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Geoffrey Colvin, Ph. D. University of Oregon Managing Acting-Out Behavior TM: A review of the staff development program to prevent and manage acting-out behavior.

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Geoffrey Colvin, Ph. D.University of OregonManaging Acting-Out Behavior TM:A review of the staff development program to prevent and manage acting-out behavior

Training School Psychologists to be Experts in Evidence Based Practices for Tertiary Students with Serious Emotional Disturbance/Behavior Disorders

By Sarah H. Francis


University of Utah - Department of Educational Psychology

US Office of Education


managing acting out behavior tm
Managing Acting-Out Behavior TM

Presented by Geoffrey Colvin, Ph.D, University of Oregon

Program Includes:

Video Program

Tape One: Model for Describing Acting-Out Behavior (36 Min.)

Tape Two: Strategies for Managing Acting-Out Behavior (47 Min.)


To accompany the taped presentation by Dr. Colvin

Publisher: Behavior Associates (1992)

Cost: ≈ $100

A Staff Development Program to Prevent and Manage Acting-Out Behavior

managing acting out behavior tm1
Managing Acting-Out Behavior TM

The procedures need to be implemented by all staff who work with the target student or students.

The program offers basic guidelines. Individual staff are expected to develop a specific written plan for their target student(s).

Staff should review the tapes several times to understand the whole program and to avoid implementing bits and pieces of the program to secure short term benefits.

Regular review meetings should be conducted to assess progress and to determine appropriate adjustments.


*(1992) Behavior Associates

  • Intentions of the program
    • Indicators of agitation
    • Presence of an escalating behavior chain
    • Presence of successive interaction
      • The back-and-forth interactions that are often threats or confrontational. “War games.”
  • Research and Data Driven
    • The descriptions used to illustrate the seven phases of behavior are “generalizations or summaries of behavior observed from a large number of students of many years,” – G. Colvin, Ph.D.

*(1992) Behavior Associates

part i describing acting out behavior
PART I: Describing Acting-Out Behavior*
  • There are seven phases of acting-out behavior. We need to be able to observe student behavior so as to identify which phase the student may be in.

5. Peak

6. De-escalation


4. Acceleration

3. Agitation

7. Recovery

2. Trigger

1. Calm


Phases of escalated behavior

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase one calm
Phase One – Calm*

On Task

Follows rules and expectations

Responsive to praise

Initiates behavior

Goal oriented

Socially appropriate

Overall Behavior - Cooperative

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase two trigger
Phase Two – Trigger*


Denial of something they need

Something negative is inflicted on them

Changes in routine




Ineffective problem solving



Overall Behavior – Series of unresolved problems

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase three agitation
Phase Three – Agitation*

Increase or Decrease in Behavior


Eyes dart

Language non-conversational

Busy hands

In and out of groups

Off task/On task


Stares into space

Language subdued

Hands contained

Withdraws from group

Off task “Frozen”

Overall Behavior - Unfocused

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase four acceleration
Phase Four – Acceleration*

Questioning and arguing

Non-compliance and defiance

Off task

Provoking students

Compliance with accompanying inappropriate behaviors

Criterion problems

Threats and intimidation

Verbal abuse

Overall Behavior – Student displays engaging behaviors

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase five peak
Phase Five – Peak*

Physical abuse


Self abuse

Severe tantrums





Overall Behavior – Student is out of control

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase six de escalation
Phase Six – De-Escalation*

Overall Behavior – Student displays confusion





Blaming others


Responsive to directions

Responsive to manipulative or mechanical tasks

Avoidance of discussion (unless there is occasion to blame others )

*(1992) Behavior Associates

phase seven recovery
Phase Seven – Recovery*

Eagerness for independent work or activity

Subdued in group work

Subdued in class discussion


Avoidance of de-briefing

Overall Behavior – Eagerness for busy work and reluctance to discuss

*(1992) Behavior Associates

part ii strategies for managing acting out behavior
PART-II:Strategies for Managing Acting-Out Behavior*
  • Managing early phases of acting-out behavior appropriately will prevent serious behaviors from occurring.
  • The real teaching and management occurs in phases one through four (calm, trigger, agitation and acceleration).
  • In the remaining phases (peak, de-escalation and recovery) the emphasis is on safety, re-entry and follow-up.

*(1992) Behavior Associates




Delivery of instruction

Classroom organization


Management system

Quality Instruction

“Teach them to learn and they will pay attention”

Provide Attention

Contingent attention

Non-contingent attention


*(1992) Behavior Associates


Formal strategies for problem solving


1:1 Services for district resources

Services purchased from community

Pre-Correction plan

Context – Predictable problem behavior

Expected or alternative behavior

Context adjustments or accommodations

Behavior reinforcement


Monitoring plan

Individual Problem Solving Plan

Clearly identify the source of the problem

Identify possible solutions or operation

Assist student in evaluating options and selecting one option

Discuss results and implication of the choice

Develop implementation plan, specify tasks and who is responsible for each task

Develop criteria for success and specify review date


*(1992) Behavior Associates


Basic Approach – Make accommodations to enable student to settle down.

Timing – Make accommodations before onset of serious behavior otherwise you make reinforce a chain of avoidance or escalation.

Space – Provide the student with an opportunity to have some isolation.

Time – Give the student some options with deadlines. Adjust schedule.

Preferred Activities – Allow engagement of preferred activity for a short time.

Teacher Proximity

Independent Activities

Movement Activities

Involve the student in the plan


*(1992) Behavior Associates

agitation continued
Agitation Continued…

Problem: Other students may question why this student should be getting the breaks or privileges when they are working hard. “Its not fair.”

Remedy: incorporate these procedures as exceptions to the general expectations that are presented to the class. The usual class expectations are presented and then these procedures are presented as exceptions. The class is expected to mind their own business and keep working.

Problem: The individual student may use the procedures to avoid work, “I don’t want to do math today, I feel agitated.”

Remedy: The procedures can be presented in two phases. In the first phase the student does not have to make up time, however, in the second phases there will be a cost on the accommodations such as the student will have to make up time.

Possible Problems and Remedies


Avoid escalating prompts

Agitated behavior from staff (e.g., shouting); cornering the student; power games or getting in the student’s face; nagging; making statements that discredit the student in front of peers; or becoming engaged in arguing.

Maintain calmness, respect, detachment

Utilize crisis prevention strategies that were approved beforehand.

Delivery of expected behaviors, time for response, then follow-up.




*(1992) Behavior Associates


Short term interventions

The very first step should be to address SAFETY (safety for other students, the involved student and staff). The safety procedures need to be approved and staff need to be very familiar with details of implementation. The most common strategies are:

Isolation and removal of other students

Parent contact

Police call

Short-term suspension


More information needed

Long term interventions

Repeated instances of out of control behavior should serve as a “red flag” that we need to do things differently. Plan intervention to target earlier in the chain; analyze environment; refer to counseling/evaluation; examine school policy and procedures; etc.


*(1992) Behavior Associates

peak continued
Peak Continued…


The procedures used to address peak or out of control behavior are typically INTRUSIVE (especially if force has to be used). It is critical that a district/school develop clear procedures for managing behavior at this point. The following guidelines are recommended:

Strict criteria should be established for when these procedures are to be used…

All staff who are likely to use the procedures should be trained fully to protect all parties. Staff should receive regular review and practice opportunities.

Two staff members should be involved at the same time.

Staff needs to be designated to monitor the student carefully and to introduce and independent activity as early as possible.

Careful records need to be kept.

Parent permission should be obtained. The procedures should be part of school policy and should be in the IEP for special education students who exhibit out of control behavior.


de escalation



Isolate the student.

Allow some time to cool down.

Engage in independent work for twenty minutes requiring a product.

Complete exit paperwork.

Restore environment.

Resume regular schedule.


  • Provide strong focus on normal routines.
  • Do not negotiate on consequences for the serious behavior.
  • Strongly acknowledge appropriate handling of situations similar to previous situation where student exhibited serious behavior.
  • De-brief.
  • Communicate expectation that the student can succeed with help.
  • Establish a plan with specific steps.

*(1992) Behavior Associates

limitations of the program
Limitations of the Program
  • No guidelines for how to test progress.
  • Vague instructions and definitions for items that involve legal liability.
  • No standard method of restraint discussed during Peak phase.
  • Publisher and author are one and the same. “Dr. Colvin’s Library”
  • Lack of data and research – a commercially driven program.
  • No information on seclusion.
  • No research regarding the validity or efficacy of the program.