Behavior Strategy: Focusing on Academic Enablers

by Elaine Gould, M.Ed., and Butler Knight, Ed.S.

When a student is struggling academically, DiPerma and Volpe (2001) suggest that assessment and intervention around proficiency in reading, mathematics, and writing may not be enough to achieve desired outcomes. Non-academic skills, or academic enablers, should also be thoughtfully considered and assessed (DiPerna & Volpe, 2001). Academic enablers, including social skills, study skills, motivation, and engagement, are student attitudes and behaviors that allow a student to be involved in and benefit from classroom instruction (DiPerna & Elliott, 2002). The strength of a student's academic enablers can improve or hinder academic success. To prevent academic failure, students need encouragement and explicit instruction in these areas (DiPerna, 2006; DiPerna & Elliott, 2002).

DiPerna (2006) suggests using an assessment hierarchy when evaluating a wide range of both academic and behavioral skills for intervention. Since current academic achievement is the strongest predictor of future academic success, assessment of and interventions surrounding academic skills must occur first. Academic enablers should subsequently be assessed to identify possible relationships between deficits in these skills and the area where the student demonstrates academic difficulty (DiPerna & Volpe, 2001). Curriculum-based measures and standardized assessments can be used to determine academic achievement. The primary tools for assessing academic enablers (DiPerna, 2006) include direct observation and self- or teacher-reported behavior rating scales.

If a teacher determines that a student is having difficulty with a specific academic enabler, the choice of the intervention should depend on the student's current skill level. For example, if a student does not demonstrate the skill at all, interventions such as modeling and coaching would be appropriate, as these strategies provide a demonstration of the desired skill to the student and directly teach the necessary steps to acquire it. When a student displays the desired skill, but performs it with less than the desired frequency, behavioral rehearsal and reinforcement should be used. As these strategies provide additional practice and positive reinforcement of skills the student already possesses (DiPerma, 2006).

The table below lists skills necessary for academic success in the order in which they should be assessed. Descriptions of these enablers, explanations of their relationship to academic success, and questions to guide assessment and intervention decisions are also provided.

Components of Academic Success
Academic Enabler
Relationship to
Academic Success
Decision-Making Questions
Academic Skills:

· Reading
· Writing
· Mathematics
· Critical Thinking

  • Prior academic achievement is the strongest predictor of future academic success

  • What is the student's current academic skill level?

  • How do the student's skills compare to performance expectations?

  • Does the skill need to be taught or developed?


A student's willingness to participate, persist, and achieve at a task

  • Belief in one's ability to perform a task in a particular setting

  • Belief based on past success in the same setting

  • Is the student's motivation to engage in learning appropriate?

  • What types of motivation are appropriate for the task and the age of the student?


Student participation in instruction and group tasks, reading aloud, asking and answering questions

  • Instructional delivery that encourages student engagement

  • What types of engagement are necessary for academic success?

  • Is the student actively engaged in instruction?

  • Does the student have opportunities to be engaged in instruction and learning?

Study Skills:

Recording, organizing, synthesizing, remembering, and applying information

  • Mastery through explicit instruction and repeated practice

  • Requires motivation

  • What study skills are necessary to be successful in the class?

  • Does the student use study strategies?

  • Has study skills strategy instruction been taught?

Social Skills:

Social interaction skills like sharing, helping, initiating conversations, and requesting help that allow one to receive positive and avoid negative reactions from others

  • Skill level impacts student motivation, willingness to engage in instruction, and achievement

  • What social skills are important for success in this class?

  • Has the student consistently demonstrated these skills?

  • Do these skills need to be taught or developed?

(Adapted from DiPerna, 2006)


DiPerna, J. C. (2006). Academic enablers and student achievement: Implications for Assessment and intervention services in the schools. Psychology in the Schools, 43, 7-17.

DiPerna, J. C., & Elliott, S. N. (2002). Promoting academic enablers to improve student achievement: An introduction to the mini-series. School Psychology Review, 31, 293-97.

DiPerna, J. C., & Volpe, R. J. (2001). A model of academic enablers and elementary reading/language arts achievement. School Psychology Review. 31, 298-312.

Date: February/March 2009