Behaviour Change

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Most teachers want their children to be quiet...but I want them to talk.

Currently I am on the path to do a PGCE in Early Years to teach children between the ages of 3-7 years.  When working in schools to gain valuable experience for my future career, there is of course the everyday dilemma that teachers have to face, no matter what a child’s age – bad behaviour.  Many people assume my future career will be easy, with comments such as ‘aww they’re only little, how bad can they be?’.  But let me tell you, little children can be absolute tearaways in the classroom – and yet this hasn’t put me off. They are so amazing to teach – they are receptive, enthusiastic and (for the most part) eager to learn.  But difficulties teacher face go beyond mere bad behaviour, where a good teacher focuses on the holistic view of the child, not just their grades and achievement.  A lot of teachers focus on the badly behaved students who distract the class, but what about the quiet students?

When completing my dissertation research in an infant school recently, I was informed about a little girl who was previously an elective mute.  Expecting a shy, timid little girl, I was in disbelief when she bounded over to me asking me if she could work with me, all smiles. I could barely believe she was the same child I had been told about.  It turns out she had been working closely with the school mentors and was receiving therapy that improved her confidence with speech.  It was enlightening and made me think about the difficulties a teacher would face if a child simply would not speak, how limited that child would be in their learning.  Applied behaviour analysis has been shown to be very effective when working with elective mutism, and progress with applied behaviour analysis can also be continued into school.

The research I am focussing on by Williamson, Sanders, Sewell, Haney & White in 1977 discussed a case study of a 7 year old girl called Crissy. Crissy had a severe lack of verbalisation since kindergarten, despite normal academic performance.  Interestingly, it was reported that Crissy spoke at home frequently, even answering the telephone with ease.  The researchers began by obtaining a baseline measure by talking to Crissy in a clinical room and prompting her to talk by repeating words back to the experimenter, however she didn’t respond. Various techniques were used over the sessions; ‘shaping with modelling’ (sessions 2-11), ‘reinforcement and reinforcer sampling’ (sessions 12-20) and ‘reinforcement and reinforcement fading’ (sessions 21-41).  Shaping with modelling involved Crissy imitating voiced and unvoiced approximations to speaking, such as eye contact and sounds such as ‘mmm’, reinforcing correct responses (Williamson, Sanders, Sewell, Haney & White, 1977). 

‘Reinforcement and reinforcer sampling with stimulus fading’ was used next, where Crissy’s mum prompted responses rather than the experimenter.  The experimenter sat in the corner of the room for the purpose of stimulus fading - Crissy did not respond, but when the experimenter was not in the room she responded 100% of the time. Over time this improved where a response was desired in the presence of a stranger. A reward was used in the form of roller skates if Crissy responded to all the prompts, and Crissy was later told that she could own the skates if she read out loud to her class for 10 minutes, which she did successfully.  

During the’ reinforcement and reinforcement fading’ stage, the aim was to be able to remove the reinforcer (roller skates) so that a reward wasn’t necessary to produce the desired response. Crissy was required to read a passage to her class and the teacher, with a small monetary reward for reading.  The reward grew a little over the sessions by giving Crissy a card each time she read successfully; if she earned 5 cards the class would have a party. Progress was steady and when the class teacher was contacted one month after intervention, Crissy was responding to 100% of requests without reinforcement.


Although interventions such as this should be completed by an experimenter in the field, I believe that it is massively important that teachers are supportive and play an active role in aiding a child’s intervention.  Teachers frequently work closely with educational psychologists and need to maintain the progress children are making outside the class with psychology professionals. As a teacher I would like to take a particularly active role in these therapies, such as those which involve applied behaviour analysis -  and it seems I might get to throw a party while i'm at it!



Rachel Stirling - Blog 4

Reference

Williamson, D. A., Sanders, S. H., Sewell, W. R., Haney, J. N., & White, D.  (1977). The behavioural treatment of elective mutism: Two case studies. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 8, 143-149. 

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