Exploring Relational Communication Patterns in Prereferral Intervention Teams

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Victoria]On: 18 November 2014, At: 21:04Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Educational and PsychologicalConsultationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hepc20

    Exploring Relational CommunicationPatterns in Prereferral InterventionTeamsMegan S. Bennett a , William P. Erchul a , Hannah L. Young b &Chelsea M. Bartel aa North Carolina State Universityb Alfred UniversityPublished online: 20 Aug 2012.

    To cite this article: Megan S. Bennett , William P. Erchul , Hannah L. Young & Chelsea M. Bartel(2012) Exploring Relational Communication Patterns in Prereferral Intervention Teams, Journal ofEducational and Psychological Consultation, 22:3, 187-207, DOI: 10.1080/10474412.2012.706128

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  • Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 22:187207, 2012

    Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1047-4412 print/1532-768X online

    DOI: 10.1080/10474412.2012.706128

    Exploring Relational Communication Patternsin Prereferral Intervention Teams

    MEGAN S. BENNETT and WILLIAM P. ERCHULNorth Carolina State University

    HANNAH L. YOUNGAlfred University

    CHELSEA M. BARTELNorth Carolina State University

    The purpose of this research was to understand the relational

    communication patterns that characterize school-based prerefer-

    ral intervention teams (PITs). Fifteen PIT meetings were used as

    the basis for analyses, with each meeting audiotaped, transcribed,

    and coded using the Family Relational Communication Control

    Coding System (Heatherington & Friedlander, 1987). Addition-

    ally, the PIT Meeting Evaluation Coding Form was used to assess

    each meetings adherence to a traditional problem-solving frame-

    work. Important results included (a) relatively consistent domi-

    neeringness (i.e., attempted influence) scores across participants,

    with the exception of the referring teacher; (b) relatively consistent

    dominance (i.e., successful influence) scores across participants;

    (c) significantly greater (p < .05) domineeringness displayed by

    the school psychologist compared with the referring teacher; and

    (d) no significant differences in dominance scores between the

    school psychologist and teacher. In sum, this study represents an

    important first step in understanding communication patterns

    found in school-based problem-solving groups.

    Prereferral interventions are initial strategies or supports that are given to stu-dents experiencing academic and/or behavioral difficulties (Graden, Casey, &Christenson, 1985). During the 1980s, prereferral interventions were concep-tualized as a way to deliver important resources to a child before a possiblereferral for special education services. Today, prereferral interventions are

    Correspondence should be sent to William P. Erchul, Department of Psychology, NorthCarolina State University, CB 7650, Raleigh, NC 276957650. E-mail: william_erchul@ncsu.edu

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  • 188 M. S. Bennett et al.

    most often delivered through prereferral intervention teams (PITs) and arerequired or recommended by most states (Truscott, Cohen, Sams, Sanborn,& Frank, 2005).

    PITs are generally composed of multidisciplinary professionals (e.g., re-ferring teacher, school psychologist, administrator, regular education teacher,special education teacher, specialist) who come together to assist generaleducation teachers to develop interventions for students who are experienc-ing difficulties. Following PIT-based intervention development, teachers aretypically responsible for delivering the interventions. After a period of time,the PIT meets again to evaluate student progress and the intervention impact(Slonski-Fowler & Truscott, 2004).

    Although a comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this article, ef-fectiveness/efficacy investigations have indicated that prereferral interventionprocesses are useful in improving both student (e.g., academic achievement)and systemic (e.g., referral rates) outcomes (e.g., Burns & Symington, 2002;Nelson, Smith, Taylor, Dodd, & Reavis, 1991). Given the current response-to-intervention (RTI) era, it easily can be seen that PITs and RTI problem-solvingteams (PSTs) have similar purposes, activities, and group membership (Er-chul & Martens, 2010).

    There are multiple reasons for wanting to understand processes thatcharacterize PITs. First, research has noted inconsistencies in PIT imple-mentation both within and between states, including variations in membercomposition, overall goals, and interventions created (Truscott et al., 2005).Second, research in social psychology has clearly suggested that group pro-cess variables (e.g., power of majority, value of dissent, shared norms) areimportant to understanding the quality of group decision making; however,this is an underresearched area in the PIT literature (Gutkin & Nemeth, 1997).Finally, because it is likely that group-based decision making is and willcontinue to be used extensively within RTI frameworks (Gutkin & Curtis,2009), it is important to explore the various processes that occur within PITs.

    To better understand the processes by which PITs make decisions andaccomplish goals, it would seem important to study the nature of inter-personal interactions between and among team members. One option isto apply a relational communication perspective, which considers the com-munication episodes that unfold as a way of understanding interpersonalrelationships (Rogers & Escudero, 2004). Within this perspective, as messagesare exchanged, ideas about how people regard one another and the natureof their relationship are also transmitted. Because of the changing natureof messages throughout the course of a discussion, it is assumed that therelationship between individuals is constantly being redefined, altered, andrenegotiated.

    Relational communication researchers emphasize that the form of themessage and the process of message exchange (as opposed to the messagecontent) dictate the nature of relationships. Therefore, it is not what we

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  • Relational Communication in PITs 189

    say, but how we say it that influences our perceptions of others and theirperceptions of us. The relational communication perspective also focuses ondyadic or triadic exchanges as opposed to individual messages. In turn, whenanalyzing messages, a central focus is placed on paired message sequencesinstead of single, isolated messages (Rogers & Escudero, 2004).

    Structured coding schemes are often used to measure relational com-munication, and more specifically, relational control or influence conveyedwithin verbal interactions. For example, the Relational Communication Con-trol Coding System (RCCCS; Rogers & Farace, 1975) and Family RelationalCommunication Control Coding System (FRCCCS; Heatherington & Fried-lander, 1987) have been utilized to better understand control within dyadicand group contexts, respectively. In these coding schemes, each message isassigned a three-digit code, where the first digit identifies the speaker, thesecond digit identifies the grammatical format of the message (e.g., assertion,question, talk-over, noncomplete), and the third digit identifies the responsemode or the function of the message in relation to the prior message (e.g.,support, nonsupport, extension, answer, instruction, order, topic change).

    Based on the three-digit code that is assigned to each message, a mes-sage is then assigned a control code. A message is considered one-up (") if itrepresents an attempt to control the conversation and define the relationshipbetween the speakers. In contrast, a message is considered one-down (#)if the speaker submits to the others attempts to control the conversation.Finally, a message is considered one-across (!) if it represents no controllingmaneuver or an attempt to balance the relationship (Rogers & Farace, 1975).

    Relational communication research typically has focused on understand-ing the control differences between individuals (Rogers & Escudero, 2004).Two indices may be derived from the RCCCS and FRCCCS to better under-stand these differences. The first, domineeringness, is the number of one-upmessages spoken by one person without regard to the second speakersresponses to them. It is an index of attempted influence or directiveness andis calculated by dividing the number of the speakers one-up messages by hisor her total number of messages. Because relational communication researchis frequently interested in paired message sequences, however, there is asecond index that takes into account the second persons responses to thefirst persons one-up messages. Dominance is the proportion that a speakersone-up messages are responded to by one-down messages by the otherspeaker. In other words, dominance is defined as the proportion of instancesthat one speakers attempts to control the conversation are accepted by theother person. Dominance is considered a measure of successful influence(Erchul et al., 2009; Erchul, Grissom, & Getty, 2008).

    Relevant to the present study, two previous investigations have used theFRCCCS to better understand the nature of communication in consultationmeetings involving three or more participants. Both studies were conductedon conjoint behavioral consultation (CBC; Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2008).

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  • 190 M. S. Bennett et al.

    Based on both behavioral consultation and ecological-systems theory, CBCrefers to consultation situations in which parents, teachers, and consultantsjoin together to address academic and/or behavioral difficulties that a childis experiencing within the classroom and/or home setting. In the first study,Erchul et al. (1999) examined the relational patterns present in four CBCcases. Based on prior research, they hypothesized that (a) consultants wouldexhibit higher levels of domineeringness than consultees (i.e., teachers andparents) and (b) consultants would exhibit higher levels of dominance thanconsultees. For each case, the FRCCCS was used to code messages acrossall three CBC interviews (i.e., Problem Identification [PII], Problem Analysis,Treatment Evaluation).

    Results indicated that consultants and consultees were similar in theiraverage domineeringness scores across interviews (i.e., attempts to influencethe process were fairly equal among all participants). Other analyses revealedthat consultants were somewhat higher in domineeringness toward teachersand parents than parents and teachers were toward consultants. In contrastto domineeringness, consultants tended to be slightly less dominant thanconsultees, though dominance scores themselves were restricted in rangeand suggested that no one person was highly in control of the interviewdirection. Analyses of dyadic interactions showed that both parents andteachers tended to exhibit greater dominance with consultants than con-sultants did with parents and teachers. Overall, domineeringness patternstended to be stable across the three interviews, whereas dominance scoreswere somewhat more variable, particularly as they related to teacher-to-consultant interactions (Erchul et al., 1999).

    In a second study, Grissom, Erchul, and Sheridan (2003) examined therelationship between relational communication variables (i.e., dominanceand domineeringness) and outcomes of CBC. Twenty CBC PIIs were codedusing the FRCCCS, and three outcome measures were utilized: (a) consulteeperceptions of the acceptability/effectiveness of CBC, (b) consultee percep-tions of the effectiveness of CBC consultants, and (c) consultee perceptionsof client goal attainment. Analyses failed to produce any significant cor-relations between consultant domineeringness/dominance and any of theseoutcomes. Likewise, no significant relationships were found between teacherdomineeringness/dominance and any outcome measure. There were, how-ever, significant correlations between parent dominance and two outcomes.First, parent-to-consultant dominance was negatively related to teachers per-ceptions of acceptability/effectiveness of CBC as an intervention (r D .49).In other words, as parents were more successful at influencing consultants,teachers tended to view CBC as less acceptable and effective. Second, parentdominance toward both consultants and teachers was negatively related toparents perceptions of goal attainment (r D .61 for parent-to-consultantdominance and r D .58 for parent-to-teacher dominance; Grissom et al.,2003).

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  • Relational Communication in PITs 191

    The goal of this exploratory study was to extend the relational commu-nication perspective to PITs, and the more specific objective was to examineand document the relational patterns that characterize PIT meetings. Twohypotheses were posed:

    1. Compared with referring teachers, school psychologists will display higherdomineeringness across PIT initial meetings; and

    2. Compared with referring teachers, school psychologists will display higherdominance across PIT initial meetings.

    An open-ended research question was also a...

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