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Jane is a primary school teacher teaching Primary 5 students. She is finding it a challenge to manage the class. They do not participate in class discussions, they keep quiet and just stare at her when she asks questions and most of the students do not complete the assignments and nemewerk. She wants to change their behaviour and get them to be more participative in class and complete their assignments and homework. Evaluate the scenario using Operant Conditioning and propose possible interventions. Determine the suitability of Operant Conditioning as an approach to behavioural change in this scenario. In your essay include the following:

The range of behaviours in the classroom typically displayed by this age group

The application of the various techniques of Operant Conditioning in classroom

management for behaviours listed in the scenario.

The strengths and weaknesses of Operant Conditioning in comparison to the other theories proffered by Kohlberg, Erikson, Plage( or Bandura.

A final judgment of the suitability of Operant Conditioning as an approach to behavioural change in this scenario.

Behavioral Problems in Primary 5 Students

The maintenance of a healthy classroom behaviour often undergoes disruption due to the exhibition of unruly and dissatisfactory behaviours exhibited by its students. The principles of operant conditioning aim enhancing positive behaviours and reducing undesirable ones through the usage of positive and negative reinforcement techniques(Commons & Giri, 2016).This report aim to shed light on the teaching troubles faced by Jane, a primary 5 teacher dealing 10 to 12 year old students, who are exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviour, in terms of lack of participation, inadequate responsiveness and delayed completion of assignments. According to Friedman-Krauss et al., (2014), breaking of rules, violation of institutional rules and regulations, displaying of undesirable behaviour in the classroom resulting in disruption of  a healthy teaching environment, comprise as typical classroom behavioural problems, of which, the latter seems to be exhibited by Jane’s students. As stated by Wilson (2018), inculcation of discipline is a key requirement of every classroom student, which teachers seek to execute, and is often associated negatively with stringent methods like punishment. As stated by Speckman, Longano and Syed (2017), the availability of positive reinforcement enables operant conditioning as a useful method to inculcate positive classroom behaviour. Operant conditioning is considered as a suitable treatment for management of classroom behaviours. The following essay aims to highlight the case scenario of Jane and the suitability associated with the usage of operant conditioning in tackling the classroom behavioural problems of unresponsiveness, delaying in homework completion and lack of participation amongst the students.

Conflicts at the classroom between students and teachers exhibit considerable disruption on not just the teaching attempts by the teacher but also upon the development of the concerned children resulting in an unhealthy classroom environment (Gaastra et al., 2016).

As mentioned in Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development, Jane’s classroom of primary 5 comprises fall in the category of Industry vs. Inferiority. Children at this stage gradually begin to develop an identity of their own, and prefer to slowly shift away from the typical authoritative bodies such as teachers or parents (Knight, 2017). As discussed by Willock (2018), this development is further highlighted with a greater inclination towards engagement in social or peer relationships and an initiative to voice their identity. This emergence of the need to exert one’s identity often leads to typical conflicts with teachers and at the classroom.

As stated by Troop-Gordon and Ladd (2015), aggressiveness often becomes a key classroom behavioral problem amongst students of such age groups. Considering the principles of psychosocial theory, children belonging to this age are involved in actively addressing their own opinions, which is often exhibited aggressively .

Effective Techniques in Managing Classroom Behaviors

As researched by Teater and Chonody (2017), unruly behavior is a typical classroom behavioral problem exhibited by students of this age group. Children in this age group feel the need to be viewed as possessing considerable knowledge and intelligence, resulting further in the desire to feel independent. Such children find it difficult to exhibit their independent views in socially acceptable terms, leading to them being viewed as defiant or rude children.

One of the key classroom behavioral shortcoming is the presence of absentmindedness or inattentiveness – a behavioral problem encountered frequently by Jane. Lack of attention from students can be a result of teaching lectures, which are not interesting enough or suitable for the cognitive needs of the children (Murray & Rabiner, 2014). Children of this age develop abilities to understand the concepts of space and time, and are able to effectively perform complex tasks of reading, writing and elocution. Due to their emphasis on social relationships and peer group involvements, such children prefer group learning activities, and role playing tasks. Hence, monotonous educational course materials devoid of such tasks or any form of creativity, often result in lack of attention, participation and responsiveness. This classroom behaviour is strongly prevalent in the case scenario of Jane where her students avoid performing homework and assignments (Schachter, 2018).

According to Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, an individual learns typical behaviours based on its consequences, emphasizing the presence of ‘positive’ and ‘negative reinforcements’. While positive reinforcements aims at increasing the performance of a desirable behaviour, negative reinforcements aim to reduce occurrences of undesirable behaviour through the availability of punishments (Byiers et al., 2014). Hence, Jane can utilize operant conditioning in the following ways to inculcate positive behaviours in her students.

One of the key problems is the lack of participation. Considering the need for children at this age to involve themselves in social groups, Jane can design activities that require group performance, which will serve as a positive reinforcement (Schieltz, Wacker & Romani, 2017). Likewise, Jane can reward the students who show greater eagerness towards participation by offering them candies, or ‘smiley badges of appreciation’. Negative reinforcement should aim to reduce behaviors of non-participation amongst students. Hence, for students who do not show any participation, Jane can instruct them to work alone and not in groups instead like other enthusiastic students. Social participation, recognition and appreciation are key developmental needs of the children of this age group in accordance to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, which can be considered by Jane, when encouraging participation amongst students (Andrews & Brown, 2015).

Assessment of Operant Conditioning as a Suitable Approach

Lack of timely completion of assignments and homework by such students is a key classroom problem encountered by Jane as per the  given case scenario. Children of this ‘industry vs. identity’ age group heavily rely on social recognition and appreciation as key motivational factors due to their newly developed independent and individualistic identities (Dunkel & Harbke, 2017). Jane can positively reinforce desirable behaviors of homework completion by creating a ‘bulletin board of appreciation’ where she can mention the names of the students who have completed their assignments successfully, leading to the development of academically appreciable identities of such students. For negative reinforcement resulting in reduction of homework avoidance, the defaulter students can be mentioned in a separate ‘bulletin of depreciation’, resulting in a negative identify attached to such students and the resultant inclination towards conductance of positive behaviors such as timely homework completion (Mensah & Badu-Shayar, 2016).

Lack of response is an additional problem encountered by Jane. Children in this age group crave an independent identity and the opportunity to articulate their own ideas. Likewise, due to their advancing cognitive abilities and desire for social inclusion, Jane can create activities involving role playing or fantasy stories, which will ignite the imagination and creative interest amongst such children, hence acting as a positive reinforcement of being responded to her questions (Podlesnik et al., 2017). Likewise, for every student who answers Jane’s questions or attempts to exhibit their opinion, Jane must respond positively by replying with comments of appreciation, or by showing active interest in front of the class to empathetically listen to the student’s views with interest. Such behaviors will act as a positive reinforcement since it will make the concerned student feel important with his or her views being listened to. Considering the importance of peer groups held by such children, making children who do not respond to Jane’s questions sit separately in the classroom, will be a key negative reinforcement resulting in reduction of negative behaviors of unresponsiveness (Michael, 2017).

In accordance with the psychosocial theory of development by Erik Erikson, children in Jane’s classroom belong to the age group of 10 to 12 years, hence comprising of the developmental stage of ‘industry vs. inferiority’. In this stage, according to the above theory, children heavily rely on the need to be independent, appreciated and socially included along with learning materials, which complement their developing cognitive abilities. Hence, positive reinforcement of operant conditioning techniques aiming to appreciate or reward such children for desirable  behaviours as mentioned in the previous paragraphs is a major strength as it will increase the self-esteem of the concerned children (Kerpelman & Pittman, 2018). However, due to the sensitive need of identity appreciation and social relationships, negative reinforcement techniques of punishments involving social inclusion or social depreciation, may result in children feeling that their needs are not being considered, hence resulting in social exclusion, low self-confidence and feeling of incompetency, as stated by Erikson’s psychosocial theory, which is a major limitation (Pretorius & Van Niekerk, 2015).

Comparison with Other Behavioral Theories

As per Jean Piaget’s stage of Cognitive Development, Jane’s students can be grouped in the category of ‘Concrete Operational Stage’, where children improve their cognitive skills of logical thinking and concrete organizational concepts. Hence, provision of unique, creative tasks by Jane as a positive reinforcement is a major strength of operant conditioning since it is in accordance to the cognitive development of such children as stated by Piaget (Yilmaz, 2017). However, children at this stage may still face difficulties in comprehending hypothetical or abstract concepts and hence, Jane’s newly formulated educational activities may not be easy for every child to grasp, which is a limitation. Further, children are also actively aware of how society may perceive their identity and hence, a negative reinforcement in terms of punishments like classroom exclusion or depreciation may reduce the confidence and self-esteem of the child (Ghazi & Ullah, 2016).

ByBandura’s social learning theory, children acquire or learn behaviors by observing the behaviors of others in their immediate social environment. Hence, positive reinforcements used by Jane as operant conditioning to induce group participation, timely homework completion and prompt classroom response in children resulting in rewards and appreciation will result in execution of such positive behaviors amongst the entire classroom, where the children will learn by imitating the behaviors of their appreciated peers, making it a major strength (Stajkovic et al., 2018). However, if Jane utilized stringent behaviors as punishment for negative reinforcement, the children may also acquire and exhibit such behavior in the future due to observational learning, which is a major limitation. While reinforcement in the form of rewards and appreciation results in a feeling of happiness in the child externally, however, the child may still act according to what makes him or her feel happy internally, irrespective of the reinforcement. Hence, the usage of reinforcement in operant conditioning may be rendered as ineffective according to Bandura’s theory, which is a major limitation (Deaton, 2015).

In line with Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development, the children in Jane’s classroom can be categorized in the stage of Pre-Conventional Morality, where such students show adherence to institutional rules and regulations only if it serves as beneficial to their needs. Hence, the usage of positive reinforcement through operant conditioning is a major strength, since Jane can elicit desirable behaviors in her students through the provision of rewards such as candies or appreciation (Snarey & Samuelson, 2015).However, children in this stage show disregard towards the rules and regulations, and focuses highly on individual benefits due to their inadequate cognitive development. Such children may still disregard Jane’s instructions and seek rewards from other sources, which will also benefit (other groups of unruly students providing the child greater rewards or appreciation, for example) (Krebs et al., 2014).

As specified by Francis and Kanold (2017), one of key shortcomings of operant conditioning is the heavy dependence on rewards. Hence, as stated by Migeul et al., (2015), to increase its suitability, Jane must aim to use rewards occasionally, since the increased reward availability, may make it difficult for the child to behave as desired in its absence. Further, according to Trask, Thrailkill and Bouton (2017), usage of operant conditioning in collaboration with the above-mentioned theories will increase its suitability. Hence, as stated by Kalkstein et al., (2016), Jane must consider, in keeping with Bandura’s theory of social learning, that intrinsic motivation holds greater power to elicit change than extrinsic ones. Hence, using positive feedback comments rather than materialistic rewards would increase the suitability of operant conditioning. Likewise, according to Syed (2015), usage of stringent punishments must be avoided considering Erikson’s psychosocial and Piaget’s cognitive development theories, and hence, instead of strict punishments of social exclusion, assertive yet empathetic conversations by Jane as negative reinforcement will make operant conditioning a suitable method to change classroom behavior. Further, as researched by Zhang (2018), considering Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, usage of positive feedback comments as a positive reinforcement, explaining how exhibition of desirable behaviors will benefit the children will enhance the suitability of operant conditioning. It can be concluded that, usage of operant conditioning, along with additional theories of psychology will be a suitable approach in managing undesirable classroom behavior.


Hence, from the above essay, it can be concluded that operant conditioning proves to be suitable method for the management of typical classroom behavior which is associated with exhibition of aggressiveness or absentmindedness. However, teachers and counselors must also consider the possibilities of exhibiting dependency on reward administration, for which, redirecting positive reinforcement towards enhancement of intrinsic motivation, would increase the suitability of operant conditioning. Teachers and counselors must also consider additional shortcomings of operant conditioning in comparison to a variety of psychological theories, prior to its administration which would further enhance its suitability. Hence, usage of operant conditioning techniques, in combination with additional psychological theories as a part of holistic approach to education, is a suitable approach for the management of typical classroom behavior.


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