Skinner’s Classroom Management (1938) William
Glasser (1998) and Alfie Kohn (2006)

I chose Skinners theory, as one of the theorists I
wish to examine for behavioural management philosophy. His theory and research
on operant conditioning and reinforcement schedules is one of the main
theorists that teachers learn about for classroom management. His ideas began
with the idea that the operant (behaviour) is said to be reinforced if the
consequence increases the likelihood of the behaviour’s occurrence.

“Operant conditioning is a learning process through
which the strength of a behaviour is modified by reward or punishment. It is
also a procedure that is used to bring about such learning.”
(, n.d.)

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He also had secondary reinforces included in this
theory which reinforces whose reinforcing properties have been acquired through
experience (typically through second order conditioning). While this may seem
like an abstract idea, it has become very common amongst teachers. An example
of this would be reward charts, stickers, free play time etc. Anything really
that teachers use as motivation for good behaviour within the classroom. The
student quickly learns that if they behave in a certain way they will receive
the sticker, free play or whatever the teacher gives out for good behaviour,
completion of homework, being friendly etc. They also learn that if they don’t
behave in the conditioned way, they will receive a punishment e.g. they won’t
have the time off or may lose a sticker or again whatever the teacher uses as
punishment. This in theory, does sound like a very good idea. But as Skinner
himself has said, it doesn’t really reinforce self-discipline, the student
becomes reliant on the motivation or privileges from the teacher and or other
individuals. This can in turn then cause problems as the student may become
unwilling to cooperate in activities that won’t give them a reward or they may
result in demanding a reward for every action that they do. Which of course
isn’t how the real world works especially as we are teaching the students to
grow up to be respectful, functioning adults. Although used in moderation and
with careful consideration, it can be useful to the child’s academic and social
process. The school in which my case was on going, they decided not to use
these rewards systems in the classroom. The teacher believed that the students
would become too focused on the reward and forget about the principle behind
the reward system, she also said that the class was too competitive and any
reward system would cause additional conflict in the class. So she believed it
wasn’t worth doing. Although they did have an overall “smiley” reward system in
the school. The class as a whole, collected smileys from other teachers –
especially the teachers who specifically taught them the additional subjects,
such as Danish, art or P.E if they taught they were behaving well or were
working hard etc. the main classroom teacher wasn’t allowed to give them the
similes. They were rarely given, so it was a big deal if they received one. The
whole school had this system in their class and at the end of the year, the
class with the most similes won a pizza party or something along those lines.
This proved quite effective across the school, this would be a good example of
moderate use. As the students never knew if they were being watched. If a
teacher just happened to see the class being friendly in the playground, they
would take that into consideration, but the students were never really acting
nicely or working hard just to get the smileys as they were so rare.

Another theorist who I feel was applicable to my
case was William Glasser (1925 to 2013) and his choice theory. He developed the
term choice theory in 1998. His theory simply states that all we do is behave.
In this theory, he suggests that we select our own behaviour, as in we choose
to act in a certain way. He also says that our choice is decided by genetics to
statisfy five basic needs that he has decided on. These five needs are
survival, love / belonging, power, fun and freedom. In his theory, he believes
that the most important need is love /belonging because he feels being
connected with other people is needed as fundamental basic in satisfying all of
the other four needs. This links into the classroom as this theory shows that
the classroom should be a satisfying place for students where they feel like
their benefiting from their time being there. Glasser, identifies the teacher
as the leader of the classroom. He says they need to work equally hard, if they
want to have successful students who become self-sufficient. He says that their
role is have the students understand that by working hard in school / home is
worth it in the long run, i.e. acceptance in college, internships etc. Which in
turn will have a positive and successful influence on their lives. But the main
goal is that the teachers get the students to see this. This is slightly
different than Skinners theory where the students immediately or almost
immediately see the reward (extrinsic motivation), this theory is more based on
intrinsic motivation, influenced by the teacher.  This leaves the question then of how does the
teacher achieve this level of motivation for their students. As with many
teachers have found it can become very challenging to motivate your students. Glasser
says, you can try and create positive relationships with the students,
basically trying to have the classroom feel like a happy and safe environment
for learning to take place. Have the students become comfortable with you,
while of course maintain professional boundaries. So that they feel they can
come to you as the teacher for mentoring and support. As well, the teacher can
create relevant learning experiences that the students can use to demonstrate
their success within your classroom. How his theory applies when developing
lessons: When a teacher decides to practice choice theory, they have to design
the lesson in a way that satisfies the student’s needs. Glasser believes that
this will allow the students to learn more and increase their participation
within the classroom while reducing the amount of disruption due to interest in
the lessons. He believed that students are able to connect and feel a sense of
power or freedom and enjoy themselves in a safe learning environment when
teachers design lessons in his way.

These are three things in particular that he believes
will happen with the implementation of this theory inside the classroom.

1.         Coercion:
“Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary
manner by use of threats or force.” (Wikipedia – Coercion, n.d.) He believes
that this is minimized because it never inspires quality. He believes that
students aren’t designed to behave using reward and punishment systems such as
Skinners. Instead he believes that teacher should build up positive relations
with the students and be an inspiring leader / role model instead. 

2.         Quality:
When the teacher focuses on quality, the expectation increases. They expect
mastery or a high level of understanding of the given concepts and encourage
the students to re do their work and continue trying until they have
demonstrated a certain level of competence and high quality work. While to some
teachers this does seem harsh and de – motivating. The students learn that they
are capable of high quality work, they have a deeper understanding of what they
were learning and in turn this will result in better grades thus in turn
earning the benefits that come from higher grades and a good work ethic.

3.         Self
– evaluation: In this choice theory, self-evaluation is common. Students are
provided with the information from the teachers and then they take ownership of
their learning by self-evaluating their own performance. In turn this promotes
independence, free thinking, responsibility and it helps the student reach
their goals while becoming efficient decision makers who take an active part in
their own learning and education.

I thought this theory was relevant as it shows a
theory in contrast to Skinners. Skinners theory is more based on extrinsic
motivation and Glassers theory is more based on intrinsic motivation. Glassers
five basic needs that are survival, love / belonging, power, fun and freedom
seem to fit into my case fairly well. When I think about the student and what
he was doing or in what manner he was behaving it really does fit into these
needs. Especially the love / belonging one that Glasser states is the key need.
The student in focus was dealing with a divorce, the teacher had said to me
that she believe the student feels that he is blame for his parents to split
up. This ties into love / belonging need, he may have felt his parents didn’t
love him enough to stay together and this left him with a feeling of where he
belonged as he wanted to be in Germany with his dad but as well he wanted to be
in Denmark with his life, friends and mum. This unsettledness resulted in a lot
of turbulent behaviour stemming from these basic needs. As well with the power,
fun and freedom needs, I saw that a lot of behaviour also came from these
needs. Which I will explain further in my analysis.

I have looked at Skinners theory from the early
twentieth century, Glassers from the end of the twentieth century and now I
will look in Alfie Kohn’s work from 2006. Giving a few different theoretical
perspectives from different time periods over the last 80 years.

Kohn questions the traditional school model. He
doesn’t believe in the reward system such as Skinners ideas. He says that
people feel like everyone can be a leader when in fact, especially within the
school systems, they are rare. He thinks that using reward systems are
ineffective especially in the long run and are unbeneficial in schools as it
doesn’t allow the learners to become competent adults. He states that some
people become so focused on the reward (extrinsic motivation) method of education
that they forget why they are behaving this way, why that this behaviour is
required the principles behind the behaviour etc. In turn simply not being effective.
This reflects back into what my mentor teacher was saying that they would get
too distracted by the reward rather than the meaning or the requirement behind
the reward system. He believes that in an ideal classroom, curiosity and
cooperation are key factors. He says the student’s curiosity is what should
determine what is taught. This somewhat links into Glassers idea that we are
led by 5 key needs and this influences what we learn. What differs here to
Glassers principles of high expectations is that he argues that standards
should be kept very minimal and he is critical of standardized testing. He also
says that a strict curriculum and homework aren’t beneficial to student needs,
in an ideal classroom for Kohn, he says cooperation and curiosity are two main
factors. He feels that the classroom should be student led and that the teacher
should determine their curiosities to figure out what should be taught. This
somewhat links into Glassers idea that we are led by 5 key needs and this
influences what we learn. What differs here to Glassers principles of high
expectations is that he argues that standards should be kept very minimal and
he is critical of standardized testing. He also says that a strict curriculum
and homework aren’t beneficial to student needs.

How could you implement his theory into the
classroom? He suggests that the students should explore topics that interest
them the most and the teacher should allow and support this. He has said
students “should be able to think and write and explore without worrying about
how good they are,” (Kohn, 1993). One of his main points is that students learn
at different speeds, he says that there is too much importance placed on
academic achievements rather than the learning process to get there. His ideal
classroom would include: Students being happy in school, having them excited
about being in school and about learning, ideally asking multiple questions and
taking an important role in their own learning. He says that students should
have their work displayed, to have them feel pride for their work. Also that
students should be collaborating together inside and outside the classroom,
exchanging ideas together and forming a community within the school. He also
feels that it is beneficial to have multiple activities occurring at the same
time with multiple activity centres with various classroom structures for group
work. Finally that the teacher is being respectful and interacting with the
students in a supportive and friendly way. His theories and approaches are more
applicable to elementary schools.

In terms of modern
school systems, Kohn’s approaches are more consistent with those used in
elementary classrooms. The key element is a “shift from a quiet, well-managed
classroom to one that is lively and features an emphasis on student learning,”
(Hanson, n.d.) 


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