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, June 4, 2014

Sparking a Child's Thirst for Knowledge and Exploration

Growing up and advancing through the education years of our lives, we as students don’t usually appreciate how much work goes in to being our teachers. Especially at a younger age, students cause all sorts of havoc in and out of the classroom that is relevant to and affects our teachers’ ability to impart their knowledge onto us. As someone who has tutored academically and coached sports to children of all ages, as well as with learning disabilities, I know first hand how disruptive children can be. Despite this I want to continue my work with children and continue to learn how to become a fun, effective, successful teacher. The goal is to be able to spark each child’s thirst for knowledge and exploration. To do this I need to better arm myself with techniques that can gain each child’s attention, help change their behaviour for the better, so that I can have the chance to make a difference in their lives. Applied behaviour analysis can help me do that.

Let us look at a situation in a primary school where a new year is beginning and I am receiving a new class of students for the year. The scenario worked through here is a common occurrence and shows how I could use applied behaviour analysis to reach my goals as a teacher. I soon learn that there is one particularly disruptive child and he distracts the majority of the class completely, with a few still managing to work but who are quite significantly disturbed. I talk to his previous teacher and she tells me she used to send him to sit in the principles office for a while every time he disrupts the class. Whilst this solves the problem for the rest of the class and the teacher, this does not help change the child’s behaviour, as he wants to not be in class and it goes against my goal of helping him spark a natural curiosity for learning. Sending him out of the classroom during lesson time acts as a positive reinforce for him. This leads me to change the consequence of his usual disruption from something he wants, to something he very much dislikes. Instead of sending him out in class time I get him to stay during his breaks where he wants to be playing, and finish the work he didn’t do during the class time. A study by Sulzbacher and Houser (1968) showed that by reducing the time a child has for his breaks leads to a decrease in the identified target behaviour. This acts as a response cost which has been found to be effective when working with children (Falcomata et al., 2004). Many teachers also use positive reinforcers to increase desired behaviours in children. It is common to have a star or point system within primary schools that are awarded when a child performs to a certain level academically, elicits desired behaviour that is uncommon to someone of that age (going out of their way to help a friend) etc. These systems help us measure a student’s academic and behavioural progress. Using these to motivate the misbehaving child, and adding an incentive such as chocolate if he reaches a certain number of stars can help as positive reinforcers to the desired behaviour. Hoffman et al. (2009) showed that by using these reinforcers as rewards for students, teachers can increase desired behaviours so that they are the norm within the classroom.

I have used bed time snacks being given or not given as both a positive reinforcer to desired behaviour, and a response cost to undesired behaviour in a summer camp environment and at certain ages it worked very well. These methods are just a few ways in which applied behaviour analysis can be used within my future career working with children.


Falcomata, T. S., Roane, H. S., Hovanetz, A. N., Kettering, T. L., & Keeney, K. M. (2004). An evaluation of response cost in the treatment of inappropriate vocalizations maintained by automatic reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 83-87.

Hoffmann, K. F., Huff, J. D., Patterson, A. S., & Nietfeld, J. L. (2009). Elementary teachers' use and perception of rewards in the classroom. Teaching and Teacher Education25(6), 843-849.

Sulzbacher,S., & Houser, J. (1968). A tactic to eliminate disruptive behaviours in the classroom: Group contingent consequences. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 73,88-90.

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