Journal of American Indian Education


Volume 24 Number 2
May 1985


Glenn Latham
Richard West
Sarah Chambers Collins

SINCE THE summer of 1978, up to the closure of the school, faculty and staff of Utah State University and the Exceptional Child Center have provided technical assistance to teaching, guidance, and paraprofessional personnel of the Intermountain Inter-Tribal School (IIS) in the use of behavioral technology with students in classroom, dorm, and disciplinary settings. Prior to the 1980-81 school year, technical assistance was limited to workshop-type training at the beginning of the school year. Though it was felt that such training was valuable from an awareness point of view, it was difficult to document impact in terms of changes in employee/student behavior.

To heighten the probability that the effects of training would be realized, a prescription behavioral intervention project was set in place to help selected paraprofessional employees (trainees) modify the behavior of students experiencing trouble during the non-school hours, i.e., while under the responsibility of the dorm attendants.


Acquiring trainees, and maintaining their involvement, was not an easy matter. Initially, thirteen (13) workshop participants (of whom two were Caucasian) expressed interest and attended an informal meeting during which the project was discussed. Nine (9) were female and four (4) were male. All of the males declined further involvement. Of those who remained, three (3) terminated the project shortly after it got under way, and one (1) terminated later. Of the remaining four, only two maintained an involvement sufficient to produce reportable data.

Though attrition was extensive, it was not totally unexpected. Involvement meant that the trainee was committing himself/herself to a rigorous supervised treatment regime. This was the single biggest deterrent to involvement.

Despite the attrition, the results of the training were dramatic and encouraging. It demonstrated that highly prescriptive methodology is effective in eliminating inappropriate behavior and promoting and increasing appropriate behavior.

Reported here are the results of the work of two female trainees (dorm attendants) who worked with six (6) female subjects. Trainee involvement was voluntary. Though the lack of male participation is not totally understood, five (5) conditions prevailed which seemed to help account for their lack of involvement: (see Note 1).

1. There seemed to be more behavioral problems in the female dorms than in the male dorms. Data provided by the school revealed that during the first quarter of the school year, 58.6% of all referrals to the Care Center(see Note 2) were from female dorms, and 41.4% were from male dorms (See Figure 1). Perhaps a greater sense of urgency prevailed in the female dorms.

2. Since the strategies being employed were designed to place emphasis on responding to behavior in a positive rather than negative manner, during training it was observed that men had more difficulty "saying nice things" to boys than women had in making such responses to girls. It seemed unmasculine. The men expressed a greater inclination to be physical in their approach to discipline. Despite that fact, during training, several men reported, with considerable surprise, that by systematically responding to behavior in a positive way, remarkable effects were observed. For example, one very masculine male member of the workshop went to some lengths to describe the incorrigible behavior of a boy in his dorm. He assured us, with considerable emphasis (and expletives!) that, "The only thing that kid understands is a knock on the head!" Despite this feeling, the man agreed to use the boy as the object of his workshop assignment, which was: "Catch the boy doing something right", then acknowledge him for that by saying something like, "Hey, Joe, that was super. Iím very proud of you for what you did," and to follow that up with a positive rather than negative physical contact such as a pat on the back or a playful tap on the shoulder. The next day, the dorm attendant returned to class extremely excited and anxious to share his experience. He had done exactly as he had been instructed, whereupon the boy looked at him in wide-eyed amazement, dropped his defensive countenance, stared with wonderment into the attendantís eyes, and in subdued tones, responded, "What! Do you mean there is some hope for me after all?!" Despite this dramatic and illustrative experience, the attendant declined to proceed with the project.

3. The dissuasive peer pressure among the male members of the workshop was quite evident. Whereas the female dorm attendants seemed generally interested and enthused about the strategies being discussed, the male members were generally quite contrary and inclined to make light of what was being proposed. When an out-of-hand situation was described, and a behavioral remedial strategy proposed, typical male responses included, "you do that and the kid will laugh in your face," "heíd beat you to a pulp if you did that," "Iíd punch his lights out. Heíd understand that," and so on. On the few occasions when men did indicate an interest in more intense involvement, they were usually the subject of guffaws and derision that often spilled over into break times.

4. Since the use of behavioral strategies was the main content of the course, the workshop was immediately branded as "another behavior mod workshop" (or as one person was overheard saying, "More B.S. about B.M."). A prevailing feeling among the groupóand particularly the malesówas that they "already knew all about behavior mod and it doesnít work". Factually, however, it was quite to the contrary. When given a pre-test on basic knowledge about behavioral principles, practices, and vocabulary, the results were abysmal. Notably, the women did better. It was true, what was being done in the dorms to manage behavior under the guise of behavior mod was not workingónor was it "behavior modification."

5. The male members of the workshop expressed more reticence about members of the training team coming into the dorms while they (the attendants) were on duty. Though there may have been other more personal reasons for this reticence, a frequently expressed reason was that such involvement by an outside person (particularly on non-Indian) would be a sign to the boys that the attendant was inadequate, weak, and/or unable to maintain control independently. Unfortunately, this hypothesis was not able to be tested.

The two trainees represented in this report were middle-aged women of Indian descent: one was Navajo, and the other was Sioux. Though both had earned college credits, neither had attended college as matriculated students. They had been with the BIA educational system as dorm attendants for 23 years and 7 years respectively, and were considered by their administrative head to be capable, concerned members of the staff. Each trainee worked with three (3) girls.

All six subjects of treatment were of high school age and were selected by the trainees because they were particularly difficult management problems or because of a behavioral characteristic that interfered with normal growth and development. Following is a case by case account of the results of intervention.

Subject #l: Mary (see note 3)

Age: 19

Year in School: Senior (12th Grade), assigned to Special Education

Number of Years at IIS: 4

Tribe: Navajo

Description of Behavior Problems (as described by the trainee):

Mary is a slow learner, quick tempered, stubborn, gets mad, throws things, threatens people, wonít talk, and is mean and ugly. After a serious quarrel with another girl, Mary took two sharp knives from the school kitchen and tried to kill her during class. For this she was taken to jail. Her biggest problem is that she had a bad attitude about herself so when she gets angry, she does bad things.

Treatment Goal:

To get Mary to feel better about herself so that she can control her behavior better.

Intervention Strategy:

The trainee (Mrs. C.) asked Mary to visit with her in the dorm office. She expressed concern for Maryís problems and offered her help, stating, "Itís no fun to be without friends, and itís hard to get friends when they think you might hurt them." Mary agreed that this was a concern to her. Mrs. C. and Mary then made a list of Maryís behaviors that needed to be eliminated. Those behaviors, enumerated above, were listed. Mrs. C. then produced a calendar of the remaining days of the school year and said, "Mary, for each day that you succeed in not doing any of these things, we will draw a smiley face on the calendar, like this," (A smiley face was drawn in a square like the ones on the calendar. See Figure 2.) "Now," Mrs. C. said, "you draw one," which Mary did. Mrs. C. then said, "you see, itís fun putting a smiley face on the calendar to show that you have had a good day. " With considerable glee, Mary agreed! Mrs. C. also noted that at the end of each week of successful behavior, Mary would be rewarded additionally with a show ticket or an inexpensive cosmetic item.

Figure 2 is a copy of Maryís calendar. As is noted, Mary was 100% successful. She took great delight in her faces as is evidenced by the progressive embellishments.

Mary completed the school year without incident and graduated with her class. Mrs. C. wrote, in conclusion to Maryís program:

She is very proud of her smiling faces on the calendar. She reports to me daily and draws her own smile for which she is really proud. At the end of the week, she has been rewarded with some show tickets or make up. She appreciates it because she is a slow learner who attends special classes.

In addition, Mrs. C. noted that Mary was much more socially active and accepted and "was always cooperative in the dormitoryóneat, clean, and helpful all around."

Figure 2. Daily progress record, calendar of events

Subject #2: Louise

Age: 16

Year in School: Sophomore (10th Grade)

Number of Years at IIS: 2


Description of Behavior Problems (as described by the trainee):

Louise is difficult to communicate withóuses strong language when angry, threatens to go home frequently, claims no friends, no one likes her. She also cuts classes and uses drugs and alcohol. She uses suicide methods to threaten anyone in authority (cuts wrists, takes pills). Does not make friends in the dormitoryóreadily. Constantly needs reminding about her room and (work) details. Her father is responsible for her since she has no mother at home.

Treatment Goal:

To get Louise to quit swearing, attempting suicide, using drugs and alcohol. Also, to get her to talk more with the staff and students, and to keep her room clean and to do her detail when told.

Intervention Strategy:

Since it was not possible for Mrs. C. to follow Louise around all day and to monitor her behavior, it was decided that the earning of merits and demerits would be the measure of successful intervention. Louise had a fairly dramatic accumulation of demerits that had been earned because of the behavior problems listed above. Using dorm records, her merits-demerits were plotted and served as baseline data (see Figure 3).

Armed with the baseline data, Mrs. C. met with Louise to discuss the problem, pointing out that "No one likes to be unhappy or disliked, and I would like to help you." Louise responded, "Iím glad somebody cares for me." Mrs. C. and Louise discussed things that Louise enjoyed doing and having. The following were identified (in random order):



a chance to talk to people (especially adults)

babysitting jobs

With this list of contingencies, Mrs. C. assured Louise that if she (Louise) brought her behavior under control, and quit earning demerits, that Mrs. C. would see to it that Louise would be able to earn the things she wanted.

As illustrated in Figure 3, Louiseís behavior made a dramatic turnabout. During baseline, she had earned a total of 12 merits (all early in the school year) and 157 demerits. Subsequent to intervention, she earned 46 merits and 5 demerits.

Accomplishing these results took a personal effort and interest on Mrs. Cís part. She helped Louise get babysitting jobs, made contact with her priest to become more engaged in church activity, helped her sew a gown for the Junior Prom, gave her some hand-me-down clothes, helped her make better contact with home, and helped her enlarge her circle of friends by getting girls together just to talk and have fun. Though Louise had been threatened earlier with expulsion from school, she completed the year successfully. In closing the record for Louise, Mrs. C. wrote:

Louise does not swear anymore and she doesnít get mad when corrected. She accepts responsibility now, keeps her room clean and does her detail. She doesnít cut classes any more, and there are no problems with alcohol or drugs. She gets along with all the dorm aides and shows a more friendly attitude toward other students. She also hears from home more often, which helps her to improve.

She has improved because I praise her more often. I make my talks with her more friendly than critical. She was tempted to swear once, but refrained.

I donít reward her with gifts anymore. I let her earn them. This has worked out real well. She still needs watching in spite of the improvement, but she knows that I am still interested in her. One day when I told her I was going to be off duty, she said, "Oh, shoot! I need you!"

Subject #3: Alice

Age: 19

Year in School: Senior (12th Grade)

Number of Years at IIS: 6

Tribe: Navajo

Description of Behavior Problems (as described by the trainee):

Alice is a bright girl who is bored a lot. She drinks, smokes pot, and is on probation. She could be expelled. Sheís in trouble a lot because she stays out after curfew. Both of Aliceís parents are at home, but they donít seem to care about her. "I donít want to go home. They donít care for me," she says. (During graduation, Alice was the only member of the graduating class whose parents did not attend.)

Treatment Goal:

To get Alice to quit using alcohol and drugs, get her in on time, and use her time better so that she isnít bored and tempted to get into trouble.

Intervention Strategy:

As with Louise, school merit and demerit records were used to establish baseline since it wasnít possible to follow Alice around all day long. Figure 4 displays those data.

Using the baseline data as a reference point, Mrs. C. expressed her concern to Alice and told her she wanted to help her. Alice accepted the invitation for help and gave Mrs. C. a verbal commitment that she would "try to stop drinking and being out of line."

No elaborate reward system was implemented. Rather, Mrs. C. employed a simple four point social reinforcement program:

1. Talk to Alice in a free, friendly way.

2. Involve her in constructive, helping kinds of tasks.

3. Praise her whenever possible, such as when she cleans her room, does detail, or is involved in constructive activities.

4. Ignore inappropriate behavior as much as possible. For example, if Alice doesnít clean her room, just note it in the dorm record, but donít say anything about it.

As illustrated in Figure 4, the positive effects of the program were immediate and dramatic. In March, however, Alice had a serious setback with alcohol which resulted in her being put in jail and on probation. She was also threatened with expulsion from school, being told that one more offense and she would be "out!" To deal with this, we worked with Mrs. C. to develop a "crisis intervention strategy". Alice and Mrs. C. listed all of the danger signals in her life that would indicate that trouble was imminent. Included were such things as boredom, an invitation to trouble by a friend, a bad family experience, etc. Beside each danger signal was an instruction telling her exactly what to do, as illustrated in Table 1.

Crisis Intervention Strategy

Danger Signal

What You Must Do Immediately!

I feel bored

Get hold of Mrs. C. (Phone #_________)

Iím invited by a friend to drink.

Seek out a friend who does not drink:

Kathy or Betty or _________________

Also, to give structure to Aliceís time, she and Mrs. C. made a calendar of events for each day of the week. With this in hand, Alice knew where she would be at all times and what she would be doing. This helped to keep her from drifting into trouble.

As shown in Figure 4, the strategy worked very well. In her end-of-year report of Aliceís progress, Mrs. C. noted that Alice had successfully completed the school year and graduated with her class.

Alice has improved. She went to the school dances and returned on time. She is doing arts and crafts and stays in the dorm to watch T.V. rather than run around. She has been attending the AA group meetings. She is happy.

Subjects #4 and #5: Diane and Linda:

Ages: 16 and 15 respectively

Year in School: Junior (11th Grade) and Sophomore (10th Grade)

Number of Years at IIS: 1 and 1 respectively

Tribe: Winnebago

Description of Behavior Problems (as described by the trainee):

Diane and Linda are sisters sharing the same room with another roommate. Diane reportedly cleans her room but her roommates donít help to keep it clean. Diane is very capable of doing good in anything she does. However, she needs to be motivated. She gets lazy, has a drinking problem and is easily depressed. Linda is a quiet, shy girl. She has problems relating to other students. She stays to herself and doesnít make friends. She is a follower, not a leader. She likes to drink and has a lot of demerits for drinking. She has trouble keeping her part of the room clean and fails to do her share.

Treatment Goal:

To get Diane and Linda to clean their room daily. Also, to have a rating of excellent for at least one full week.

Intervention Strategy:

The trainee (Mrs. N.) talked to both Diane and Linda. Mrs. N. expressed her concern over the number of demerits both girls were accumulating because of their dirty room. Both girls were also concerned about their demerits. Mrs. N. told them about the possibility of getting merits for a clean room. Both girls agreed to participate in the program. Mrs. N. outlined an eight point procedure whereby the girls could obtain an excellent rating for the room. Outlined, also, were four standards of checking the room: excellent, good, fair, and poor. As seen in Figure 5, the program was implemented and Diane and Linda did achieve excellent ratings for as many as nine (9) consecutive days. The girls were also rewarded with two merits and candy for each consecutive excellent day. Mrs. N. took the girls on a promised field trip.

Figure 5. The effects of delayed consequences & stricter contingencies on the room cleanliness ratings for two roommates

In conclusion to the program, Mrs. N. wrote,

Working with the two girls was successful. Other staff members commented on their clean room and not only did they improve in cleaning the room, they also hadnít received any demerits during this time.

Mrs. N. observed that because of a lack of cooperation and understanding among her co-workers, the program nearly failed. "If everyone in the dorm had taken the class," she observed, "the program would have run more consistently."

In conclusion, Mrs. N. noted that other interested students approached her about wanting to participate in the program.

Subject #6: Ann

Age: 20

Year in School: Senior (12th Grade)

Number of Years at IIS: 2

Tribe: Ute

Description of Behavior Problems (as described by the trainee):

Ann is a senior at Intermountain School. She feels that she may not graduate or that she doesnít want to graduate. She might be scared. She is a moody girl, but she tries really hard to get along with the other girls. She keeps her room clean and her (work) detail done most of the time. Ann has trouble taking compliments and gets embarrassed if you compliment her on something positive. Ann has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. She fails to get up when the dorm attendant wakes her at 7:00 a.m.

Treatment Goal:

To get Ann to leave the dorm by 8:15 a.m. and not be written up for any demerits.

Intervention Strategy:

Mrs. N. talked to Ann and expressed her concern over the number of demerits she was accumulating due to the fact that she had a hard time getting out of bed and out of the dorm in the morning. Ann shared Mrs. Nís concern about her behavior and agreed to participate in a program whereby she would earn ten (10) merits for leaving before 8:10 a.m. As part of the contingency plan, Ann was also rewarded with a field trip. As shown in Figure 6, treatment was effective.

In reporting on the program, Mrs. N. wrote that she had a problem properly reinforcing Ann for the first three weeks of the program, as illustrated in Figure 6. In hopes of heightening the reinforcing effects of changing, Mrs. N. let Ann track her own progress on the graph. Mrs. N. reinforced this by leaving notes in Annís room acknowledging her good work. As shown, this was an effective strategy (see Note 4).


The project demonstrated conclusively that highly prescriptive behavioral strategies, when employed skillfully, can have dramatic and positive effects in the lives of misbehaving adolescents residing in dormitory settings. Further, the study demonstrated that given the proper support systems, effective behavioral intervention can be managed by relatively naive therapists. The following are additional particularly salient points that issued from the study:

1. Short term, non-prescriptive, group workshop training, though useful for a awareness purposes, is woefully insufficient as a means for bringing about change in student behavior.

2. If change is to occur, an on-going support system needs to be in place a and readily available.

3. The change agents, i.e., the therapists (in this case the dorm attendants), must express the characteristic of "with-it-ness". They must be teachable, responsive, positive, eager, anxious to help, and willing to make a personal investment in the clientís welfare.

4. The change agents must possess a repertoire of skills that are basic to effective behavioral intervention strategies.


1. The senior author has had considerable experience in Indian education settings across America, and this characteristic was not in the least peculiar to male staff at IIS.

2. The Care Center was more formally referred to as the Intoxicant Education Care Program located at Intermountain Inter-Tribal School. This program encompassed both prevention and education for drug and alcohol use and abuse.

3. All names have been changed to protect the subjectsí identity.

4 . Unfortunately, for family reasons beyond Mrs. Nís control, Ann left school before the end of the year. She was not expelled.

Glenn Latham, Ed.D. is a Professor of Special Education, Utah State University, and Director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Richard West, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Special Education, Utah State University, and Director of the Division of Training, Developmental Center for Handicapped Persons, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Sarah Chambers Collins, M.S., was a special education teacher at Intermountain Intertribal School.

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