Description of Context
The study was conducted at a state funded residential school for the deaf in the southeastern region. The students attending the school ranged in age from two to twenty-two and came from all parts of the state. Buses transported day students who lived in surrounding counties. Those students who lived farther from the school stayed on campus during the week and went home on the weekends. The campus consisted of an elementary school, middle school, high school, dining hall, infirmary, athletic building, football field, and cottages for the students who stayed on campus during the week. The school consisted of 186 students, 61 day students, 125 residential students, and 40 lead classroom teachers. There were 138 white students, 45 African American students, and 3 students of other nationalities. The student/teacher ratio depended on the age of the students. The average ratio was one teacher to seven students. The regular classroom setting consisted of students who were academically or socially functioning near the same level. Teachers' aides were available for students who needed extra one to one attention, as well as speech, occupational and physical therapists.
An alternative program was available for students who were behaviorally unable to function in a regular classroom. The alternative program offered these children the opportunity to learn in a smaller, more structured environment. It was divided into two parts, elementary and middle/high school.
Description of the Study
My study focused only on one student in the elementary alternative program. There were only four students in the elementary program at the time of the study. However, one student was absent the week that I conducted my observations. The lead teacher was a white male and had been at the school since 1981. He had been an alternative teacher since 1997, when the program was started. The assistant teacher was a white female and had worked in a detention program in the school for twelve years before moving to the alternative program in August of 1998.
The program concentrated an positive reinforcement. The students earned points every thirty minutes in the areas of respect, work, staring in their assigned areas, and cooperation. As students gained points, they moved up levels (see appendix A). When a student exhibited behaviors consistent with the highest level of performance for four consecutive days, he was able to earn time in the home-based classroom. The home-based classroom was the class the student would be in had he not been placed in the alternative program. The goals of the alternative program were to structure students and amend their individual disruptive behaviors to the point that they could participate in the regular classroom placement. The alternative teacher, regular classroom teacher and behavior specialist identified disruptive behaviors for each child.
Sam (a pseudonym given to the child to insure anonymity) is a bi-racial, profoundly deaf male. He was enrolled in this residential school in August of 1994. A screening committee determined that Sam should be placed in the alternative program for displaying aggressive behaviors (biting and hitting) in August of 1998. Sam was also placed in a new foster home in August of 1998. He had been in state custody since 1992. When Sam was placed in his new foster home, he became a day student. Sam was eight- years-old and in the second grade at the time of the study. Sam was prelingually deafened and he communicated in sign, although his communication skills were low.
I obtained permission to conduct my research by sending an informed consent (see appendix B) home with Sam for his foster parents to sign. I also obtained assent from Sam to watch him work with his teachers in the alternative program.
I obtained data through observations of Sam, an interview with his lead teacher, a review of Sam's I.E.P. (Individualized Education Program) and the referrals to the alternative program. I observed Sam as he participated in the alternative class four consecutive times for thirty minutes each morning. I observed his interactions with teachers and peers. I took notes about those interactions that I reviewed and analyzed at the end of each observation. I was looking for occurrences of aggressive behaviors in these situations: teacher/student, student/student, and independent self-isolation. The level (see appendix A) Sam was on the day of each observation was noted.
I interviewed Sam's alternative teacher in order to understand how he formulates objectives and activities to work with Sam (see appendix C). I reviewed Sam's I.E.P. to become more familiar with the special goals and objectives set for him. I also reviewed his referrals to the alternative program to understand the aggressive behavior and its occurrences.
All data were analyzed to identify themes and patterns related to the focus of my study. I looked for situations that encouraged positive behaviors in Sam and those that encouraged negative behaviors. These data were analyzed to determine whether or not there was a decrease in Sam's aggressive behaviors during his time in the alternative program. A decrease in aggressive behaviors might be an indication that the alternative program was an appropriate placement for Sam.