as a supplementary curriculum for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 21(4), 240–249.

Rock, M.L., & Thead, B.K. (2007). The effects of fading a strategic self-monitoring intervention on students’ academic engagement, accuracy, and productivity. Journal of Behavioral Education, 16, 389-412.

Strong, A. C., Wehby, J. H., Falk, K. B., & Lane, K. L. (2004). The impact of a structured reading curriculum and repeated reading on the performance of junior high students with emotional and behavioral disorders. School Psychology Review, 33(4), 561–581.

Tralli, R., Colombo, B., Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (1996). The Strategies Intervention Model: A Model for Supported Inclusion at the Secondary Level. Remedial and Special Education17(4), 204–216.

van der Worp-van der Kamp, L., Pijl, S. J., Bijstra, J. O., & van den Bosch, E. J. (2014). Teaching academic skills as an answer to behavioural problems of students with emotional or behavioural disorders: A review. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 29(1), 29–46.

Wehby, J. H., Falk, K. B., Barton-Arwood, S., Lane, K. L., & Cooley, C. (2003). The impact of comprehensive reading instruction on the academic and social behavior of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 11(4), 225–238.

What Works Clearinghouse. (n.d.). Evidence snapshot: Corrective reading.