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, February 26, 2014

Do you know your ABC?

As an aspiring teacher, behavioural management is one of the challenges I will face. Anyone who has watched ‘Tough Young Teachers’ recently, will appreciate that this is not always the easiest task. However help is at hand, and through using Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) ensuring good behaviour is as easy as ABC – Antecedents, Behaviour and Consequences, to be precise.

Applied Behavioural Analysis discovers the relationships between behaviour and its antecedents and consequences. Some antecedents may make behaviour more likely to be carried out and some will make it less. The same for consequences – we are more likely to repeat a behaviour which sees us rewarded. By identifying what, in an environment, is reinforcing a certain behaviour, whether this be shouting out in class, or hitting another child, we can then take steps, using Skinner’s principles of Operant Conditioning (Skinner, 1958) to change this.

Imagine you have a child in your class who is extremely shy and doesn’t readily volunteer answers or interact a lot with the other children. First we need to define the behaviour we want to change – in this case, social withdrawal. Next we need to select appropriate reinforcers – something we think will encourage the child to engage in the desirable behaviour. According to Flora (2004) this is the most important principle of behaviour. Depending on the child this could vary from praise, sweets or extra time on the computer. These are all positive reinforcers, which give the child something as a result of behaviour. Alternatively you could take away something undesirable such as extra homework, which acts as a negative reinforcer for the behaviour. It is important that whatever reward is given is immediate and certain, in order to allow the child to associate the behaviour with the consequences. Finally we should monitor the effectiveness of the intervention by comparing a baseline of times the child has volunteered to answer a question or interacted with peers, to the number of times the child does this during the intervention. If this has increased we can presume that it is the reward that has led to the change in frequency of behaviour (this can be tested by removing the reinforcement and observing whether the behaviour goes down again).

The ABA technique could also be used in managing a disruptive child. The reinforcement again could be positive (e.g. praise for sitting down when asked, or writing lines for not being quiet when asked) or negative, through removing privileges such as break time or attention.

Time Out is a punishment strategy used to reduce the frequency of behaviour, by removing the person from a reinforcing situation, (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 1987). For example, if a child hits another child whilst playing a game, you may send them out of the classroom, which prevents them participating in the fun game anymore. It is important to make sure that the ‘time-out’ is not a desirable punishment, such as sending them to a teacher who they like spending time with; otherwise this may act in the opposite way, strengthening the behaviour.

It is often possible to change the A (antecedents) and C (consequences) which reinforce behaviour. Therefore, if you want to survive in the classroom, remember your ABCs.

Jessica Brett – Blog 4.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis. Merril: Prentice Hall. p. 355.

Flora, S.R. (2004). The power of reinforcement. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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

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