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Would you be surprised to learn that in today's classroom children sometimes aren't learning due to behavioral issues? Teachers are attempting to teach classes in which students can be disruptive, disrespectful and defiant. Classrooms are often overcrowded which adds to the frustration of the situation. Teachers are often tempted to take the easy way out, using antiquated strategies that will usually not help the child to learn. In fact, some types of punishments can actually cause the child to become even more rebellious.
The child can experience a sense of worthlessness after being punished again and again. Children do not act out because they are "bad." They act out in the hopes of receiving some kind of response or reward. In the past, children who acted out were classified as "bad kids" therefore were isolated or punished and often wound up slipping through the cracks of the educational system. Recently, some teachers have been attempting to help the behaviorally challenged child. Instead of isolating, punishing, labeling or ignoring a child, with work we can help them to become a part of the class.
Teachers also have the power to help the child who would have once been considered a "lost cause" to learn. Many researchers have worked on learning about the causes of behavioral problems and possibly more importantly, have suggested some solutions to the problem. Behavioral theorists include B. F. Skinner, E.
Thorndike, and William Glasser to name a few. Although their research and theories go by different names they all have one thing in common. All of the above theorists are, in effect, saying that we are not going to change the child's behavior by changing the child. We must change our reaction to the behavior in order to change it. The idea that bad behavior should not be rewarded is a basic concept. When one rewards any kind of behavior, bad or good, that behavior will continue.
Children are especially quick to catch on to what kind of behavior will get them the result that they desire. B. F. Skinner, a behavioral theorist, says that "when a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond." Skinner's theory is known as Operant Conditioning (Skinner, 1950-71). Although it seems basic or common sense it is easy to forget that each behavior displayed addresses a need. That need may be attention, acceptance, praise or even love.
If the child can fill his or her need for attention from a parent, teacher or peers by excelling in school, for example, they will excel. On the other hand, if that child fills the need for attention by getting into trouble at school, they will get into trouble. Skinner tells us that "non-reinforcement leads to the extinction of a behavior." In other words if teachers figure out what the child is getting from exhibiting a particular behavior, they can then give that child the exact opposite of the expected response. If our response is consistent the child will eventually give up the behavior in lieu of another which yields more satisfying results.
The reward system is sometimes turned around to reinforce poor behavior. Often, children who are misbehaving are looking for some sort of a reaction. It is possible that they believe that it is better to not even try than to try and fail. It could also be true that the only type of attention they receive comes from the instances in which they misbehave. Although as adults it may seem logical that one would avoid being singled out or chastised, children who have little sense of self worth will "take what they can get." Skinner calls his strategy for dealing with disruption "non-reinforcement." Skinner's theory claims that "non-reinforcement leads to extinction of behavior." By ignoring disruptive behavior, a teacher can extinguish it. Eventually, the disruptive student will realize that their behavior will not gain any response will seek another way to belong to the group.
There are many theorists whose opinions about the reward system are similar to Skinner's. All agree that in order for a behavior to exist, a reward must be present or expected. E. Thorndike like Skinner believes that "learning is the result of associations forming between stimuli and responses." According to Thorndike, rewards strengthen behaviors. Thorndike says that "when an action is preformed and rewarded that action is continued" (1921-27). As is often the case, the reward system does not just work for good behavior.
As previously stated, when a child is rewarded in one way or another for poor behavior, they will continue that behavior in order to continue receiving the reward. Thorndike's theory cautions us to "not reward bad behavior." The rewards that he speaks of do not have to be material. In fact, more often than not, the rewards are far from material. Sadly, for some children, their only reward for acting out can be attention. A child could receive attention for poor behavior at home which he / she would then expect at school. If the child is only acknowledged when acting out, its need for attention will take over and the child will continue to act out.
The school sometimes reinforces the reward system that has been set up at home therefore ensuring the continuance of the behavior. By allowing even the smallest accomplishments to slip by and only recognizing a child when they have done something wrong, the teacher / school is letting that child know that poor behavior will pay off. The word reward usually brings to mind a material gift. Rewards, however, do not always have to be material.
They can include simple praise for a job well done, recognition, a special privilege granted, or even a simple certificate for an outstanding job. Material rewards, however, are also effective. One has to be sure not to go overboard when using this tool. A material reward has to be used to award behavior that goes "above and beyond." Material rewards do not have to be expensive either. An inexpensive token can make the difference between a half-hearted effort and a true effort. William Glasser, also a control theorist, coins what he calls the "four fundamental needs.
They are: to belong and to love, to gain power, to be free and to have fun." Although at first glance we may see these needs in the context of a one on one relationship, they are pertinent in the classroom (Boatman 1998). Children need to experience all of the fundamentals in order for true learning to take place. A child needs to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom in order to fully participate in activities. If the child feels as if he / she doesn't belong, it is nearly impossible for them to participate. Children who do not feel as if they belong, feel powerless. To gain power they attempt to illicit a response from a teacher or peers.
To anger a teacher or to make peers laugh gives the child power and through that power they gain acceptance. The child belongs although he or she does not conform to the classroom expectations, there is a place for that child. That child's identity is now that of a troublemaker or of the class clown. The child will convince himself that taking on the role of the class clown is fun and will assume that role to fulfill the "four fundamental needs." All of these theories can be blended together to efficiently manage a classroom. There are certain things that should be remembered when it comes to using a conditioning or a reward based system.
When teaching a child, it is important to reward not only success but effort. As teachers we can often become numb to the fact that students sometimes put out an extreme effort with less than perfect results. Not every student will understand or grasp every lesson. The important thing to remember is that the student who tries needs to be rewarded too. When using the reward system, teachers need to make the result that we desire the same result that the child desires.
This is very tricky. William Glasser's "having fun" need comes into play here. The lessons have to be fun for the student that participates. On the other hand the student who is disruptive or refuses to participate should be uncomfortable due to his or her "attitude." The norm should be participation and appropriate behavior. If teachers continue to try different strategies in the classroom and pay attention to the theorist's research and suggestions, they will find that there are less children falling through the cracks of the educational system. ReferencesBoeree, George C.
(1998). Abraham Maslow. Personality Theories web Andrew Mclain. (1998). Educational Theory Handbook. web B.
F. Operant Conditioning. 1950-1971. web E. Connection ism.
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