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, March 5, 2014

Carpet time just got more complicated

I have been accepted onto a PGCE (post graduate certificate of education) course that begins in September. With this in mind, a comprehensive knowledge of applied behavioural analysis (ABA) is going to come in handy a lot when I am (inevitably) dealing with discipline issues in my classrooms. Baer et al (1968) define ABA as ‘the study that should be applied, behavioural and analytic. In addition it should be technological, conceptually systematic and effective and it should display some generality’. This may not make too much sense to you right now, so I have included some definitions that will hopefully clarify it.

Applied = Focusing the research on one area, so in my case (as a teacher) the area could be attention in the classroom. ABA research involves the manipulation of one specific stimuli in order for the client/subject to start producing the socially correct responses (Cooper, 1982).

Technological = This essentially refers to the reliability of the study. Can it be easily replicated? The more easily it can be replicated the more technological it is (Cooper, 1982).

Effective = In order for the ABA to be seen as effective, there needs to be a measurable change in the behaviour of the client. This change in behaviour needs to be large enough for practical use (Cooper, 1982).

Generality = The use of generality here looks at whether the new response can be demonstrated across a wide range of different environments and has the durability of time (Cooper, 1982).

So, a slightly more digestible definition of ABA could be, ‘ABA therapy should; be focused on one particular area, be easily replicated, produce a noticeable change in the client’s behaviour, with this change in behavioural responses being obvious across a range of different settings and being durable over time’.  ABA attempts to change the client’s behaviour through the use of conditioning. When the desired behaviour is demonstrated, the client receives a reward or a positive reinforcement. In theory, over time the client will display this behaviour more and more in order to receive the treat more, and this eventually eradicates the undesired behaviour.

From my volunteering experiences I know that every class group is filled with a variety of different children, all with their own unique personalities and behaviours. One particular potential issue is that of attention. When children first enroll at Primary school, they are usually around the age of four, and so have never had to sit down and pay attention for long amounts of time, a concept that is key, and almost omnipresent in all classroom environments. Cooper (1982) states that teachers use the principles of behavior as demonstrated in ABA because they have been effective in improving academic and social growth in students’. With this in mind, I feel that ABA procedures could be perfect for this situation.

Osborne (1969) wanted to reduce the amount of time that children in a classroom got out of their seat. They achieved this by using ABA. They achieved this by using free time as the reinforcer. The longer a child stayed in their seat, the more free time they were given. They found that when  free time was the reinforcer, children got out of their seats significantly less than when it was not the reinforcer.

This research is easily applicable in the carpet time situation that I am envisaging. In order to make sure that children try to keep their attention on me as the teacher and the topic of the lesson, I could use the treat of playtime as a reinforcer. The better behaved they are on the carpet, the more playtime they receive. This would obviously have to be managed in order to ensure that the children are still receiving their full education, but I feel that it is wholly applicable.

Lucy Berkeley - blog post 4.


Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 1(1), 91-97.

Cooper, J. O. (1982). Applied behavior analysis in education. Theory into practice, 21(2), 114-118.

Osborne, J. G. (1969). Freetime as a reinforcer in the management of classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(2), 113-118.

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