WVU professor uses behavior analysis to create a better learning environment in Monongalia County Schools
Students who misbehave in class not only harm themselves, but can also create diversions that may cause a distraction to peers’ learning. West Virginia University’s Claire St. Peter, an associate professor of psychology, received two grants that will benefit the local school district through the implementation of behavior analytic programs.
St. Peter received nearly $50,000 in funding from the Monongalia County Board of Education. This funding supports St. Peter’s “Behavior Education Assisting Children in Overcoming Needs (BEACON)” program and another small project targeted at middle school students. Through these grants, St. Peter and two doctoral candidates in psychology, Shana Bailey and Tonya Marsteller, will not only help troubled students, but also build teachers’ skills and knowledge about the use of behavior analysis to improve student performance.
The project is designed to make changes to teaching strategies, teacher-student interactions and room arrangements, with the ultimate goal of maximizing student learning. Students from pre-kindergarten through high school are eligible for the program. The bulk of the students supported by the grant are in elementary school or are students with disabilities. St. Peter and her team record data on student behavior, and use the data to set goals and to work with teachers on using reinforcers to decrease challenging behaviors and make students more successful.
One major reinforcer to lessen negative behavior includes praise when positive behavior is exhibited. Other reinforcers can include afterschool activities like playing basketball with a friend or computer privileges. St. Peter may involve the parents of students in reinforcement activities, for example, if the student behaves all week, parents may plan a special outing or meal to acknowledge the good behavior.
St. Peter also educates teachers on how to approach problems with behavior when they are on their own. Sometimes ignoring the disruptive student can be in the student’s best interest, particularly if the student is acting out simply to gain attention. Learning when to use these techniques can create a more cooperative classroom atmosphere.
The program is currently working with 7 students. Over the course of a school year, approximately 30 students will receive targeted assistance.
The South Middle School Practicum grant is a short-term project designed to support the reintroduction of a student back into school full-time through the implementation of St. Peter’s program techniques.
“The BEACON program aims to improve behavioral and academic outcomes for school-aged children. We believe that children are the product of their environments, and that changing those environments can help children to achieve their potential,” she said. “Each child is an individual, so services for each child must be tailored to that child’s needs. Additionally, the programs developed for children must be appropriate for, and acceptable to, the caregivers of the child. The BEACON program attempts to balance best practices based on the empirical literature with the values of the child and community.”
St. Peter received her doctorate in behavioral analysis at the University of Florida in 2006. In her research, she examines issues related to the relation between “basic” and “applied” studies and the development of behavior-analytic strategies appropriate for schools.
For more information, contact Claire St. Peter, at 304-293-4603 or Claire.StPeter@mail.wvu.edu
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