How can classical conditioning be used in the classroom?

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Learning how to use classical conditioning within a classroom scenario can help students learn more desirable behaviour by pairing the behaviour with a positive stimulus. Ivan Pavlov developed classical conditioning through an experiment performed with a dog and food.

He linked an "unconditioned stimulus," food, to a "conditioned stimulus," a bell. The unconditioned stimulus produced an "unconditioned response," salivation, but when the unconditioned stimulus was paired with the conditioned stimulus, the bell, the conditioned stimulus produced the same effect. Learning to apply this basic principle to a classroom scenario can help you get the best out of your students.

Use "extinction" to remove negative responses to stimulus. This can be useful in many situations, such as when a student experiences extreme agitation when presented with a math test or when made to read aloud to the class. The anxiety has been linked to the stimulus through something in the child's past, and this link can be removed by pairing the stimulus with positive feelings. For example, providing children with math problems whilst giving them verbal praise can remove the agitation previously felt and replace it with the new conditioned response of happiness.

Create a conditioned stimulus to link to your desired behaviour. For example, stand up and pace slowly until the class is working well. Eventually, whatever unconditioned stimulus caused the unconditioned response will be replaced by the new conditioned stimulus you have created. Stand up and pace around the room to get the children to work well in future.

Learn about operant conditioning. Operant conditioning involves reinforcement rather than creating a stimulus to produce a desired outcome. Reward positive behaviour with praise, and that will reinforce the positive behaviour and make it more likely for the children to exhibit that behaviour again. Do not punish negative behaviour, merely do not reinforce it.

Create a positive feeling within the classroom. If you shout and make children feel bad, they could begin to associate your classroom with negative emotions, and feel those emotions when they go into your classroom in future. Help children form associations between learning and positivity. Be bright and cheerful when you greet your class each day.

Remove negative stimuli to promote positive behaviour. Tell the students that if they finish a set amount of work in the lesson, they will not have any homework. Negative reinforcement is not related to punishment, but instead the removal of negative stimuli, and this can be a very effective technique for use within the classroom.