Research News

PRIME approach improves teacher implementation of student behavior plans

July 31, 2015
by Paul Baker, Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Disruptive classroom behavior across grade levels has worsened in recent years, according to teachers polled by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012. More than half of the teachers questioned said they wish they could spend less time disciplining students.

Teachers often seek help from school psychologists to design a behavior support plan for these students. Even with a good plan in place, without continued psychologist follow-up and feedback, teachers often do not consistently continue to implement the plan. But a recent study shows that using a system called PRIME, or Planning Realistic Intervention Implementation and Maintenance by Educators, can significantly improve results. 

Psychologist and educational psychology Professor Tom Kratochwill, who directs the UW–Madison School Psychology Program, collaborated with Lisa Sanetti at the University of Connecticut to conduct research that helps teachers deliver behavior interventions more consistently and effectively.

“In a traditional plan, researchers and practitioners observing the teacher will check off the discrete steps teachers take as they try to help a student with behavior problems,” Kratochwill says. “If the teacher follows the checklist, it’s assumed that the intervention is effective. But that assumption doesn’t hold water.” 

A focus only on discrete steps is unlikely to result in the kind of sustained implementation needed to improve student behavior, he explains. An effective intervention requires a teacher to change his or her own behavior.

“Intentions to engage in a new behavior often don’t succeed,” says Sanetti, who with Kratochwill created PRIME. “Just recall those abandoned New Year’s resolutions,” she says. “Like anyone else, teachers who want to change struggle to bridge the gap between intention and result.”

The PRIME website illustrates a process designed to help teachers implement evidence-based interventions most effectively. “PRIME shows how a theory of adult behavior change from health psychology can be adapted for use in educational settings,” Kratochwill says. “This approach is preventative, rather than reactive.”

How Ms. Grayson helped Peter 

A case study illustrates how it works. Ms. Grayson (a pseudonym) is a fifth-grade public school teacher, certified in general education with 12 years of teaching experience. She asked for psychological support for Peter, a 10-year-old student who demonstrated severe challenging behavior in the classroom. The PRIME consultant assigned to help Grayson was a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in school psychology and training in behavioral consultation, assessment and intervention. 

The consultant and Ms. Grayson developed a plan to address Peter’s behavior and related environmental variables. The plan included teaching strategies to help Peter understand what is expected of him, what he could do to earn points toward a reward for good behavior and the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Grayson planned to implement these strategies daily until Peter demonstrated mastery, after which she would use them only as needed. 

Trained observers collected data on Grayson’s implementation of the plan, which included nine antecedent strategies to be used daily. Grayson then could implement eight consequence strategies as needed in response to Peter’s actions, good or bad. During the first six weeks, Grayson, on average, adhered to 85% of the steps in the plan. Of those, 97% were implemented with good or excellent quality. One month later, she was still implementing nearly 80% of the steps, with 80% of these being of good or excellent quality. 

These adherence levels are significantly higher than implementation without using the PRIME system, which often results in 40% implementation, at best; often stopping altogether within a few weeks of the teacher being trained. 

Minimal consultant support required

Overall, Grayson demonstrated moderate to high quality and relatively stable adherence to the plan to help Peter. Kratochwill emphasizes that PRIME produces high quality intervention implementation with only moderate support from the consultant. This minimal support differs greatly from the time- and labor-intensive support needed for traditional methods, which require multiple sessions, a weekly analysis of treatment integrity data and graphic representation of the data. 

Kratochwill says PRIME is a “highly effective and more efficient strategy” for helping teachers help students with their behavior issues. 

More information on the subject can be found at the PRIME website and in the book, “Treatment Integrity: A Foundation for Evidence-Based Practice in Applied Psychology,”edited by Sanetti and Kratochwill, and published by the American Psychological Association.