Developing a Continuum of Logical Consequences for Problem Behavior

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Continuum of Responses to Address Problem Behavior

Reach for the start TeacherOnce the positive, preventative features of the classroom have been determined (i.e., core values, behavioral expectations, teaching and acknowledging), it is time to design the features that address responding effectively to problem behavior once it has occurred. There are generally three goals we want to achieve when responding to problem behavior: (1) To teach students that the problem behavior is not acceptable; (2) To teach students the acceptable behaviors; and (3) To increase the likelihood that the problem behavior will not reoccur.

A comprehensive classroom approach to responding to problem behaviors includes (a) defining problem behavior in observable and measurable language, (b) determining which behaviors should be addressed by staff and which should be handled by the administration or their designee, (c) developing an efficient approach and form for collecting data on behavioral infractions, and (d) developing a continuum of effective responses. As is true with all response features, it is important to determine whether there is a schoolwide approach in place. If so, it is important to be consistent with that approach as you address the features below. In addition, features created for elementary, middle and high schools students should reflect their developmental levels.

Defining Problem Behavior in Observable and Measurable Language

An effective classroom response system begins with common language regarding what behaviors are inappropriate. The most common behaviors include non-compliance, disrespect, disruption, inappropriate language, and physical aggression. However, other behaviors such as lying, bullying, harassment, inappropriate use of technology, out of area, weapons, drugs, etc. can also occur.  If definitions of any of these behaviors have already been developed by the there are school or district, be sure to use those.  If not, then determine which of the behaviors are most common in your class and begin to define them.  For example, non-compliance might be defined as, the student fails to follow a reasonable adult request despite one reminder while disrespect might be defined as, the student engages in low intensity verbal, non-verbal or written socially rude behavior which is directed at an adult (e.g., posturing, eye rolling, loud sighing, etc.). Using specific examples can be very helpful.

Determining Behaviors Should be Addressed by Staff vs. Administration/Designee

Once the most common problem behaviors have been defined, it is critical to determine what should be addressed by classroom teachers and other staff as opposed to what should be handled by the administration or their designee. Once again, if this decision has been made at the school level, it should be followed. It is common for school administrators to have determined what they feel should be handled by classroom staff and what they want referred to them for action. However, it is often not expressed in writing. A practical approach to developing this feature is to start by determining the serious behaviors that an administrator would want to know about and address such as weapons, physical aggression, and bullying to name a few. The second step is more complex as it requires discriminating between behaviors such as disrespect, disruption, language, and physical contact that are on a continuum of severity from minor which should be handled by classroom staff and major, which may have a safety concern and require administrative responses. Take inappropriate physical contact vs. physical aggression for example. If we define inappropriate physical contact as brief and often inadvertent contact with another student that is not intended to harm (e.g., play fighting, invading personal space, bumping into someone by accident, etc.) and physical aggression as an intentional action involving serious physical contact (e.g., hitting, punching, hitting with an object, kicking, hair pulling, scratching, etc.), it would make sense that physical contact get handled by staff who observe the behavior while physical aggression be handled by the administration. Defining the staff handled vs. office handled forms of similar behavior requires that we consider the qualities of problem behavior including frequency, (how often) duration (how long), and intensity (how strong).

Developing an Efficient Approach to Collecting Data on Behavioral Infractions

Once behaviors have been defined and it is determined what should be handled by staff vs. administration, it is important to determine decision rules regarding what behaviors to collect data on. For example, some schools determine that all minor behavior that has been defined should be documented on a simple form that takes 20-30 seconds to complete. Other schools create a decision rule that a certain amount of minors within a specified period of time is documented (e.g., 3 minors within a instructional period or half a day, etc.). Finally, some schools only formally collect data on majors for most students, with more precise data collected only after a student has been determined to need additional data or support. Regardless of the decision rules, the form should be easy to complete using check boxes to indicate behaviors and important context (e.g., where, when, etc.) and minimizing the need long narratives. Examples of forms are provided as resources.

Developing a Continuum of Effective Responses to Problem Behavior

The best way to achieve the goals for responding to problem behavior described above is through positive and consistent responses to problem behavior that communicate your core values and what behaviors are inappropriate behavior in your classroom/school community. Discipline practices should reflect the Latin root of the word Discipere – to teach or comprehend. One instructional approach to developing a continuum of appropriate responses to minor problem behavior at the classroom level can be summarized by the 4 Rs and logical consequences. The 4 Rs are reminders, re-directions, reteaching, appealing to relationships. Reminders can be verbal in which the teacher directly states the specific rule/expectation immediately after the child displays a challenging behavior (e.g., “It’s time for quiet voices.”) This is most effective when paired with eye contact. Redirections are non-verbal reminders using gestures or signs such as pointing to the behavioral expectations, putting a finger to your lips to call for quiet, and using student names in an instructional example to positively involve them. Appealing to your relationship with a student can be very effective when a positive relationship exists. These three approaches take little time and can be done smoothly while instruction continues. The 4th R, re-teaching takes more time and requires a demonstration of the expected behavior such as the steps in transition.

The use of logical consequences rather than arbitrary consequences is also an important strategy for responding to problem behavior. A consequence refers to a response that changes the environment shortly after misbehavior occurs with the hope that it discourages a student from engaging in that behavior again. Logical consequences are consequences that are directly related to the child’s behavior. Reteaching the steps in transition and having the student practice those steps is a logical consequence. Having a student clean up after they have made a mess is logical as is redoing work that was incorrect. Logical consequences are used as an alternative to punishment. They are used to help guide students in the right direction, teaching them that they have responsibility for and control over their own behavior.

Regardless of the technique used to reduce problem behavior, it is important to communicate caring, optimism, and self control even under stressful situations. Moreover, responses to problem behavior should be developmentally appropriate. For example, while short conversations about behavior are best done privately, this is crucial when working with most adolescents. A tip sheet for providing feedback to student is included in the resource section. Finally, while having a continuum of responses is important, it is also important to understand that individual students respond differently to different techniques. If one goal is to reduce the likelihood that problem behavior reoccurs, it is critical that we evaluate the effect the strategy has on student behavior and adjust techniques accordingly.


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Continuum of Logical Consequences for Problem Behavior

Colvin, G. (2010). Defusing Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Dreikurs, R. (1990). Logical Consequences. Dutton Adult. ISBN: 080154632X

 Etchemendy, J. (1999). The Concept of Logical Consequences. Center for the Study of Language and Information. ISBN: 1575861941

 Knoster, T. (2014). The Teacher’s Pocket Guide to Effective Classroom Management (2nd Ed.). Baltimore, MD. Brookes.

 Nelson, J., Lott, L., & Glenn, H.S. (1993). Positive Discipline in the Classroom.  Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. ISBN: 1559583118


By Howard Muscott, posted on Thursday January 2, 2014


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