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.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Primary school was the happiest time within my school life. I loved everything about it, and couldn’t wait to get back in September after a long six week summer. However, secondary school, college and university were a different situation all together. Perhaps it is the excitement and happiness I felt within my small primary school that has made me want to be a primary school teacher myself.

Behaviour analysis is something that will come in very useful when I am a teacher, as I will have to increase good behaviours and also decrease bad behaviours. It is the route I would take to try and dissect certain behaviours and modify them rather than suggesting external assessment and potentially medication as a consequence.
Reinforcement is one of the most important ways in which to change behaviour. Positive reinforcement would occur the most within a school setting, where I, as the teacher, would add something nice to a situation and condition good behaviour. For example, if the class were to complete the work I set them within a given time, I could ‘reward’ them with a story of their choice at the end of the day. This good behaviour will hopefully increase, as the children will be seeking the reward that they received as a result of completing their work on time. However, it will be important to monitor the amount of reinforcement delivered and use only enough to maintain the target behaviour (Zirpoli and Melloy, 1993).

One of the golden rules within primary school teaching is to always focus on the positive, and try, wherever possible, to not always focus on the negatives. However, we know, in an ideal world that sometimes we must reprimand bad behaviour, in order to decrease it. This is where negative reinforcement can come in. A popular behavioural tool used by primary school teachers is the KS2 traffic light system. Every child starts their day on the green light, and if they do something bad they move to amber, if they misbehave further, they will then move down to red. If they get to red, a sanction will occur. This will cause children to behave well, in order to avoid the negative consequences of misbehaving. In this way, negative reinforcement can be helpful, and Gunter & Coutinho (1997) conducted research that suggested further training and understanding needed to be carried out on teachers to implement this type of reinforcement successfully, without bridging into punishment.

These are just two examples of how reinforcement, both positive and negative, could be implemented into my future career as a teacher. There are many other strategies within behavioural analysis, however, I feel that these strategies would be the most important when dealing with children at a basic level. I do however, feel that it is important to target just what negative reinforcement is, as within schools many people link it directly to punishment, when in fact it is just encouraging children to avoid engaging in negative behaviour that will lead to negative consequences.

Amber Kalejs 


Zirpoli, T.J. & Melloy K.J. (1993). Behaviour Management: Applications for Teachers and Parents. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Gunter, P. L., & Coutinho, M. J. (1997). Negative reinforcement in classrooms: What we're beginning to learn. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children20(3), 249-264. 

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