So here we are already, the end of the road. When I set about choosing a topic, I picked punishment and reinforcement as I felt that they were something that many people take for granted in the classroom setting. Quite often it seems that teachers offer punishments in particular, without a full understanding of the implications. I think that this is a very important area in education. The right type of reinforcement can be hugely beneficial, and whilst many forms of punishment have been shown to not be as effective at behaviour modification as reinforcement, they do appear to still have a place.
My last presentation looked into the good and bad sides of punishment:
Praise and rewards have been shown to be an effective way at shaping children’s behaviour and making them more engaged in their education (Madsen et al, 1968, Van der Mars, 1989). This is a very important positive aspect, as not only does it help the children get a better education, but if inappropriate behaviours are being reduced, then it is more conducive to a positive working environment, meaning that it helps everyone. However it is very important that reinforcement is used correctly. Henderlong and Lepper (2002) show that in order to be effective, praise must be perceived as sincere, but not only this, it has to be for the right behaviour. This is perhaps the biggest caution when using reinforcement. Reinforcing behaviours that are attributable to internal, controllable causes, will promote competence and help the child. However if reinforcement is given for external causes, then some people argue that this will actually be maladaptive and stifle the individual (Cannella, 1986). Furthermore, if the wrong behaviour is reinforced, then the child may lose internal motivation. They will become more focused on receiving the reward, than positively engaging with the material, and this is obviously not the idea of reinforcement. So reinforcement and rewards are very useful tools that can be successfully applied in the classroom to benefit every pupils education, however care is needed to ensure that it is not misused, which can be maladaptive.
So now we get on to punishment. I think it is all too easy to see how effective reinforcement is and just assume that punishments are therefore just a knee-jerk reaction to something the teacher doesn’t like. Lewis (1999) however, points out that it does actually have its place; one of the teacher’s roles is to maintain classroom discipline and whilst reinforcement is used essentially used to avoid disruptive behaviour, punishment can be used to immediately combat disruptive behaviour. Moles (2006) mentioned that disruptive behaviour is ’contagious’, and affects the whole class, not just the individual. With children, disruptive behaviour is somewhat inevitable, and so punishment can be used to remove the disruptive behaviour before it becomes a threat to learning, thus maintaining classroom discipline. However, like reinforcement, it is pointed out that how it is used is also very important. There is a difference between a child that is acting disruptive because they want to act disruptive, and because they just can’t engage with the material. For children who can’t engage, it is perhaps not necessary to use punishment at all, however with the other child it may be necessary. Another important aspect to consider is who is giving the punishments. Some studies highlight the fact that teachers are just normal people, who hold the same biases and prejudices as everyone else (Hurrell, 1995, Lewis, 2001). Whilst they will try to be impartial, it is often found the things such as gender biases are seen when punishments are administered. It is also noted that some punishments, such as time outs, serve to reinforce bad behaviour, as they can remove children from work that they didn’t want to do. Overall punishments do have their place and can be used very effectively with reinforcement to maintain positive learning environments whilst increasing engagement with the material; however teachers need to be very careful about how they are using them.
So I think it is pretty obvious by now that reinforcement and punishment can be used very effectively, but how they are employed is crucial. But I think it can be all too easy to get caught up in the theory and not actually see how in a real world setting they can work to do good. A big area where these techniques are used is in special education classrooms. Broden et al (1970) found that when reinforcement in the form of teacher attention and token economies were used, not only did disruptive behaviour decrease, but study levels increased. These results are not just a fluke, and have been found by many studies (Frederikson and Frederikson, 1975, Pelham et al, 1986). So reinforcement can be used in this setting to not only make behaviour better, but it can genuinely improve children’s learning. I think this is a highly important aspect of reinforcement and entrenches its firm foundations in the classroom.
Madsen et al (1968) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310990/
Henderlong and Lepper (2002) http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/128/5/774/
Cannella (1986) http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1987-29641-001
Hurrell (1995) http://soc.sagepub.com/content/29/1/59.short
Broden et al (1970) http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1970-21533-001
Frederikson and Frederikson (1975) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789475801055
Pelham et al (1986) http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/95/4/319/