Operant conditioning & classroom discipline

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Operant conditioning & classroom discipline
Operant conditioning in the classroom (RE class image by redrex from Fotolia.com)

Operant conditioning is a technique developed and supported by psychologists Thorndike, Skinner and Watson, and dictates that a response is a direct reaction to stimuli. In a classroom setting, the theory of operant conditioning can be used to maintain and enhance classroom discipline.

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Positive Stimulus

Positive reinforcement is an aspect of operant conditioning that is useful in the classroom environment. When a student is exhibiting behaviours that you would like to continue, reward him with a stimuli to encourage the child to continue in the desired behaviour. For instance, you might consistently reward the student with a positive statement or other stimuli when you catch him in an action you wish to encourage. This reinforcement will encourage desired behaviours.

Negative Stimulus

Negative reinforcement for negative behaviours will discourage behaviour that is unacceptable in the classroom. If you have tried reinforcing the positive behaviour, but students are still exhibiting negative characteristics, it may be necessary to give them negative consequences. For instance, if they consistently talk loudly while walking in line, you might have them use their recess to practice their line walking. This reinforcement will discourage undesired behaviours.

Respond Immediately

Responses, both positive and negative, should come almost immediately following the behaviours in order to be most effective. The longer the time is in between the reinforcement, the less effective the conditioning. For instance, if a student calls another student a name, the teacher might pull the student to the side and admonish him and then have him take a time out at another table or write sentences stating why he should not perform the action. Waiting till the end of the day to provide consequences would be ineffective and not an example of operant conditioning.

Teacher Behavior

In order for operant conditioning to work in your classroom, you have to be consistent in your expectations for students. If students are expected to refrain from name calling, you must discourage students consistently from performing the negative action. If you knowingly allow the behaviour even once, it can have an undesired impact on the effect of operant conditioning in your classroom.

Using Only Negative Stimulus

Providing only negative stimulus for unacceptable behaviour is not as effective as giving a balance of positive and negative stimulus. Reinforcing positive behaviour as it occurs may deter negative actions from initially developing and may create a more positive atmosphere in the classroom on the whole.

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