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Using Operant Conditioning in the Classroom

Scenario: You are the teacher of John, a 13-year-old boy who transferred this year into the seventh grade at your school, a fairly traditional middle school. John is getting into a lot of trouble. He is not turning in much homework and often seems unprepared for tests. He is frequently off-task in the classroom, particularly during math and literature instruction. During these off-task moments, he is rarely disruptive, but very obviously disengaged--reading comics or playing with paper clips or rubber bands. He hardly ever participates in class discussions or small group work, and responds with irritation or apathy to your corrections or classmates' comments, which are becoming increasingly negative. He doesn't seem to have many friends, in class or out. You have tried talking with him about his behavior, but he just says, "Leave me alone!" You are going to be meeting with your team and John's parents to try to figure out how to help John.

Question: Describe one strategy a behaviorist theorist would suggest to remedy this learning problem?

Solution Preview

After reading this scenario, I would suggest that the teacher should use operant conditioning in order to help the student. Operant conditioning is defined as using rewards to reinforce a voluntary behavior or using consequences to modify a voluntary behavior. This is different than classical conditioning because it requires action on the part of the person whose behavior is being modified. Psychologist B.F. Skinner was most noted for studying the conditioning of operant behaviors. Skinner designed an experiment using rats, in which he would place the ...

Solution Summary

In this scenario, a 13-year-old student is continually misbehaving at school. What strategies would a behaviorist use to help the student to become more successful?

My answer discusses the use of a behaviorist technique called "operant conditioning". I explain what operant conditioning is, and demonstrate how it could be used to help this child. Although the answer is specifically targeted towards this specific 13-year-old boy, the rationale behind the answer is clearly explained so that you could adapt it to a child (or even an adult) of any age.