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.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Behaviour analysis in the classroom

I will be training as a Secondary school teacher from September. Before coming to Warwick, I spent a year working as a Learning Support Assistant. Some students were reluctant to respond to questions and spent the lesson in silence. It is important to tailor my teaching to various educational needs, and I could use Applied Behaviour Analysis to increase the frequency of class participation in quieter students.

The target behaviour is not responding to questions. I will need to make a record of how little the student responds in my class, using continuous recording. Via interview, I would ask the student why they find it difficult to speak publicly, in order to identify its antecedents. For example, the student may choose not to respond because they fear not having the correct answer. I can hypothesise that more praise when they do answer a question will lead to them responding in the future. More praise should increase their perceived competence when answering questions.

However, Zimmerman, Zimmerman & Russell (1969) found that using a token economy was more effective than praise in increasing the frequency of appropriate classroom behaviour in pupils with below-average IQ. I would need to adopt an alternating treatment design to systematically alternate token reinforcement and praise, in order to establish which is most effective for my student. It is important to begin the intervention with a contractual agreement (Kazdin & Bootzin, 1972) so that the student is aware of the procedures so as to reduce resilience. The contractual agreement would help the student and their parents to understand why and how their classroom participation will be changed. Parental involvement will be important for the behaviour to generalise to the home setting (Wahler, in Kazdin & Bootzin, 1972). 

As reinforcers, I could use achievement merits as tokens or positive comments as praise after the student responds. Using the alternating treatment design, I may find that tokens were more effective than praise at increasing class participation. For example, tokens led to the student responding 6 times during the lesson, and praise led to the student responding 2 times during the lesson. This would tell me that I need to maintain the use of achievement merits. However, I could use merits and praise at the same time, because Wahler (in Kazdin & Bootzin, 1972) found that pairing tokens with praise enabled the gradual withdrawal of tokens so the behaviour became successfully maintained by praise alone. This is important to do because the intervention needs to maintain contact with reality; achievement merits are relevant to an educational setting only. By gradually making public speaking contingent on praise, the student can generalise the behaviour (Kazdin & Bootzin, 1972) to other settings, where praise is more appropriate than merits. Over time, the student should feel more competent when answering questions, because they have been exposed more to that situation as a result of the intervention. Therefore, the reinforcers can be removed gradually as the student’s participation remains at an adaptive level.


Kazdin, A. E., & Bootzin, R. R. (1972). The token economy: An evaluative review. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 343-372.

Zimmerman, E. H., Zimmerman, J., & Russell, C. D. (1969). Differential effects of token reinforcement on instruction-following behavior in retarded students instructed in a group. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 101-112.


Hannah Smith

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