Reducing Undesirable Behaviors in the Classroom

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  • 0:57 Options for Correcting…
  • 1:41 Corporal Punishment
  • 1:59 Satiation
  • 3:02 Extinction and…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
This lesson covers several options for reducing bad behavior in the classroom, including time out, satiation and token economies. The lesson touches on how to use these techniques, and what to avoid when trying to encourage good behavior.

Law of Effect in the Classroom

Edward Thorndike developed the Law of Effect
Edward Thorndike Picture

Every teacher has to deal with students who display undesirable behaviors in the classroom. These behaviors can range from students who engage in relatively benign behaviors, such as chewing gum, talking with their friends or acting rowdy, to truly negative behaviors, such as bullying other students. Principles from psychology can be used to provide teachers with several options for how to reduce these undesirable behaviors, and many of these techniques come from the behavioral perspective in psychology.

The foundation of the behavioral perspective is Thorndike's Law of Effect, which states that we are motivated to gain rewards and avoid punishments. This basic rule can be applied to several different options that teachers have for classroom management.

Time Out

The time out technique punishes negative behaviors by removing an unruly student from the rest of the class. If the other children were rewarding the negative behavior by giving the student attention or even by smiling and joining in, this removal subtracts that peer reward while also adding the isolation as a punishment.

For example, if Susan is teasing Molly, the teacher might make Susan sit in a chair in the corner of the room, behind the other students. This way, the other students can't see Susan, and thus Susan is ignored. Susan can still see the rest of the class, however, and thus she can both see any fun she is missing by being in the corner, and she can learn any material the teacher is covering during that time.

Time out punishes the student yet still lets them learn from the teacher
Classroom Time Out

Corporal Punishment

The use of a physical punishment, such as spanking or using a ruler to slap a child's hand, is called corporal punishment. Over half of the states in the United States have banned corporal punishment. Most people consider it overly harsh, physically dangerous and not effective.


Instead of punishing negative behaviors, a teacher might decide to actually encourage the negative behavior. This creative technique surprises children by allowing the behavior that is typically against the rules, but works by requiring the children to engage in the activity so much that they get bored or realize the futility of that behavior.

For example, imagine Jarael continues to disrupt the class by getting up to drink from the classroom water fountain. Instead of discouraging Jarael, the teacher might stop the class and ask Jarael to go up to the water fountain and stand there, drinking continuously, for three minutes straight. This will make the point that Jarael should no longer be thirsty, and it may embarrass him by pointing out his negative behavior. This relatively light social punishment might motivate Jarael to avoid the attention by focusing on his schoolwork.

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