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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, August 05 2019

Levels

The use of ‘levels’ systems is a popular form of behaviour control and management in institutions that deal with children who struggle with their conduct. When used correctly, it can be an effective tool to improve children’s behaviour. When used incorrectly, levels systems can be in themselves a cruel form of abuse. It can be particularly hurtful for children who have no experience of appropriate behaviour.

Inappropriate Behaviour

The definition of inappropriate behaviour is difficult. The appropriateness of any action is related to the person or persons who are exposed to the behaviour. Therefore, any judgement of a student’s conduct depends on the group in which their behaviour is displayed.  Group members will experience the inappropriateness of behaviour when they feel it is offensive or threatening. In reality, they will know this because their physical and/or psychological boundaries will have been violated.

To be offended or not, presents as two discrete sets of behaviour; you are either offended or not offended; you cannot be partially offended. This is not to say the magnitude of the affecting behaviour is not on a gradient. Obviously, levels of offence can range from mild disapproval through to sheer terror. However, when working with dysfunctional children; trying to teach them about offensive behaviour by tolerating any such behaviour will confuse the child.

Children who habitually demonstrate dysfunctional behaviour need to learn appropriate conduct.  Learning can only be through trial and error, and if they are to assume a state in which their habit is to act appropriately, there will be a time when they have to think about how to behave. To pass through this phase of behaviour modification requires both the child, and the arbitrator, to be in a calm state. When stressed, they will revert to their existing habitual reactions to any situation. In a group setting, the arbitrator must be aware of his or her own activities as well as the actions of all other members of the group. This does not excuse inappropriate behaviour, but it provides a major complication in the process of changing behaviour.

The following issues arise for levels systems:

  • Others define what is offensive.
  • When more than one person is in control of behaviour arbitration, the definition of appropriate can vary.
  • Individual arbitrators’ boundaries are not constant; on one day they will tolerate behaviour (because they are in a good mood), and on the next day they will punish that same behaviour
  • Workers are tempted to tolerate mild misbehaviour either because they take the patronizing view that it is the best they can do or the worker fears any outburst from the child if they impose a sanction.
  • The environment must promote a feeling of calm acceptance of the child.

Levels systems can be a productive tool in the task of changing behaviour. However, to successfully implement a program requires a thorough understanding of:

  • the complexity of the program
  • the dangers of misuse
  • every child’s need to be accepted into a calm, supportive environment

There are various methods to create a ‘scoring’ method to track a child’s behaviour across any school day.  When you are working with severe disturbed children it is prudent to divide the period of time they achieve a positive ‘score’ into small chunks, say ten-minute blocks.  These can be accumulated across a day and then across an extended period of time.  This design will depend on the children.  However, the scores should always be on display and you should never take away any points the child has earned.  This is extremely unfair for those kids who struggle to initially achieve even the tiniest improvement and is no more than a form of punishment, something they have a lot of experience about and there is no more certain way to have these kids opt out of this process.

For a successful levels program to be put implemented the following conditions must be in place:

  • Feedback should indicate the level of success the child has achieved as a proportional number (a percentage).
  • Students must continually reach this mark to progress. They must be allowed to move up and down until they can unconsciously behave in an appropriate manner.
  • The goal should not be 100 per cent success, as human error is constant and should not be ignored.
  • The environment must be consistent and persistent.
  • Implementation should be done in calm, non-threatening manner (100 per cent acceptance of the child and 100 per cent rejection of inappropriate behaviour).

The over-riding principle of a level system is solely to provide feedback to the child in regards to how they are behaving within the functional definitions of the classroom.  One of the great failings occurs when teachers and schools use their ‘Levels System’ as a form of punishment or reward.  This is extremely counter-productive as any resulting changes that are driven by that external motivation will not become integrated in the child’s habitual behaviour.  In a future Newsletter I will discuss the failings of the use of rewards and/or punishment as a motivation of behavioural change.

Posted by: AT 01:52 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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