Behavior Problems – An Analytic Tool

For a few years now my district has conducted “whiteboards” when we have a child demonstrating some significant behavioral issues.  I honestly have no idea if our “whiteboards” are based on any specific education theories, or if they have just become a part of what we do.  What I can say is that they are unbelievably helpful when I am really struggling with a student’s behavior.

A “whiteboard” basically means that we sit down as a team (this could include an entourage of specialists and parents, or simply a teacher or two) and map out what we are seeing on a whiteboard.  In reality, the whiteboard is not necessary at all.  A simple piece of paper will do.

Here are the steps:

1. We begin by listing the student’s disruptive or difficult behaviors.  This is usually very easy to do, as these are the frustrations that led us to do this work in the first place.  The key is to not get hung up here.  We try to spend two or three minutes listing behaviors, and then move on.


2. Step two is to start to fill in the antecedents (what happened directly before the negative behavior(s) occurred, and the consequences (what happened in response to the behavior(s)).  Our goal is to focus on the antecedents, as this really informs the student’s perspective.


When we look at consequences, we have to look deeper than “the student needed to leave the class” or “the student missed an activity.”  We have to notice if the student is getting lots of attention for the behavior, or if they are avoiding things.  We think about a need that the student may be trying to fill (attention, control, break, sensory input, etc).


3. Once we have spent about ten to fifteen minutes on the A, B, Cs (antecedents, behaviors, and consequences), we try to come up with a summative statement that gets at the heart of what the student is doing.  We try to combine the student’s behaviors and motivation in one sentence.  For example, “The student is being violent in order to gain control over situations that frighten him,” or “the student is being disruptive during work time to gain attention and avoid difficult work.”


4. Keeping this statement in mind, we begin to list things that the student needs us to teach him.  This might include calming strategies, social skills, listening skills, etc.  Some behaviors are simply a result of a lack of knowledge or appropriate experience.  At this stage we must give the student the benefit of the doubt.  It is important to take a step back and assume that the behaviors are not simply to frustrate the teacher – they are the student’s way of communicating a need.

5. Finally, we come up with a list of things we can give the student to fill their need.  This might be a sensory break, a preview of a lesson before the group, a visual schedule, a break after a long work time, etc.

By the time we are working on the “teach” and “give” sections, we are in planning mode.  We are coming up with strategies and interventions to help both the student, the class, and the teacher.  After really considering and mapping out the behaviors, it immediately becomes easier to think of things we can do to help.  And the frustration I feel as a teacher in these behavior situations always lessons.

I wanted to share this process because I just did it for the first time on paper, and realized how easy it can be to do.  I always felt that it needed to be a big scheduled event, in the conference room, with a whiteboard.  Really, it is something one or two teachers could sit down and talk about together.  You could do it on your own for any student, although working with a colleague is wonderful in terms of developing ideas and gaining perspective on the situation.  I put together the forms I use to facilitate the process, as well as a sample case to show what it might look like.  (These are the photos I used throughout this post.)  I am offering this FREE exclusively to my blog readers, so thanks for reading!  I hope you give it a try.  Please let me know if you do!

What do you do at your school when a student’s behavior seems to be out of control?  Or when it is negatively impacting the functioning of your class?

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10 Responses to Behavior Problems – An Analytic Tool

  1. Venus November 19, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I think this is very thorough and Thoughtful. It gives far more creedence to the roots of behavior than methods I remember using in special needs classes. We get a lot of behaviors that need to be dealt with. I haven’t been in a special needs class for about two years. What I recall is pinpointing specific behavior and maybe briefly evaluating possible causes. Then paperwork, find baseline of the behavior try some change to see if behavior improves and document. Then evaluate for improvement, add possible changes if needed, more documentation. It may be important to get a real picture of a before and after but I think the method you described could save precious time and trees. The focus is on finding the cause and working to fix that, not finding the behavior itself and fixing that slowly and methodically, without really thinking too much about the root cause of the behavior. If you fix the root of the problem, that limits the need for the behavior. One of the main things we’re taught for class management, is to create an environment that limits problems, think ahead to set up the class in a way that limits the need for behavior problems. If you know that one child gets upset and starts taping his foot on the chair in front of him, which provokes the child in front of him to anger and frustration, then avoid the whole problem. Put the child with the taping foot to the front, maybe provide a soft support to the front. Just an example, that doesn’t require a baseline, data tracking, and repeated evaluation. Of course most problems aren’t that simple, but some are.

    • Susie LaBelle November 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      I’m your newest follower! I found you through TBTS!


      • Teaching Ace November 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

        So glad you stopped by! Thanks for reading, and good luck with the blogging journey. 🙂

  2. Teaching Ace November 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    I think the great part about this technique is that it looks at all behavior as a form of communication. Each behavior is communicating something, and negative behaviors are communicating needs of some kind (attention, control, safety, sensory break, etc). Once we get to the need (or as you said, the root of the problem) we can be more productive with planning interventions.

    I also think this process helps me to take a deep breath and give the student the benefit of the doubt. It can be hard sometimes, but this helps! Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  3. Sarah January 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    Thank you so much for this info. I teach preschool in my home and my own son is my biggest challenge. My husband and I are working on ways right now on what we can do to help him and we didn’t know where to start. Thank you thank you thank you. So happy I found your blog. Sarah

    • Teaching Ace January 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

      I am so glad! I really hope it helps – it has been very helpful for me. Best of luck!

  4. shannon January 15, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I wish you were my childs teacher! We have pulled him out and home school now due to behaviors that the teachers looked at as a bad kid. he has aspergers and does not communicate with words when he needs something therefore he misbehaves. having him home has allowed me to actaully ” see” this. I believe more teachers need to invest time like you have to find out what is going on in these little brains. Thank you for making a difference in children.

    • Teaching Ace January 15, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      Hi Shannon! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I am saddened to hear that your child’s experience in school was so negative. All children have a right to a quality public education, and it is a shame that things went the way they did for him. However, he is lucky to have motivated parents that are caring for him and teaching him in ways that work for him. Each child is their own puzzle, so the more we can figure out how they are thinking, the better for all of us! Best wishes to you.


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