Group Contingencies In Special Education

Transitioning from one location to another, organizing required materials, completing assigned tasks, and applying prior knowledge in different settings are all important skills that students must learn in order to function independently within the school environment.

While educators have long recognized these skills to be a priority for all students, findings suggest that they are perhaps even more so important for students with disabilities as these skills become critical to their independence and future success (Gardner & Wolfe, 2014). Moreover, an aspect that is especially essential for special educators to consider for their students is the influence of prompting and the capability for independent task performance.

For instance, although students could be readily demonstrating a certain task or skill proficiency, their apparent success might be dependent on the presence of an adult or treatment contingency to initiate, remain engaged, or complete activities (Stahmer & Schreibman, 1992). In such cases, teachers should anticipate a decline in productivity and on-task engagement replaced with off-task behaviors once they stop providing support in the forms of constant supervision, direct prompting, or contingencies (Dunlap & Johnson, 1985).

The apparent deficit in independent functioning common to many students with developmental disabilities have been linked to factors such as prompt reliance (Giangreco & Broer, 2005), executive function deficits (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005), limited generalization and adaptiveness skills (Dunlap & Johnson, 1985), delayed processing of visual and auditory instructions (Dettmer, Simpson, Myles, & Ganz, 2000), and/or lack of self-initiation (Koegel, Carter, & Koegel, 2003).

Expectedly, students with deficiency in independent functioning are in turn mired by a host of disadvantages as they face significant difficulties at obtaining success in both educational and domestic settings (Pierce & Schreibman, 1994). Several past research have demonstrated the efficacy of group contingency interventions at increasing independent task engagement and reducing off-task behavior for for both typically developing students (Christ & Christ, 2006; Ling, Hawkins, & Weber, 2011; Stage & Quiroz, 1997) and students with disabilities (Flower, McKenna, Muething, Bryant, & Bryant, 2014; Stage & Quiroz, 1997; Thorne & Kamps, 2008).

In addition, Thorne and Kamps (2008) cited the notable benefits of group contingency interventions when properly utilized in the classroom setting as often having effect on: (a) increasing the teacher’s’ level of awareness to appropriate behavior, (b) allowing for more efficient management over individualized treatments, and (c) raising all individual student’s exposure to the reinforcement contingency. According to Litoe and Pumroy (1975), group-oriented contingencies most commonly used in school settings can be classified into three types: dependent, independent, and interdependent contingencies.

Dependent group contingencies provide classwide consequence (e. g. , privileges, rewards, punishment) dependent upon the behavior(s) of a single student or a targeted group of students meeting the criteria (Litoe & Pumroy, 1975). Independent group contingencies apply the same criteria and consequence to the entire class or group of students but reinforcement is contingent on each individual student’s own behavior (Litoe & Pumroy, 1975). With interdependent group contingencies, all students in the class will receive the consequence only if the entire group as a whole meets the set criterion (Litoe & Pumroy, 1975).

Despite that all three types of contingencies have been found to be equally effective in the reduction of disruptive behavior (Theodore, Bray, & Kehle, 2004), some researchers have cited particular advantages associated with the interdependent group contingency (Skinner, Skinner, & Sterling-Turner, 2002). They include promoting cooperation and positive interactions in the class as a result of students working to achieve a common goal, avoidance of jealousy and isolation amongst students since consequences are provided classwide, and minimal requirements for time and cost demands from the teacher (Skinner et al. 2002).

Christ and Christ (2006) examined the effectiveness of an interdependent group contingency on decreasing the disruptive behaviors of high school students during independent seatwork activities across three classrooms. A digital scoreboard which provided ongoing positive feedback (system of tokens) was placed in the classroom so that all students in the class could see the remaining time left for an activity, the number of earned points (contingent to the target behavior as recorded for every 2 minutes interval), and the number of points required for the reward of free time.

The intervention was shown to not only effectively reduce the rate of disruptive behavior and teacher corrections for disruption, but also led to subsequent increases in classwide active engagement and uninterrupted instructional time (Christ & Christ 2006). Flower et al. (2014) investigated the effects of the well recognized classroom management strategy known as, Good Behavior Game (GBG), on classwide off-task behavior in two ninth-grade basic algebra resource classes.

GBG is a variation of interdependent group contingency with the specific procedures of identifying target behaviors, posting rules, identifying reinforcers, dividing classes into equal teams, stating infractions by rule violators or identifying examples of behavior that meets predetermined criteria, recording rule infractions or achievement points, and using scheduled interval to reward the team with the fewest infractions or most points (Flower et al. , 2014).

The intervention was implemented by two special education teachers to their respective classrooms which included ten students with a variety of disabilities. The results of the study showed that classwide off-task behavior decreased during the intervention phase when compared to the baseline and reversal phases. Both students and teachers responded positively to the intervention and the findings support previous research stating the effectiveness of GBG as a classroom management strategy (Flower et al. 2014).

Thorne and Kamps (2008) implemented an intervention with the components of a classroom lottery game, interdependent group contingency, self-management, and individual warning cards into a school-wide behavior management system in order to test for its effect in decreasing the frequency of inappropriate behaviors as well as increasing the academic engagement of twelve students who were at risk for severe behavior disorders from four elementary school classrooms.

The intervention was implemented throughout several stages, including an introductory and a training period. Their results demonstrated that the group contingency was an effective classwide intervention as evident by the decrease in frequency of inappropriate behaviors and increase in academic engaged time increased for the participants in all four classrooms (Thorne & Kamps, 2008). Another study investigated the effects of a classwide interdependent group contingency on the on/off-task behaviors of an at-risk student in an elementary school classroom (Ling et al. 2011).

The participant was a student with high rates of off-task behavior and low levels of academic engagement that was referred for the intervention by his classroom teacher. The intervention procedures were developed together by the researchers, the teacher, and the school psychologist in order to individualized it to target his specific behaviors. The study’s findings suggested that the intervention was effective at increasing the target student’s academic engagement and reducing his off-task behaviors during morning academic activities.

The current study was designed to evaluate the effects of an interdependent group contingency on the behavior of the most at-risk students similar to the approach used in the Ling et al. (2011) study. Based on the aforementioned findings, the objective for the present study is to develop an interdependent group contingency program that targets independent functioning in the form of on-task engagement.

To ensure that the program would be effective for multiple students, have minimal cost and time allocation from the teacher, and be readily acceptable by the students, the current study was designed to contribute to the body of literature on interdependent group contingencies by incorporating the intervention within a previously established school-wide management system to increase the on-task engagement and decrease the off-task behaviors for the group of most at-risk students in the class during the morning agenda period along with continued monitoring of classwide behavior.

It is hypothesized that the intervention would lead to an increase in the target students’ independent functioning and there would be a positive direction of behavior change for the class overall.