There are several ways a teacher could use behaviorist strategies to encourage positive behavior, give praise and punish effectively, and help students eventually learn to be self-managing in a behaviorist classroom environment. Praise, the Premack principle, shaping, and positive practice are specific ways to encourage positive behavior. Many psychologists advise teachers to “accentuate the positive”-praise for good behavior while ignoring misbehavior. In fact, some researchers believe that “the systematic application of praise and attention may be the most powerful motivational and classroom management tool available to teachers”. The praise-and-ignore approach can be helpful, but don’t expect it to solve all classroom management problems.
There is a second consideration in using praise. To be effective, praise must be contingent on the behavior to be reinforced, specify clearly the behavior being reinforced, and be believable. In other words, the praise should be sincere recognition of a well-defined behavior so students understand what they did to warrant the recognition.
The Premack principle is a helpful guide for choosing the most effective reinforcers. By definition the Premack principle is the principle stating that a more-preferred activity can serve as a reinforcer for a less-preferred activity. Being able to determine what students enjoy doing in their free time, then using those enforcers will help increase the rate of involvement and success. A safe prediction is that the students will soon learn to dislike the class, the subject, and perhaps the teacher and school in general if enforcers aren’t utilized.
One way to prevent this problem is the strategy of shaping. Shaping is reinforcing each small step of progress toward a desired goal or behavior. Shaping involves reinforcing progress instead of waiting for perfection. Shaping is also called successive approximations. Successive approximations are small components that make up a complex behavior. In order to use shaping, the teacher must take the final complex behavior the student is expected to master and break it down into a number of small steps. One approach that identifies the small steps is task analysis. Task analysis is the system for breaking down a task hierarchically into basic skills and subskills.
Practicing correct responses immediately after errors is positive practice. In positive practice, students replace one behavior with another. This approach is especially appropriate for dealing with academic errors. When students make a mistake, they must correct it as soon as possible and practice the correct response. The same principle can be applied when students break classroom rules. Instead of being punished, the student might be required to practice the correct alternative action. Repetitive problem behavior needs to be stop. One way to stop problem behavior is to insist that students continue the behavior until they are tired of doing it. This procedure is called satiation. Satiation is requiring a person to repeat a problem behavior past the point of interest or motivation. It is important to apply satiation with care.
Another way of dealing with problem behavior is by reprimand a child. Reprimands are criticisms for misbehavior; rebukes. Soft, calm, private reprimands are more effective than loud, public reprimands in decreasing disruptive behavior. The concept of response cost is familiar to anyone who has ever paid a fine. For certain infractions of the rules, people must lose some reinforcer-money, time, privileges.
One of the most controversial behavioral methods for decreasing undesirable behavior is the strategy of social isolation. Social isolation is the removal of a disruptive student for 5 to 10 minutes. Time outs are similar to social isolation. Social isolation is isolation of a student from the rest of the class for a brief time. It is technically the removal of all reinforcement. Positive behavioral supports and functional behavioral assessments help with students who have disabilities and those who are at-risk for special education placement. By definition, positive behavioral supports (PBS) are interventions designed to replace problem behaviors with new actions that serve the same purpose for the student. Functional behavioral assessments (FBA) are procedures used to obtain information about antecedents, behaviors, and consequences to determine the reason or function of the behavior.
A teacher can base reinforcement for the class on the cumulative behavior of all members of the class, usually by adding each student’s points to a class or a team total. Using the good behavior game is one example of this approach. The good behavior game is an arrangement where a class is divided into teams and each team receives demerit points for breaking agreed-upon rules of good behavior. Group consequences are rewards or punishments given to a class as a whole for adhering to or violating rules of conduct. And contingency contract is a contract between the teacher and a student specifying what the student must do to earn a particular reward or privilege. Whenever it is difficult to provide consequences for all students who deserve them a token reinforcement system can be used. Token reinforcement system is a system in which tokens earned for academic work and positive classroom behavior can be exchanged for some desired reward.
Self-management is important because it is the use of behavioral learning principles to change your own behavior. When using this system it is important to introduce the system to parents in a positive way. One must help families and students to establish reachable goals. Also, it is important to give families ways to record and evaluate their child’s progress (or their own). And last be sure to encourage families to check the accuracy of student records from time to time, and help their children to develop forms of self-reinforcement.