Using Computers to Initiate Active Learning for Students With Severe Behavior Problems

by KAROL A. REGANICK, Education Department Chair Manatee Palms Adolescent Specialty Hospital Bradenton, Fla. echnology must be integrated into the curriculum if learning is to be active and functional, and where students with behavior problems are engaged in meaningful developmental processes. The following proposal aims to do exactly that. Not long ago, computers were generally utilized by students in special classes for drill and practice of basic academic and problem-solving skills that supplemented traditional instruction. Cheney, who investigated the results of CAI in classrooms for students with severe behavior problems, found that CAI leads to increased attention to task and less disruptive behavior.1 Fitzgerald found that teachers used the computer for contingency management, cooperative learning, developing social/leisure skills and monitoring behavior.2 Anderson-Inman urged that students with special needs use the computer as a tool to support writing tasks, as user-friendly writing programs generally motivate students to write more.3 Finally, teachers who use technology in the classroom are likely to be positive role models affecting students' attitudes toward computers. Since teacher attitudes and efficacy are strongly influenced by their prior computer training, staff development is a key ingredient in any successful program.4 Teachers must be comfortable and confident when using computers in the classroom if their students are to enjoy the learning process and achieve success using computers. Reform Effort As the lead teacher of eight public school teachers in a residential facility for students with severe behavior problems, it is my responsibility to initiate school reform through school-based management. This paper describes my proposal, in detail, for utilizing computer technology to engage our students in a more active learning environment. To begin with, students with behavior problems overwhelmingly prefer the individual and immediate reinforcement that computers provide, rather than being taught by traditional methods.1 Also, in order for school reform to reach fruition, the educational paradigm must shift from passive to active learning where students are engaged in a curriculum that connects them to the real world. Technology can serve as this bridge. Next, leaders need the visionary ability to communicate not only desirable, but attainable futures containing countless possibilities for the improvement of teaching and learning.5 As educators, our goal is to facilitate significant changes in student achievement and behavior. Using computers in the classroom will help our students realize three objectives: Significant improvement in academic achievement; Improvement in behavior to a marked degree; and A reduction in interpersonal deficits. If students with severe behavior disorders are to become productive members of our society, educators must provide them with a functional curriculum. By participating in this curriculum, students are guided toward achieving the proposed objectives while increasing their self-esteem. A curriculum that is based on social and behavioral logic will be reinforcing for these learners. Finally, school work should have a real purpose, one that affects students' lives and futures. Computers can help students examine problems, gather information and reach their own conclusions. Horner, Dunlap and K'egel believe the effectiveness of a program must be evaluated as to whether or not it can solve significant problems and/or produce meaningful enhancements of a person's lifestyle.6 Instead of using technology to work on hypothetical problems, students are encouraged to use it when trying to resolve real problems.7 Basic Premise of Proposal The basis of the proposed project is this: Using a desktop publishing program, students will create the Manatee Trader, a seasonal publication of classified ads designed to generate continuous reader interest. If circulation increases, students may expand this buy-sell-trade newspaper to include classified ads from other schools and businesses in the community. Customers will be charged 5% of the selling price for each item they advertise in the paper. Finally, students will decide in group meetings how the money generated from newspaper sales will be used. A time-based schedule of events serves to guide educators with careful planning and timely implementation. In general, the four-member, exceptional-education team will meet for 90 minutes twice a week for a month to develop the program. Teachers will generate open-ended instructional objectives, using computers and business as the central theme. This format allows teachers to integrate various academic and behavioral concepts into the program, creating a curriculum with limitless possibilities for active learning. Hardware, Software & Training When curriculum objectives are compatible with software objectives, it is likely that students will transfer learning from the computer to a real situation with ease. For students with severe behavior problems, computer-assisted active learning represents a unique way of assimilating knowledge. First, teachers must agree on a software program that will benefit students in terms of age, grade level, interest, user friendliness and content appropriateness. For our proposal, three desktop publishing programs were evaluated. Microsoft Publisher 2.0 was judged the most versatile and user-friendly, containing features that allow students to expand their creative ability along (hopefully) with their business. For example, it easily produces brochures, newsletters, flyers, coupons, forms, greeting cards, invitations and more via menu choices such as: style, clip art, font, border design, templates, logo and more. Students enter the information, edit it and check their spelling. This software program should help improve students' writing performance, evidenced by the quality and sophistication of work in their portfolios. When selecting technology for the classroom, educators must project students' future needs while facilitating existing programs. Price, quality, expandability and warranty are vital considerations. Of the five computer systems that fell under our scrutiny (three 486 machines and a Quadra), Compaq Computer Corp.'s ProLinea machine won out because it included a three-year warranty, was the lowest priced and offered both present capability and future expandability. Compaq's package included a 14" S-VGA monitor, keyboard and mouse. To create an environment that encourages cooperative learning, teachers picked Bretford's Connections furniture -- a circular student workstation consisting of four, corner-connecting tables with chairs and a printer stand for the center. The idea is that while working cooperatively at such a workstation, students may develop the intrinsic values needed to perpetuate satisfactory citizenship. Technicians employed by the school board will install the Compaq hardware and network all four computers to a Canon laser printer and a four-way data switch. The data switch facilitates printing from all computers without cumbersome procedures. When comparing printers, one must consider the purpose, quality of hard copy, cost per page and warranty. Canon's laser printer d'es about 2,500 copies off one toner cartridge and comes with a two-year warranty. (See sidebar for an overview of needs and costs.) Lastly, to help the exceptional education team develop a positive attitude about computers, a two-day staff development session will be scheduled, with teachers receiving a stipend. A county-employed technician specialist will familiarize them with hardware on the first day. The second day, a field representative from Software City will guide them through each feature of Microsoft Publisher as a courtesy for buying the software from the store. Operation and Evaluation Teachers will initiate classroom computer training by choosing four motivated students who work cooperatively and are viewed as leaders by their peers. After the basic program concepts are mastered, students will collectively create a flyer announcing their seasonal publication. Prior to the flyer being released and ads being collected, students would elect a publication committee to oversee the following five basic operations: Produce and distribute a seasonal flyer; Collect the classified ads; Document accounts payable/received; Publication production; and Publication distribution. Portfolios are an efficient way to monitor and evaluate a student's academic and behavioral progress. The first item in each portfolio will be a one-page, hand-written, pre-test on a subject familiar to students. After approximately six weeks of using the computer to complete writing assignments, students will be asked to develop the same essay on the computer as a post-test. On a weekly basis, teachers will formatively evaluate student progress by examining behavioral charts such as Daily Point Sheets plus Daily and Weekly Point Graphs (Figures 1, 2 and 3). Portfolios should also reveal evidence of the following student objectives: Increased time on task; Decreased behavior problems; Increased attendance; and Improved quality of academic assignments. Every month teachers will conduct a summative evaluation to provide a larger context and perspective on the program's strengths and weaknesses. Teachers will use the results to improve future programs in which computers are utilized to enhance active learning. For the current program, results will be used to decide whether or not to mainstream students who have progressed beyond teacher expectations. Future Considerations Perhaps in the near future, students will be issued a computer instead of books. Perhaps schools and businesses will form alliances to provide students with on-the-job-training opportunities where computers have a real purpose. Research suggests that teaching and learning with computers has tremendous potential for the future. O'Neil recommends creating curricula that integrate engaged learning with the latest technological developments.7 In any case, if education is to be restructured to provide children with a brighter future, educators must construct learning environments that go beyond textbooks and classrooms. This proposal hopes to bring students with severe behavior problems the benefits that their peers receive while simultaneously addressing their specialized learning needs. Karol Reganick is a teacher at Manatee Palms A.S.H. and chair of its Education Department. The facility is a private hospital and its teachers represent Manatee County Schools system. Reganick holds a master's degree in emotionally handicapped education. Comments, questions and workshop requests can be directed to her at (800) 367-7007. References: 1. Cheney, C.O., "Computers and Students With Behavior Disorders: A Review," Computers in the Schools, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1990), pp. 47-60. 2. Fitzgerald, G., Using the Computer With Students With Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, (1990), ERIC Doc. Reproduction Service No. ED 339 155. 3. Anderson-Inman, L., "Enabling Students With Learning Disabilities: Insights From Research," The Computing Teacher, (Dec./Jan. 1990-91), pp. 26-29. 4. Delcourt, M. and Kinzie, M.B., "Computer Technologies in Teacher Education: The Measurement of Attitudes and Self-Efficacy," Journal of Research and Development in Education, Vol.


27, No. 1 (1993), pp. 35-41. 5. Dede, C., "Leadership Without Followers," The Computing Teacher, (March 1992), pp. 9-11. 6. Horner, R.H., Dunlap, G. and K'egel, L., "Building Functional Curricula for Students With Severe Behavior Problems," in R. Van Houten and S. Axelrod (Eds.), Effective Behavioral Treatment: Issues and Implementation, New York, NY: Plenum Press (1988). 7. O'Neil, J., "Using Technology to Support Authentic Learning," ASCD Update, Vol. 35, No. 8 (1993). Products or companies mentioned: ProLinea 486; Compaq Computer Corp., Houston, Texas. Connections; Bretford Mfg., Inc., Schiller Park, Ill. Microsoft Publisher 2.0; Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash. Canon U.S.A., Printer Products Div., Lake Success, N.Y.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.