Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Behavioural analysis in the classroom

One of the biggest challenges a teacher faces is managing behavioural problems within their class. Soon to be a trainee teacher, one of my biggest fears is dealing with disruptive children in class. Applied behaviour analysis is one strategy that teachers can use to successfully reduce behavioural issues (Greer, 2002).

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) aims to increase positive behaviours and decrease negative behaviours through the behaviourist principle of operant conditioning (Skinner, 1938). Operant conditioning is the idea that behaviours are more likely to reoccur if they are reinforced in some way and less likely to occur if punished. Behaviours can be positively or negative reinforced and positively or negatively punished.

Positive reinforcement works by rewarding an individual for a positive behaviour, this could involve giving a child a treat when they behave correctly. Negative reinforcement works by removing an aversive stimulus which occurs after a behaviour, for example telling a child that if they complete their homework they do not have to do an end of week test. The act of doing homework is reinforced by not having to do the test. Positive punishment involves providing a negative consequence to an undesirable behaviour. A child could be sent to time out or reprimanded after throwing something across the classroom. Negative punishment involves removing a positive stimulus after an undesirable behaviour. This could include removing the tokens or points which can be exchanged fro prizes of a child who acts in a negative way.  One study found that a teacher using a combination of praising positive behaviours and reprimanding negative behaviours (turning around, inappropriate talking) led to a significant decrease in negative behaviour and a significant increase in positive behaviours in a class of 25 pupils compared to another class of pupils who’s teacher did not use these ABA strategies (McAllister, Stachowiak, Baer and Conderman, 1969).

Reinforcement and punishment are the fundamentals of ABA however there are certain steps a teacher would need to take to ensure the strategies used are successful. ABA works best if the teacher identifies a specific behaviour in a child that needs to be increased or decreased, instead of defining a group of problematic behaviours. The teacher would need to provide the reinforcement or punishment straight after the behaviour to ensure that they are reinforcing the target behaviour and not another behaviour. The teacher would also need to continually monitor the results of the intervention to see whether the strategies used are having the desired effect.

ABA is particularly useful for teachers as it can be effective for both children with and without behavioural disorders, can be used with children of all ages and does not necessarily require a one to one teacher to child ratio. ABA can therefore benefit a whole class or even a whole school of children if used correctly, which could ultimately increase the learning experience children have at school (Kearney, 2008). So, newbie and established teachers alike no longer need to be so scared about dealing with behavioural issues in their classroom. Just use behavioural analysis.

Greer, R. D. (2002). Designing teaching strategies: An applied behavior analysis systems approach Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Kearney, A. J. (2008). Understanding applied behavior analysis: An introduction to ABA for parents, teachers, and other professionalsJessica Kingsley Publishers, London. 

McAllister, L. W., Stachowiak, J. G., Baer, D. M., & Conderman, L. (1969). The application of operant conditioning techniques in a secondary school classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 277-285. 

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century.

Anna Caswell

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