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UCLA School Mental Health Project
Center for Mental Health in Schools
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Continuing Education: Unit II

Addressing Barriers to Learning
New Directions for Mental Health in Schools

Follow-Up Reading Continued


The paradox in intervening with students who misbehave or avoid school is that they are unlikely to approach the process positively or even neutrally. Thus, in order to work with such students, first the intervener must be able to enhance the youngster's motivational readiness. Then, the process must maintain and even further enhance that motivation. In terms of the motivational concepts discussed above, this means striving to stimulate in the youngster feelings of self-determination, competence, and interpersonal relatedness. Furthermore, the process should focus on intrinsic motivation as an outcome objective. That is, it should nurture the type of ongoing intrinsic motivation that results in the youngster developing and maintaining positive behavior, even after the special intervention terminates.

Similarly, because such students tend to have extremely negative perceptions of teachers and school tasks, they are unlikely to respond to program changes that look like "the same old thing." Exceptional efforts must be made so that these students will come to view the school as supportive (rather than hostile and controlling or indifferent) and perceive content, outcome, and activity options as personally valuable and obtainable. To these ends, schools must be prepared to implement a variety of learning options, and a structure that facilitates the student's exploration and decision making with respect to which options to pursue. The structure also must provide ongoing support, guidance, and information about progress in response to student requests and allow for student-initiated changes in program plans.

Options. Provision of a range of potentially valued and feasible options for the student to choose from allows the intervener to identify activities that are a good match with the student's intrinsic motivation. (By definition, a good match means the activities are not threatening.) In extreme cases, it may be necessary to deemphasize temporarily the standard curriculum and pursue only activities to which the student makes a personal commitment.

Student decision making. From a motivational perspective, one of the most basic concerns is student involvement in decision making about daily school activities and consequences for misbehavior. For one thing, people who are not included in decision making often have little commitment to what is decided. And, people who perceive themselves as being coerced to do something they don't want to do often react by avoiding in an effort to regain their sense of self-determination. Thus, decision-making processes that maximize student perceptions of having made a desirable choice are essential to interventions addressing the motivational underpinnings.

Continuous information on functioning. Great care must be taken to guard against the potential negative impact of overemphasizing surveillance and over relying on extrinsics in countering avoidance and in providing feedback on progress. Information given must highlight success not only in terms of attending school but with respect to the student's effectiveness in making good decisions and on the relationship of outcomes to the student's intrinsic reasons for attending. Feedback, of course, also must clarify directions for future progress. Handled well, the information should contribute to, rather than undermine, the student's feelings of competence, self-determination, and relatedness.

From a preventive perspective, understanding underlying motivation suggests the need for general social and school program changes. In motivational terms, the aims of such changes are to (a) prevent and overcome negative attitudes toward school and learning, (b) enhance motivational readiness for learning and overcoming problems that arise, and (c) expand and maintain intrinsic motivation for learning and problem solving processes. Preliminary work suggests that contemporary thinking about motivation (especially intrinsic motivation) offers important implications for the prevention and correction of school misbehavior and avoidance.

Finally, the types of intervention outlined throughout this presentation require significant system changes in thinking and practice related to schooling. Organizational change does not come easy. It is hard and often disappointing work. Progress can be slow and frustrating to achieve. Nevertheless, it is clear from the literature on organizational change in schools that significant change is feasible. Transactions must establish a collaborative, problem solving partnership based on a shared appreciation for the problem of school misbehavior and avoidance and their correction.

Some Related References

Adelman, H.S., & Taylor, L. (1993). Learning problems and learning disabilities: Moving Forward. Pacific Groves, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Atkinson, L., Quarrington, B., Cyr, J.J. (1985). School refusal: The heterogeneity of a concept. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55, 83-101.

Brehm, S.S., & Brehm, J.W. (1981). Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control. New York: Academic Press.

Charles, C.M. (l985). Building classroom discipline: From models to practice (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.

Cooper, M. (1986). A model of persistent school absenteeism. Education Researcher, 28, 14-20.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Dreikurs, R., Grunwald, B.B., & Pepper, F.C. (l982). Maintaining sanity in the classroom: Classroom management techniques (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Ferrari, M. (1986). Fears and phobias in childhood: Some clinical and developmental considerations. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 17, 75-87.

Hersov, L. (1985). School refusal. In M. Rutter & L. Hersov (Eds.), Child and adolescent psychiatry. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hersov, L. & Berg, I. (Eds.) (1980). Out of school: Modern perspectives in truancy and school refusal. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Hyman, I., Flanagan, D., & Smith, K. (l982). Discipline in the schools. In C.R. Reynolds & T.B. Gutkin (Eds.), The handbook of school psychology (pp. 454-480). New York: Wiley.

Kahn, J.H., Nursten, J.P., & Carroll, H.C.M. (1981). Unwillingly to school -- School phobia or school refusal: A psychosocial problem. Oxford: Pergamon.

Kaplan, H.B. (l980). Deviant behavior in defense of self. New York:

Knoff, H.M. (l987). School-based interventions for discipline problems. In C.A. Maher & J.E. Zins (Eds.), Psychoeducational interventions in the schools (pp. 118-140). New York: Pergamon.

Maher, C.A., & Zins, J.E. (Eds.). (l987). Psychoeducational interventions in the schools (pp. 118-140). New York: Pergamon.

Millman, H.L., Schaefer, C.E., & Cohen, J.J. (l981). Therapies for school behavior problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Taylor, L., & Adelman, H.S. (1990). School avoidance behavior: Motivational bases and implications for intervention. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 20, 219-233.

Tisher, M. (1983). School refusal: A depressive equivalent. In D.P. Cantwell & G.A. Carlson (Eds.), Affective disorders in childhood. New York: Spectrum Pub.

Wolfgang, C.H., & Glickman, C.D. (l986). Solving discipline problems: Strategies for classroom teachers (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

This is the end of Unit II.

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Unit III

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