How to Use Operant Conditioning in the Classroom

Operant conditioning is a reward and punishment type of discipline. The subject, or student, receives a positive or negative reaction from the teacher in response to certain actions. According to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, this type of classroom discipline produces the desired student behaviour over time when a teacher consistently uses the method as a reinforcement or punishment. The most important aspect when using this method is consistency; an inconsistent enforcer will confuse students and the discipline will fail.

Outline specific classroom rules for the students early in the year. Be sure all students understand the rules and what will be expected of them while they are in the classroom. After delivering the rules, introduce a system of punishment and reward. Students will learn and understand what consequences will come from their actions.

Give one warning preceding punishment for negative behaviour. Students will realise unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated. The teacher may find after consistent warnings and punishments, most students will only need a warning before undesired behaviour dissipates. After the warning is delivered and the negative behaviour is repeated, administer the previously reviewed punishment. Operant conditioning is only successful if the behaviour is punished every time it occurs. Once an occurrence is dismissed, the conditioning process begins again.

Reward positive behaviours consistently with the previously reviewed prizes. A positive behaviour may be turning in homework consistently for a week, the prize will be a free homework pass for an assignment of the student's choice. Teachers may notice an improvement in some students who may otherwise indulge in negative behaviour, but whom are trying for the positive behaviour prizes.

Change the environment to avoid the negative behaviour. After negative behaviours are identified, consider if a new classroom arrangement could avoid issues for the students exhibiting the behaviour. For example, a girl and her best friend sitting next to each other may be a potential over socialising issue. Change the seating arrangement of the classroom to assist the girls in achieving positive behaviours.

Things You'll Need

  • Classroom rules
  • Outlined consequences
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About the Author

Rebecca Mayglothling has worked directly with toddlers and preschoolers for more than three years. She has published numerous lesson plans online as well as parenting and teaching advice. She continues to keep ahead of parenting methods and is eager to share them through her professional writing.