Content uploaded by Robert Alton Gable
All content in this area was uploaded by Robert Alton Gable on Apr 02, 2014
Content may be subject to copyright.
Back to Basics: Rules, Praise, Ignoring, and Reprimands Revisited
By: Robert A. Gable, Peggy H. Hester, Marcia L. Rock, and Kimberly G. Hughes
Gable, R. A., Hester, P. P. , Rock, M. L. , & Hughes, K. (2009). Back to Basics: Rules, Praise, Ignoring, and
Reprimands Revisited. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44 (4), 195-205.
Made available courtesy of Sage Publications: http://www.sagepub.com/
***Reprinted with permission. No further reproduction is authorized without written permission from
Sage Publications. This version of the document is not the version of record. Figures and/or pictures
may be missing from this format of the document.***
Research begun in the 1960s provided the impetus for teacher educators to urge classroom teachers to establish
classroom rules, deliver high rates of verbal/nonverbal praise, and, whenever possible, to ignore minor student
provocations. In that there have been significant advances in the knowledge of what constitutes effective
classroom management, a review of past-to-present literature was conducted to determine whether it is time to
alter the thinking about one or more of these basic behavioral strategies. The research conducted over the years
supports the basic tenets of these strategies, but with some important caveats. Finally, there are several newer
strategies that warrant attention.
Keywords: interventions; behavior, classroom; management; behavior
Some 40 years ago, researchers began a series of studies on classroom rules, teacher praise, planned ignoring,
and verbal reprimands. Among the most widely cited studies were those conducted by Zimmerman and
Zimmerman (1962); Becker, Madsen, Arnold, and Thomas (1967); and Madsen, Becker, and Thomas (1968).
The results of these studies have served as the basis for the preparation of generations of classroom teachers
who work with children and adolescents with learning and behavior disabilities. Recent legislation mandates
that school personnel make use of only those strategies for which there is strong empirical support (Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act Amendments, 1997; Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act,
2004; No Child Left Behind, 2002). For that reason, it was time to revisit the classroom use of rules, praise,
ignoring, and reprimands.
A review of the accumulated literature was conducted to determine how past-to-present research might inform
current classroom management practices in general and special education. The review of the literature included
general education, special education, and psychology, from the 1960s to the present. The key search words were
(a) teacher praise and attention, (b) verbal praise, (c) classroom rules and expectations, (d) ignoring, (e)
extinction, (f) inappropriate behavior, (g) reprimands, (h) positive feedback, and (i) recruiting positive attention.
In all, approximately 50 different sources were examined, including empirical studies, literature reviews,
position papers, and textbooks.
In what follows, the relationship among the following classroom practices is discussed: rules, praise, ignoring,
and reprimands. The circumstances under which one or more of these strategies are most likely to have a
positive influence on student behavior were examined. The conditions under which one or more of these
practices may not be effective or may even have a deleterious effect on student behavior is detailed. Changes in
thinking that have occurred over time, including the emergent strategies of contingent instruction and
precorrection are highlighted. Finally, the accumulated literature on rules, praise, ignoring, and reprimands is
summarized, and suggested ways are provided that school personnel might increase the positive effects of these
longstanding class-room management practices.
Teacher educators have long advocated that school personnel establish a set of basic rules with which to create a
safe, orderly, and productive classroom. Classroom rules are explicit statements that define behavior
expectations and that help to establish a predictable teaching and learning environment (Grossman, 2004; Kerr
& Nelson, 2006; Madsen et al., 1968). Classroom rules can be put in one of two general categories: organization
rules and learning rules (Performance Learning Systems, 2007). The former spell out behavioral boundaries for
students, offer predictability, and ensure a safe and disciplined classroom environment (Van Acker, 2007);
whereas, the latter support students’ success in learning academic content. Both sets of rules encourage students
to accept increased responsibility for their own behavior.
Effective Use of Rules
Gone are the long lists of classroom rules that enumerate an inordinate number of behaviors teacher deem
unacceptable (eg, no running, no talking, no wearing hats, no leaving your seat). Today, there is general
agreement that teachers should have relatively few classroom rules (ie, four–five rules), stated positively and
age-appropriately (eg, keep hands and feet to yourself, listen quietly while others are talking, raise your hand to
speak, and follow directions the first time; Burden, 2006; Grossman, 2004; Kerr & Nelson, 2006; Maag, 2004;
Scheuermann & Hall, 2008 ). In addition, there is general consensus that class-room rules should be necessary,
reasonable, easy to understand, and enforceable (Burden, 2006; Grossman, 2004; Kerr & Nelson, 2006). While
some authors assert that classroom rules should be differentiated according to the specific situation (Kerr &
Nelson, 2006; Maag, 2004), others argue that rules should be far-reaching enough to cover multiple classroom
situations and more general than those regulations that address routine classroom activities (Smith & Rivera,
1993). In either case, students should be taught, situationally and systematically, to comply with classroom
rules. Paine, Radicchi, Rosellini, Deutchman, and Darch (1983) suggested that instruction take place daily and
that it be brief (ie, 3–5 min). Teacher modeling is a proven effective way to introduce multiple examples and
nonexamples and affords the teacher an opportunity to clarify the qualities that distinguish accept-able and
unacceptable behavior. It also is essential that teachers explain to their students the positive consequences for
rule-following and the negative consequences for rule-violating behavior (Burden, 2006; Kerr & Nelson, 2006).
Some authorities encourage teachers to solicit student input when developing the rules and get student
commitment to follow them (e.g., signing a written agreement; Burden, 2006; Maag, 2004). For example, the
teacher might highlight for the class (e.g., verbally ―walk through‖ the day) the major activities and solicit from
students their thoughts about what acceptable or appropriate behavior would look and sound like. The teacher
might draw three columns on the board; the first column would contain the major activities, the second, desired
behavior, and the third column, a checkmark if a rule should apply. Experience has shown that students
sometimes suggest consequences that are overly harsh and/or rules that are not enforceable. The teacher may
need to guide discussion in a way that (a) minimizes the number of rules and (b) the magnitude of the
consequences for infractions. Once the teacher has taught students the rules and checked for understanding, it is
useful to periodically introduce booster training sessions in which rules are reviewed and students practice
acceptable behavior. Teachers should self-monitor the fidelity with which they enforce classroom rules by
keeping a simple running record of their actions.
Gaining Cooperation and Enforcing Rules
Experience suggests that student compliance and disruptive classroom behavior co-vary inversely. That is,
increased compliance usually leads to a reduction in the incidence of problem behavior (Parrish, 1986). Some
authorities suggest that teacher requests for rule compliance should be specific, delivered within 3 feet of the
student, and only after establishing eye contact (Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993; Van Hourten, Nau, MacKenzie-
Keating, Sameoto, & Colavecchia, 1982). Others contend that requests for eye contact should be reserved for
teacher delivery of positive reinforcement. However, given an increasingly diverse student population and
growing recognition of disparate cultural norms, there is good reason to question the present-day relevance of
past practices (Cartledge & Loe, 2001; Gable, Hendrickson, Tonelson, & Van Acker, 2002).
Notwithstanding conventional wisdom, simply establishing a set of classroom rules does not guarantee positive
outcomes. For example, teacher failure to impose some kind of consequences for every violation renders rules
ineffective (Madsen et al., 1968). Students are more likely to follow classroom rules if they believe that teachers
are cognizant of compliant versus noncompliant behavior (Kounin, 1970). Uncertainty regarding teacher
expectations can unwittingly cause students to engage in unacceptable behavior (Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey,
1999). Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests that inconsistent enforcement of classroom rules is a major
source of teacher/pupil conflict. Therefore, to reduce the probability of future misbehavior, teachers should
monitor students’ rule-abiding behavior and be prepared to intervene to address repeated violations (Grossman,
Most teachers can attest to the fact that some students repeatedly violate classroom rules. For these students,
researchers suggest that teachers introduce strategies designed with a two-fold purpose: (a) to decrease the
likely future occurrence of the behavior and (b) to increase the probability that a more acceptable behavior will
occur. This can be accomplished in various ways. For example, teachers can remove social or environmental
events that trigger behavior problems (eg, student placement close to an antagonistic classmate or in a high
traffic area of the classroom) and introduce events that signal students to engage in more appropriate behavior
(eg, nonverbal teacher cues to prompt rule-following behavior). It is important for school personnel to adhere to
the fair-pair rule (White & Haring, 1980) and introduce one strategy to decrease problem behavior and another
strategy to teach an appropriate substitute for it.
According to Neff and colleagues, teachers who include do and don’t requests are able to increase substantially
the rate at which students comply with class-room rules (Neff, Shafer, Egel, Cataldo, & Parrish, 1983). Rhode,
Jensen, and Reavis (1992) suggested the use of precision requests to increase student compliance. Precision
requests consist of (a) the student’s name, (b) a precise description of the required behavior, (c) use of a polite
and unemotional tone, and (d) a wait time of at least 5 seconds for the student to comply (eg, ―Joanna, stop
please—it is disrespectful to pull down artwork displayed on the wall.‖ ―Be responsible by keeping your hands
and feet to yourself. Do it now, please.‖).
Although not all authorities encourage teachers to identify the student’s motivation to misbehave (Grossman,
2004; Lane, Gresham, & O’Shaughnessy, 2002), it probably is important to do so for any student who is a
chronic rule violator (i.e., three or more times). Among the most common violations is the failure to comply
with a teacher request (Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997). The reason for a student’s failure to comply may be
a function of the following: (a) a skill deficit (the student does not possess the skill); (b) performance deficit
(the student possesses the skill but sees no reason to engage in it); or, (c) a self- control performance deficit (the
student possesses the skill but is unable to deal with competing forces—anger, frustration, fatigue; e.g.,
Gresham, Van, & Cook, 2006; Van Acker, 2007). Each of these sources of noncompliant behavior necessitates
a different intervention. Given the increasingly diverse student population and the relatively complex nature of
rules and expectations it is not surprising that many teachers find it difficult to make good use of classroom
The Overlapping Relationship Between Rules, Expectations, and Behavioral Routines
Today, there is growing sentiment that rules are largely compliance-driven in that they do not serve a skill-
building function. Accordingly, authorities encourage teachers to put emphasis on classroom expectations and
use rules as supporting guidelines that teach students what exactly constitutes appropriate behavior. Table 1
illustrates how specific rules are used to support broader behavioral expectations. Rather than serving a purely
regulatory function, expectations are a way to define appropriate classroom behavior (Bear, 2005) and to build
cohesion among students (Henley, 2006). In that teacher expectations will vary (eg, participation in a
cooperative learning activity versus transition from one classroom to another), each set of expectations should
be taught separately to students, and later be publicly posted and reviewed on a regular basis.
Behavioral routines or classroom procedures provide the daily infrastructure that support rules and expectations,
while minimizing student confusion and teacher disorganization (Burden, 2006; Henley, 2006). Peterson (1992)
maintained that a ―routine implements an action designed to achieve a specific outcome as efficiently as
possible‖ (p. 62). Among the most common behavioral routines are those that relate to (a) student use of the
restroom, (b) conduct at assemblies, (c) classroom transitions, and (d) going to the cafeteria. Teachers have used
both graphic organizers and scaffolding strategies to clarify for students expected behavior and to help establish
behavioral routines (Bear, 2005; Rock, 2004). Figure 1 contains an example of a graphic organizer to teach
students expected procedures when walking in the hallway. As can be seen, the graphic organizer contains a
mnemonic to increase student understanding and retention. Last, there may be some classroom activities that are
relatively low intensity and can be addressed by means of cues and verbal/nonverbal teacher prompts. Low
frequency or low intensity behavior such as an occasional comment to a classmate probably does not warrant
anything more than a verbal or nonverbal prompt. In all, classroom rules, expectations, and behavioral routines
afford teachers an opportunity to manage predictable classroom behavior and to align the complexity of the
management strategy to the importance of the particular behavior. Mirroring previous practices, schools have
begun to explicitly teach students what is expected of them not only in the classroom, but also on a schoolwide
basis and to acknowledge appropriate behavior in ways that are valued by the students (Bullock & Gable, 2003;
Sugai & Lewis, 1999).
Teacher Use of Classroom Praise
The second of the overlapping strategies is praise. Researchers have long been interested in teacher use of
classroom praise and its influence on both academic and nonacademic behavior (Gable, Hendrickson, Young,
Shores, & Stowitscek, 1983; Gunter & Denny, 1998; Lampi, Fenty, & Beaunae, 2005; Sutherland & Wehby,
2001). Praise consists of verbal or written statements that acknowledge a desired student behavior and is
manifested in several different ways. While not without its critics (Larrivee, 2002), use of contingent praise has
strong empirical support (Strain & Joseph, 2004).
Effective Use of Praise
Praise statements usually draw attention to a correct answer (e.g., ―Yes, 20 + 20 = 40‖) or include feedback on
student behavior, such as ―great job ... super reading‖ (Gunter & Reed, 1996). However, behavior-specific,
contingent feedback in which the teacher describes precisely the behavior usually is more effective (Feldman,
2003; Weinstein, 2003). Although not common practice (Kalis, Vannest, & Parker, 2007), the teacher might
say, ―I really like the way Johnny is standing quietly in line.‖ Table 2 offers additional examples of effective
teacher praise statements. Table 3 illustrates a scaffolding strategy for teacher praise.
Among myriad reasons for teachers to use praise is the fact that it can promote a more positive relationship
between teacher and student, and in turn, a more supportive learning environment (Shores et al., 1993; Walker
et al., 1999). Researchers also have shown that the power of praise increases when it is delivered in close
physical proximity to the student and in a manner acceptable to the student (e.g., verbal or nonverbal, public or
private; Burnett, 2001; Feldman, 2003; Lampi et al., 2005). Last, while tangible rewards should be used
sparingly (Bear, 2005), for students with a history of gaining attention by misbehaving, it may be necessary to
pair verbal praise with more tangible reinforcement (Piazza, Bowman, Contrucci, Delia, Adelinis, & Gold,
1999; Walker et al., 1999).
Brophy (1981) argued that praise is not always synonymous with positive reinforcement. He asserted that its
function is determined by the relationship between verbal and nonverbal aspects of teacher behavior, the context
in which the interaction occurs and, most importantly, the actual effect it has on pupil behavior. Although not
widely researched, there also may be age- and gender- related dimensions of teacher praise. For example, Miller
and Hom (1997) reported that older students view classmates who receive praise (and little negative feedback)
as less capable, which is opposite the opinion held by younger children. Burnett (200 1) suggested that younger
children would rather receive ability feedback and that female students prefer attention for effort more than
male students do. Last, in some cases, teacher classroom praise may be counterproductive when a student does
not wish to please the teacher (Feldman, 2003).
The classroom behavior problems of some students are the result of long-standing coercive interactions (eg,
student complies with teacher request simply to terminate a highly aversive exchange, student confronts teacher
and the teacher backs-off), which can make positive interventions, including the use of praise, less effective
(Walker et al., 1999). It also is important to recognize that, for some students, teacher attention even in the form
of disapproval is better than no attention at all (Alberto & Troutman, 2006; Madsen et al., 1968). One proactive
option is to increase a student’s opportunity to respond and respond correctly (at least 75%), which results in
higher rates of academic engagement and, in turn, an increased opportunity for teachers to acknowledge
successful student performance (Sutherland, Wehby, & Yoder, 2002). Another significant by-product of this
approach is the increased probability that teachers will come to view students more positively and focus less on
their negative behavior (Sutherland et al., in press). Strategies that teachers can use to increase the use of praise
include: peer coaching, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation (Kalis et al., 2007). Peer coaching usually consists
of systematic classroom observation (ie, use of tally sheet) by another teacher and a subsequent sharing of
information. The observer may record the number of opportunities that students have to respond and, in turn,
receive positive feedback. Teachers can use a hand-held counter or simply transfer a penny from one pocket to
another for each praise statement as a way to monitor their verbal behavior (Kalis et al., 2007). Finally, Gunter
and Reed (1996) developed a protocol that teachers can use to conduct a functional assessment of their teaching
behavior. Teachers videotaped instruction and then self-evaluated various discrete behaviors, including praise.
Gunter and Reed reported that teachers could reliably self-evaluate their instruction and make adjustments that
led to positive changes in teaching behavior.
Student Recruitment of Teacher Praise
Another way to increase the rate of teacher praise is to teach students how to recruit it. Classroom researchers
have shown that students can be taught ways to gain teacher attention and praise that can trigger inactive teacher
―contingencies of reinforcement‖ (Alber & Heward, 2000). That is, student recruitment efforts (e.g., ―See, I
completed the assignment‖) can motivate teachers to praise student behavior. Likewise, students have long been
taught to engage in various kinds of teacher pleasing behavior to evoke a more positive teacher response (e.g.,
establish and maintain eye contact, nod occasionally) (Graubard, Rosenberg, & Miller, 1965).
In all, use of classroom praise is a multidirectional strategy. Teachers can deliver contingent praise, and students
can be taught to solicit it (Alber & Heward, 2000). Numerous studies highlight the positive influence of
contingent praise and the fact that praise usually works best in combination with other strategies, including
increased student opportunities to respond correctly (Sutherland et al., 2002) as well as teacher physical
proximity (Gunter, Shores, Jack, Rasmussen, & Flowers, 1995; Shores et al., 1993). Most teachers express a
preference for strategies that do not demand a great deal of time (Elliott, Witt, Galvin, & Peterson, 1984; Witt,
1986)—praise is just that. Contingent praise requires virtually no teacher preparation and can be applied
effectively to a wide range of academic and nonacademic behavior.
Given the documented positive effects of teacher praise, it is puzzling why so many teachers make little use of it
(Gable et al., 1983; Gunter & Denny, 1998; Shores et al., 1993; Sutherland & Wehby, 200 1; Sutherland et al.,
2002). There are several possible explanations. First, in both the popular press and the professional literature,
critics have raised questions about the legitimacy of classroom praise (Larrivee, 2002). Second, the climate of
the workplace does not always support the use of evidence-based practices such as teacher praise (Gable, 2004).
Finally, some teachers may not feel comfortable routinely acknowledging positive pupil behavior. Even so,
there is absolutely no reason to believe that praise is either controlling or has a detrimental effect on children
(Kratochwill & Stoiber, 2000). In fact, there is a compelling body of empirical evidence regarding its positive
impact on both academic and nonacademic behavior (Lampi et al., 2005; Shores et al., 1993; Sutherland et al.,
2002; Walker et al., 1999).
Teacher Use of Planned Ignoring
The third management strategy is planned ignoring. There are various ways teachers can deal with class-room
misbehavior, including ignoring inappropriate student behavior. Planned ignoring is a form of extinction
designed to weaken, decrease, or eliminate a behavior (Sheuermann & Hall, 2008). For example, when the
teacher ignores call-outs (i.e., does not attend to verbal misbehavior), the intent is to signal to the student that
inappropriate behavior will not lead to desired outcomes (Alberto & Troutman, 2006).
Effective Use of Planned Ignoring
In introducing an extinction strategy, Sheuermann and Hall (2008) suggested that teachers explain to students
that when a target behavior occurs there will be no teacher response. The underlying assumption is that by
withholding reinforcement, the student will cease to engage in the target behavior. In some instances, that is
what happens. However, in other cases, inappropriate student behavior is positively reinforced by classroom
peers (e.g., classmates encourage a peer to call out or otherwise disrupt instruction), the behavior itself is
reinforcing to the student (e.g., student gets pleasure and satisfaction from exercising control over a situation),
or the behavior is escape-motivated (e.g., aversive teacher-pupil interactions; Burnhill, 2005). In these
instances, ignoring student behavior is likely to have little or no appreciable effect. Interventions that focus on
the source of the inappropriate behavior will be more effective (e.g., teacher behavior, curricular demands/
expectations; Burnhill, 2005).
Notwithstanding its strong theoretical underpinnings, planned ignoring can be a difficult strategy to implement
consistently. In addition, ignoring the student can exacerbate the problem by increasing the frequency or
magnitude of inappropriate student behavior (Madsen et el., 1968). Past research suggests that praising
appropriate behavior and ignoring inappropriate behavior sometimes increases the disruptive behavior of certain
students (O’Leary, Becker, Evans, & Saudargas, 1969). Understandably, it might be disconcerting to the teacher
to witness an increase rather than decrease in the problem behavior. Two points are worth emphasizing. First, an
increase in problem behavior concomitant to the teacher beginning to ignore a particular behavior may reflect
the fact that teacher attention is the motivation behind the behavior and the student simply is trying harder to
illicit it. The second point is that the increase usually is temporary especially if the teacher reinforces alternative
or incompatible student behavior. Finally, lapses in teacher ignoring of inappropriate behavior can serve as
intermittent reinforcement that makes it more resistant to extinction (Witt, VanDerHeyden, & Gilbertson,
The accumulated research on planned ignoring is some-what equivocal. There are instances in which planned
ignoring will produce positive changes in pupil behavior. However, inappropriate student behavior often serves
multiple functions (e.g., attention getting, task avoidance) and there are multiple controlling factors that may
further diminish the impact of ignoring. Today, many experts encourage teachers to focus not only on what the
behavior of the most challenging students looks like (i.e., form), but also to identify the reason(s) the students
engage in the behavior (i.e., function) and to use that knowledge to develop a plan of intervention (Lane et al.,
Teacher Use of Nag Statements and Verbal Reprimands
For various reasons, some teachers do not make use of positive strategies such as contingent praise. Instead,
they resort to coercion to deal with inappropriate student behavior, such as threats, nags, and/or reprimands
(Shores et al., 1993; Van Acker, 2007). Teacher threats, nags, or verbal reprimands can have a more immediate
impact on student behavior than praise statements. That is, reprimands (e.g., ―Stop talking—now!‖) can lead to
the cessation of student misbehavior, if only temporarily (Alber & Heward, 2000). Another problem is that
teachers who rely on coercive strategies may unintentionally pay more attention to a student’s misbehavior and
engage in increasingly more coercive interactions, which may reinforce the very behavior they wish to
extinguish (Alberto & Troutman 2006; Madsen et al., 1968; Shores et al., 1993).
There is ample evidence that teacher threats, nags, or reprimands can increase the probability that students will
engage in escape-motivated behavior (e.g., defiant acts, noncompliance with teacher requests; Shores et al.,
1993). Yet another reason to avoid negative teacher responses is that they alienate students, undermine the
integrity of the teacher/pupil relationship, and often exacerbate an already difficult situation. Last, critical
teacher comments are highly correlated with subsequent student verbal or physical aggression (Van Acker,
Grant, & Henry, 1996).
Effective Use of Reprimands
If teachers believe strongly that a mild reprimand is appropriate, researchers maintain that private, quiet
reprimands are more effective than loud reprimands delivered in front of an entire class (O’Leary, Kaufman,
Kass, & Drabman, 1970). Reprimands should be brief as opposed to lengthy (Abramowitz, O’Leary, &
Futtersak, 1988). Furthermore, a reminder regarding the expected behavior should accompany a teacher
reprimand. While some experts advise that teachers maintain a ratio of praise-to-nags of at least of 4:1 or 3:1
(Kalis et al., 2007; Shores et al., 1993), there is growing sup-port for more proactive strategies.
The Shift From Reactive to Proactive Classroom Management
Several authorities urge teachers to resist the temptation to use reprimands and to substitute contingent
instruction, which is one way to communicate to a student what behavior to start rather than point out only the
behavior to stop (Curran, 2006 [IRIS Center]). Contingent instructions are specific teacher directions for
students to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior and to start engaging in a more appropriate alternative
response (Curran, 2006 [IRIS Center]). Connolly, Dowd, Criste, Nelson, and Tobias (1995) described
contingent instruction as a coupling request, by which teachers address both inappropriate (i.e., calling out) and
desired behavior (i.e., raising your hand). In using this strategy, teachers should pause briefly between the initial
request for a student to cease an inappropriate behavior and the subsequent request for the student to engage in
the correct behavior. It is especially important that teachers point out to the student the benefit of engaging in
more acceptable behavior (e.g., remain part of classroom activity, proceed to cafeteria with classmates; Brophy,
In the past, the majority of classroom management strategies focused on consequent or reactive events (Gable,
Bullock, & Evans, 2006). At one time, 90% of teachers’ disciplinary responses consisted of some kind of
negative consequences or punishment (Colvin, Sugai, & Patching, 1993). However, in recent years, attention
has shifted from consequent events to antecedent events and the use of preventative classroom interventions.
One such strategy is precorrection. Precorrection is a proactive strategy that allows teachers to look at possible
antecedent events and analyze the contextual basis for inappropriate student behavior (Crosby, Jolievette, &
Patterson, 2006). For example, Colvin et al. (1993) devised a precorrective strategy to deal with predictable
classroom behavior problems. The focus is on (a) manipulating contextually based classroom antecedents of
inappropriate pupil behavior, (b) establishing an accept-able level of classroom conduct, (c) using behavioral
rehearsal to teach students positive behaviors, (d) and teacher use of cues, prompts, and positive reinforcement
of appropriate student behavior.
Precorrection begins with teacher identification of a potentially difficult situation, both the context in which the
behavior occurs and the behavior itself. Next, the teacher (a) delineates the expected behavior, (b) modifies the
context in which the behavior is to occur, (c) provides multiple opportunities for students to practice the
expected behavior, (d) delivers positive reinforcement to students who engage in the expected behavior, and (e)
gives reminders to students regarding the expected behavior before the opportunity arises to engage in the
behavior (Colvin et al., 1993). Similarly, Lewis (2004) advocated an error correction strategy that is comprised
of three parts:
1. Signaling the student that an error has occurred (refer to a particular rule; ―We respect others and that
means no put downs.‖).
2. Asking the student to engage in a more appropriate response (―How can you show respect and still get
your point across?‖).
3. Ensuring that the student has ample opportunity to practice and be reinforced for engaging in a more
acceptable behavior. In either case, teacher precorrection decreases the likely future occurrence of the
inappropriate behavior (Lampi et al., 2005).
Precorrection statements should be given before students engage in an activity that may precipitate problem
behavior, which also serves to increase greater student self-regulation (Colvin et al., 1993; Van Acker, 2007).
However, error correction is useful only to the extent that the student is able to engage in the desired response
or the teacher is willing to teach it directly and systematically. As with any intervention, the effectiveness of
precorrection is relative to the power of competing contextual forces (e.g., amount of encouragement classmates
give a student to act-up; Van Acker, 2007).
Conclusions Regarding the Use of Rules, Praise, Ignoring, and Reprimands
The accumulated evidence shows that rules, praise, ignoring, and reprimands continue to represent sound
classroom management strategies, but with several caveats. First, experts assert that teachers should limit the
number of rules to those that can be enforced consistently and concentrate, rather, on behavioral expectations.
Second, those classroom expectations should be taught directly and systematically, and students should have
ample opportunity to engage in the behavior and receive positive teacher feedback. Third, teacher feed-back
should include a clear message regarding both start and stop behaviors (Van Acker, 2007), whereas, low
intensity behavior may be addressed best through teacher cues and prompts (e.g., ―Class, remember to...‖).
Fourth, many authorities no longer view praise as a stand-alone strategy; rather, they suggest that teachers pair
praise with physical proximity and increased opportunities for students to respond correctly. This
recommendation is predicated on the so-called spread effect that stems from the use of multiple evidence-based
practices. Finally, if teachers choose to use planned ignoring, it should be coupled with differential
reinforcement of incompatible behavior to increase the level of acceptable student behavior (Scheuermann &
In the review, it was found that, over time there has been a marked increase in the importance attached to
antecedent strategies, such as contingent instruction and precorrection. In addition, there has been growing
recognition that positive classroom reinforcement must be strong enough to support a plan of intervention
(Deunic, Smith, Brank, & Penfield, 2006). Both research and experience underscore the fact that there are times
when the use of rules, praise, or ignoring is counter indicated. When it is obvious that rules, praise, or ignoring
are not working, the best course of action is to develop a plan of intervention based on a functional behavior
assessment (Alberto & Troutman, 2006; Burnhill, 2005; Kerr & Nelson, 2006; Lane et al., 2002).
In all, the accumulated research supports the efficacy of longstanding classroom management strategies
consisting of rules, praise, ignoring, and reprimands. And, because such tactics require neither extensive
preparation nor excessive effort, it makes good sense for teachers to make use of these proven-effective
strategies. Along with the judicious use of classroom rules, contingent praise, planned ignoring, and quiet
reprimands, strategies, such as maximizing learning time, offering ample opportunities for high rates of correct
responding, and monitoring of group-individual performance, allow teachers to establish a positive classroom
climate conducive to learning. There is one final thought. A recommitment to the basic practices puts teachers
one-step closer to creating a classroom environment in which all students are successful learners.
Abramowitz, A. J., O’Leary, S. G., & Futtersak, M. W. (1988). The relative impact of long and short
reprimands on children off-task behavior in the classroom. Behavior Therapy, 19, 243-247.
Alber, S., & Heward, W. (2000). Teaching students to recruit positive attention: a review and recommendations.
Journal of Behavioral Education, 10, 177-205.
Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. (2006). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Bear, G. (2005). Developing self-discipline and preventing and correcting misbehavior. Boston: Pearson Allyn
Becker, W. C., Madsen, C. H., Arnold, C. R., & Thomas, D. R. (1967). The contingent use of teacher attention
and praise in reducing classroom behavior problems. Journal of Special Education, 1, 287-307.
Brophy, J. (1981). Teacher praise: a functional analysis. Review of Educational Research, 51, 5-32.
Brophy, J. (1998). Motivating students to learn. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Bullock, L. M., & Gable, R. A. (Eds.). (2003). School wide proactive strategies for dealing with challenging
behavior. Reston, VA: Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders.
Burden, P. (2006). Classroom management: creating a successful K-12 learning community (3rd ed.). Hoboken,
Burnett, P. (2001). Elementary students’ preferences for teacher praise. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 36,
Burnhill, G. P. (2005). Functional behavioral assessment in schools. Intervention in the School and Clinic, 40,
Cartledge, G., & Loe, S. A. (200 1). Cultural diversity and social skill instruction. Exceptionality, 9(1&2), 33-
Colvin, G., Sugai, G., & Patching, W. (1993). Precorrection: an instructional approach for managing predictable
problem behaviors. Intervention in the School and Clinic, 28, 143-150.
Connolly, T., Dowd, T., Criste, A., Nelson, C., & Tobias, L. (1995). The well-managed classroom: promoting
student success through social skills instruction. Boys Town, NE: Boy’s Town Press.
Crosby, S., Jolievette, K., & Patterson, D. (2006). Using precorrection to manage inappropriate academic and
social behaviors. Beyond Behavior, 16, 14-17.
Curran, C. M. (2006). Encouraging appropriate behavior. The IRIS Center for Faculty Enhancement. Retrieved
October 23, 2006, from http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/case_studies/ICS-005.pdf
Deunic, A. P., Smith, S. W., Brank, E. M., & Penfield, R. D. (2006). Classroom-based cognitive-behavioral
interventions to prevent aggression: efficacy and social validity. Journal of School Psychology, 44, 123-139.
Elliot, S. N., Witt, J. C., Galvin, G. A., & Peterson, R. (1984). Acceptability of positive and reductive
behavioral interventions: factors that influence teachers’ decisions. Journal of School Psychology, 22, 353-360.
Feldman, S. (2003). The place for praise. Teaching PreK-8, 5(6).
Gable, R. A. (2004). Hard times and an uncertain future: issues that confront the field of emotional/ behavioral
disorders. Education and Treatment of Children, 27, 341-352.
Gable, R. A., Bullock, L. M., & Evans, W. H. (2006). Changing perspectives on alternative schooling for
children and adolescents with challenging behavior. Preventing School Failure, 51, 5-9.
Gable, R. A., Hendrickson, J. M., Tonelson, S. M. & Van Acker, R. (2002). Integrating academic and
nonacademic instruction for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Education and Treatment of
Children, 25, 66-73.
Gable, R. A., Hendrickson, J. M., Young, C., Shores, R. E., & Stowitscek, J. J. (1983). A comparison of teacher
approval and disapproval statements across categories of exceptionalities. Journal of Special Education
Technology, 6, 15-22.
Graubard, P. S., Rosenberg, H., & Miller, M. B. (1965). Student applications of behavior modification to
teachers and environments or ecological applications to social deviancy. Reprinted in R. Ulrich,
T. Stachnik, & J. Marbry (Eds.). Control of human behavior: behavior modification in education (pp. 421-432).
Glenview, IL: Scotts, Foresman and Company.
Gresham, F. M., Van, M. B., & Cook, C. R. (2006). Social skills training for teaching replacement behaviors:
remediating acquisition deficits in at risk students. Behavioral Disorders, 32, 363-377.
Grossman, H. (2004). Classroom behavior management for diverse and inclusive schools (3rd ed.). New York:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Gunter, P. L., & Denny, R. K. (1998). Trends and issues in research regarding academic instruction of students
with emotional behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 24, 44-50.
Gunter, P. L., & Reed, T. M. (1996). Self-evaluation of instruction: a protocol for functional assessment of
teaching behavior. Intervention in School and Clinic, 31, 225-230.
Gunter, P. L., Shores, R. E., Jack, S. L., Rasmussen, S. K., & Flowers, J. (1995). On the move: using
teacher/student proximity to improve students’ behavior. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28, 12-14.
Henley, M. (2006). Classroom management: a proactive approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education,
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-17, (1997).
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-446, (2004).
Kalis, T. M., Vannest, K., & Parker, R. (2007). Praise counts: using self-monitoring to increase effective
teaching practices. Preventing School Failure, 51, 20-27.
Kerr, M. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2006). Strategies for managing behavior problems in the classroom (4th ed.).
Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Kounin, J. (1970). Discipline and group management in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Kratochwill, T. R., & Stoiber, K. C. (2000). Empirically supported interventions and school psychology. School
Psychology Quarterly, 15, 233-253.
Lampi, A., Fenty, N., & Beaunae, C. (2005). Making the three Ps easier: praise, proximity and precorrection.
Beyond Behavior, 15, 8-12.
Lane, K. L., Gresham, F. M., & O’Shaughnessy, T. E. (2002). Intervention for children with or at risk for
emotional and behavioral Disorders. Boston: Allyon & Bacon.
Larrivee, B. (2002). The potential perils of praise in a democratic interactive classroom. Action in Teacher
Education, 23, 77-88.
Lewis, T. (2004). In L. M. Bullock, R. A. Gable, & K. L. Melloy (Eds.). Classroom-level supports for students
with learning and behavior problems. Effective interventions for classrooms, schools, and communities—
Making a difference in the lives of students with learning and behavior problems (pp. 15-18). Reston, VA:
Council for children with Behavioral Disorders. Accessed: January 4, 2009.
Maag, J. W. (2004). Behavior management: from theoretical implications to practical applications (2nd ed).
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Madsen, C. M., Becker, W. C., & Thomas, D. R. (1968). Rules, praise, and ignoring: elements of elementary
classroom control. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 139-150.
Miller, A., & Hom, H. (1997). Conceptions of ability and the interpretation of praise, blame, and material
rewards. The Journal of Experimental Education, 65, 163-177.
Neef, N. A., Shafer, M. S., Egel, A. L., Cataldo, M. F., & Parrish, J. M. (1983). The class specific effects of
with ―do‖ and ―don’t‖ requests; analogue analysis and class-room application. Journal of Applied Behavior
Analysis, 16(1), 81-99.
No Child Left Behind Act of 200 1, Pub. L. No. 107-110, (2002).
O’Leary, K. A., Becker, W. C., Evans, M. B., & Saudargas, R. A. (1969). A token reinforcement program in a
public school. A replication and systematic analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 3-13.
O’Leary, K. D., Kaufman, R. E., Kass, R. E., & Drabman, R. S. (1970). The effect of loud and soft reprimands
on the behavior of disruptive students. Exceptional Children, 37, 145-155.
Paine, S. C., Radicchi, J., Rosellini, L. C., Deutchman, L., & Darch, C. B. (1983). Structuring your classroom
for academic success. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Parrish, J. (1986). Experimental analysis of response covariation among compliant and inappropriate behaviors.
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19, 241-254.
Peterson, R. (1992). Life in a crowded place: making a learning community. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Performance Learning Systems. (2007). Establishing effective rules. Performance Learning Plus, 32. Retrieved
from http://www.plsweb. com/resources/newsletters/enews_archives/32/2003/09/01/
Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Contruci, S. A., Delia, M. D., Adelinis, J. D., & Goh, N. L. (1999). An
evaluation of the properties of attention and reinforcement of destructive and appropriate behavior. Journal of
Applied Behavior Analysis, 32, 434-449.
Rhode, G., Jensen, W. R., & Reavis, K. (1992). The tough kid book: practical classroom management
strategies. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Rock, M. (2004). Graphic organizers: tools to build behavioral literacy and foster emotional competency.
Intervention in School and Clinic, 40, 10-37.
Scheuermann, B. K., & Hall, J. A. (2008). Positive behavioral sup-ports for the classroom. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Shores, R. E., Gunter, P. L., & Jack, S. L. (1993). Classroom management strategies: are they setting events for
coercion? Behavioral Disorders, 18, 92-102.
Skiba, R. J., Peterson, R. L., & Williams, T. (1997). Office referrals and suspension: disciplinary intervention in
middle schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 20, 295-315.
Smith, D. D., & Rivera, D. M. (1993). Effective discipline (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Strain, P. S., & Joseph, G. E. (2004). A not so good job with ―good job‖: a response to Kohn 2001. Journal of
Positive Behavioral Interventions, 6(1), 55-60.
Sugai, G., & Lewis, T. (1999). Safe schools: school wide discipline practices. Reston, VA: Council for Children
with Behavioral Disorders.
Sutherland, K. M., & Wehby, J. (2001). The effects of self-evaluation on teacher behavior in classrooms for
students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Special Education, 35, 161-171.
Sutherland, K., Wehby, J., & Yoder, P. (2002). Examination of the relationship between teacher praise and
opportunities for students with EBD to respond to academic requests (emotional and behavioral disorders).
Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 5-14.
Van Acker, R. (2007). Strategies for dealing with classroom aggression. Paper presented at the Working Forum
of the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. Las Vegas, NV.
Van Acker, R., Grant, S. H., & Henry, D. (1996). Teacher and student behavior as a function of risk for
aggression. Education and Treatment of Children, 19, 316-334.
Van Houten, R., Nau, P. A., MacKenzie-Keating, S. E., Sameoto, D., & Colavecchia, B. (1982). An analysis of
some variables influencing the effectiveness of reprimands. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 15, 65-83.
Walker, H. M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1999). .Antisocial behavior in schools: strategies and best practices
(2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brookes/Cole.
Weinstein, C. S. (2003). Secondary classroom management: lessons for research and practice (2nd ed.). Boston:
White, O. R., & Haring, N. G. (1980). Exceptional teaching: a multimedia training package. Columbus, OH:
Witt, J., VanDerHeyden, A., & Gilbertson, D. (2006). Trouble- shooting behavioral interventions: a systematic
process for finding and eliminating problems. School Psychology Review, 33, 363-384.
Witt, J. (1986). Teacher resistance to the use of school-based interventions. Journal of School Psychology, 24,
Zimmerman, E. H., & Zimmerman, J. (1962). The alteration of behavior in an elementary classroom. Journal of
the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 5, 50-60.