Behaviourism in the Classroom
I remember the first time I taught in kindergarten. This I guess was the most challenging and traumatic experience I ever had. The former teacher had to exit (back to their home country) and I was the one who took over the second semester. We have 33 pupils (24 boys, 9 girls) ages 4-6. Prior to her leaving the class, I was with her for 1 week observing the lessons. Under her advisory, the children already have established their routine—from their sitting arrangement, placement of diary, notebooks, and books, their arts supplies and how to go to canteen, to the bathroom, etc. In short, everything was orderly and I saw that it was going so smoothly. What I just noticed was that, the moment teacher leaves the classroom; all these children go wild as if they have been freed from prison. So by the time I finally took over the class, I found it difficult to put the class in order. The children don’t seem to recognize my authority. They don’t take me seriously. What used to be an ideal teaching ‘moment’ (pupils listen intently to their teacher) was replaced by chaos. Soon everyone wants to talk freely to her classmates, doing things that they like such as drawing and some even fights over things they don’t agree with. I do not like shouting, I do not have a loud voice, and I don’t want to use a stick, much more bang the board or table with it. Sadly, this was the practice used such that children will ‘behave’ properly. I want to establish my own system of discipline or classroom management but I had hard time implementing it. It was indeed frustrating on my part.
Now that I can look back, and after studying behaviourism, I can learn so much from my experience and from literatures. Basically, the behavioural theory view knowledge as a repertoire of behaviours. According to behaviourist, one is born with a blank slate (tabula rasa). In order for a person to learn, he/she must acquire new behaviour through conditioning. These conditioning can be in the form of classical and operant (Pavlov); and reinforcement and punishment (Skinner). In short, people learn by responding to certain stimulus. Thus, teaching and learning practices capitalize on behavioural management to provide for positive stimulating learning environment.
The use of skill-and –drill, question (stimulus) and answer (response), guided practice, and regular reviews of material are just some of the ways behavioural theories facilitate learning. Learners will continue to modify their environment, until they receive positive reinforcement. Reinforcement like verbal praise, good grades and prizes give students the emotional motivation to learn and strive harder. However, the use of negative reinforcement can hurt learner and can have adverse effect on their learning.
Below is some of the learning that I will be using when I will be given the opportunity to handle a class.
First, I will demonstrate certain behaviours that I want the children to learn. Example: the use of polite expressions. I will say Thank You, Please, You are Welcome, I am sorry, etc. to my class; and if I hear them saying these words/phrases, I will reinforce that behaviour by praising their effort. I will be consistent and always follow it up.
Second, if I want to encourage students to answer questions during class discussion, I should praise them for every attempt that they make, regardless if their answer is incorrect. Then gradually, I will just praise students when their answer is correct and over time, assuming that students are engaging in discussion, I will just praise exceptional answers.
Third, unwanted behaviour such as tardiness and dominating class discussion can be extinguished by being ignored rather than being reinforced by having attention drawn to them.
Fourth, I will vary the reinforcement that I give to my students so that good behaviour will be maintained. I know this is not easy task but with patience and perseverance, I will be successful.
Fifth and last, I will not use punishment (any form of punishment) both at school or at home. The word punishment has a strong negative connotation and I am not in favour of using it to manage behaviour. According to research, there are many problems with using punishment, such as:
- Punished behaviour is not forgotten, it’s suppressed – behaviour returns when punishment is no longer present.
- Causes increased aggression – shows that aggression is a way to cope with problems.
- Creates fear that can generalize to undesirable behaviours, e.g., fear of school.
- Does not necessarily guide toward desired behaviour – reinforcement tells you what to do, punishment only tells you what not to do.
I remember using collective punishment by making the whole class stand when someone defiantly does bad behaviour. My intention was for the pupils to realize that they are accountable to their peers. However, I quickly learn that the person who is mischievous is dislike by his/her classmates. As a consequence, instead of doing better, that person becomes more defiant and prone to bullying. I learned my lesson the hard way, so I commit to not imposing punishment. Even as a student, I hated punishment. It is demeaning and will not do any good.
In conclusion, behaviourism is use in shaping classroom behaviour. The desired behaviours are given positive reinforcement so that the student will behave accordingly. However, reinforcement needs consistency and continuity for the preferred behaviour to persist. Otherwise, such behaviour will just be forgotten or ignored.
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html