Behaviorism at School: Should it be Banned or Encouraged?

14 Oct

While behaviorism is no longer the most dominant school of thought in psychology, it has long been used to modify the behavior or students at school and children at home. While some people might point out that behaviorist principles aren’t the only means of motivating students, I do believe that these techniques can be very powerful if one knows how to use them.


My previous post was already about behaviorism at home so I decided to focus on using punishments and reinforcements at school in this post. Based on what I’ve learned about behaviorism, here are some of the things I propose:


a.)    Punishments should be used only when there’s no other alternative.


Photo credit:

Photo credit:


According to Cherry K, punishments are not ideal for shaping behavior. While they might seem to be effective in decreasing the likelihood of undesirable behavior, using negative stimuli will only suppress the behavior instead of eliminating it completely. A teacher who wants to elicit positive responses from his students should focus on strengthening good behavior by using a combination of positive or negative reinforcements. This way, undesirable behaviors can be replaced with desirable ones without eliciting fear among students.


b.)    Reinforcements should be personalized.


Cherry K also mentioned that when it comes to reinforcements and punishments, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist. This means that a reward for some students may actually be punishing to others. For example, a teacher who takes his students to play outdoors might think that this is rewarding for everyone in the class. However, some students might not consider this rewarding at all because they prefer playing inside the classroom.


c.)    Consistency is the key to using behaviorism properly.


Teachers need to be very consistent when administering reinforcements or punishments so as not to confuse their students. Together with consistency, timing is also important because it gives the students an idea of why they are being rewarded (or sometimes, punished) in the first place. If good behavior is not rewarded immediately, the association between behavior and reinforcements decreases. Students might also get confused as to why they were rewarded in the first place, so teachers might accidentally strengthen behaviors other than the ones they intend to reinforce.


d.)    Time-outs shouldn’t be considered as punishments.


A time-out is an excellent way to modify the behavior of students who are not paying attention or acting out in class. However, it is important to explain to students that time-outs are not meant to punish them—it’s just a way of giving them time to regroup and divert their attention back to what’s happening in the class.


e.)    Take extra care when administering punishments and rewards.



Imagine this: a school principal decides to punish a student who was caught cutting classes by suspending him for a week. While this might seem like a rational thing to do, I actually find it ironic. Obviously, the student decided to cut classes because he doesn’t enjoy being in class. Wouldn’t giving him a suspension send him the wrong signal and make him think that he can spend less time in class if he behaves badly and gets suspended more often?


The same thing goes for the use of Premack principle. As mentioned in our module, telling students that they may use the computer after solving some math problems can actually backfire. This will only reinforce their belief that solving math problems is hard and boring, so they might end up doing the task half-heartedly just to get the chance to play computer games afterwards.


These are only some of the things that a teacher should remember when using behaviorist strategies in class. Like I said, positive and negative reinforcements are powerful tools for shaping behavior, but one has to use them properly to get the exact results they are expecting.


One Response to “Behaviorism at School: Should it be Banned or Encouraged?”

  1. monetteabalos October 14, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    I agree. I also have almost the same reflection on this.

    As always, you have a nice post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: