Behavior principals can be used to evaluate the future success of a student in the classroom environment. The types of consequences used, shaping, and antecedents should all be considered when tailoring a plan for a student. Learning in the classroom will be greatly determined by the students’ ability to access executive processing skills. Teachers need to be ever aware of current research on brain development and how memory works to affect learning.
Keywords: Behavior, Learning, ADHD, Trauma, Social Learning, memory
Classroom Observations and Predictions
Behavior theories in learning and how students process learning are two major areas of study that teachers should be aware of and continually strive to grow in.
Student T is a 3rd grade student who was retained last year due to poor academic success attributed behavior problems. I have learned that T had cancer and received treatment for two years during his Pre-K and Kindergarten years leading to very little time in a formal learning environment. T was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD in September 2018. I believe there are many factors in play with T’s behavior that if not addressed properly will not lead to positive outcomes. Three important principles will play a crucial role in T’s ability to regain control of his behavior.
- Consequences and reinforcers. Behavioral learning theory holds that behavior changes according to its immediate consequences. If the student has received pleasurable consequences for behavior it will be strengthened (reinforcer). If the consequences are unpleasant the behavior will be weakened (punishers). (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
- a. Traumatic stress reactions affect up to 80% of children who have faced a life-threatening illness. Persistent traumatic stress reactions will go on to affect 15-25% of children. This can impair their day-to-day functioning even after they are in recovery. (Peterson, S. 2018, March 19) The invasiveness of cancer treatment can be conceived as an unpleasant consequence, or act as a punisher. The child is told that the adults involved are helping, but the pain that comes with that help can create a lack of trust or fear between the child and adults. The child with medical trauma will require adults to be purposeful in their relationships to help counter this mistrust and fear.
- Behavioral learning theory refers to the teaching of a new skill or behavior as shaping. This is done by reinforcing the child as they work toward mastery of the final behavior or skill. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
- a. Social Emotional Learning, or SEL in the classroom is a leading thought toward shaping behavior of students. SEL helps teach and shape the student’s development of character, empathy, self-management and other life skills. One way to do this is to start each day with a dedicated time for it. Not only are skills taught during this time, but a safe place is made for students to unload their baggage they brought from home. This allows them to get on with being a student framed by empathy and self-management. (Wagenheim, J. n.d.)
- An antecedent is the stimuli that happens before a behavior takes place and this can be a very important area to watch as we develop a behavior plan for a student. The antecedent or cue can give us hints to adjust our behavior with the student and help them recognize their own feelings. Discrimination of cues is used to determine when behavior is reinforced. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
- a. Teachers and paras need to make connections with their students so they can begin to read facial cues or recognize cues that lead to behaviors. We may feel that an outburst came from nowhere. The student may have had a few redirections given and handled them well and suddenly on the 4th one they explode. Although we may not be able to predict the number of redirections that will trigger the student, we can be aware this is a trigger and rethink how we give redirection. Teachers and paras can also use discriminative stimuli in the classroom by making sure students know what behavior is expected in order to receive positive reinforcement. Often in the classroom we set rules of what not to do, but when working with a child who has past trauma, we need to give more positive reinforcement. Letting students know I want to see you perform behavior A and then giving praise immediately when they do will help reinforce the behavior. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
Information Processing Principles
Information processing theory is the theory of how we learn and move things to memory. T’s inability to gain control of his behaviors, whether trauma-related or as a result of ADHD, will greatly reduce his ability to direct his attention, therefore inhibiting his memory and learning. I believe if his behavior is controlled, that there are principles that will help his information processing and could lead to success in the classroom.
- Executive processing is crucial. This is the state we want our brain to be in to learn. It determines what a person is interested in storing in their long-term memory, or how hard they will think about the stimuli. The process might not be a conscious thought, but the brains command to pay close attention.
- a. Students who have past trauma are often acting from a fight or flight response. The brain stem is where the child is when they are in a survival state. They are asking the question, am I safe, even when there is no perceived threat. The limbic system, the brains mid-level function is where the child will ask am I loved. It is our job as educators to be aware of these responses. In doing so, we can help to answer those needs and get the child to their executive state where they will be engaged and ask, what can I learn from this. (Brain State Model. n.d.).
- Our sensory registers receives its information from our senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It is the first step in the memory system. The sensory register plays two important roles in how our students learn. Students must pay attention to information if they want to retain it and it takes time to bring this information into consciousness. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
- a. Paying attention to the information our senses take in will help determine if the information gets to our consciousness. When a student has ADHD, we must be intentional in the ways we help them direct their attention. The website ADDitude gives many ideas on how to help the ADHD student focus on what is important. Strategies could include helping them take notes, organize their day, or prepare their bag to go home. (Dendy, C. Z., ADHD Editorial Board, ADHD Editorial Board, & ADHD Medical Review Panel. 2019, September 26)
- Working (short-term) memory is the second step in learning. When a person pays attention to the input from their sensory register, it is moved to their working memory. Using techniques, like rehearsal, have us repeating information over and over. This helps maintain the memory. Working memory is said to only be able to think about 5 to 9 things at a time. Grouping similar items into 5-9 lists at a time can help students work with more information in one sitting. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018.)
- a. Educators can help kids with ADHD by offering more choices in how they study. Examples could be flashcards, air-writing, online games and so on. Finding what stimulates the child’s senses will help you understand how to help them study. You can then break lessons into smaller parts grouping it into sections and helping study through repetition. This will help your student activate their working memory.
Behavior and Information Processing Models to use
Through my years in children’s ministry, as a para and now a teacher I have come to believe you must be intentional when deciding how to lead your class. I have had the privilege to have many exceptional teachers in my life and they have helped me choose what I would like to do in my own classroom.
- Intrinsic reinforcers can be described as those things we enjoy. Things we like and are willing to do without reward.
- a. I believe that as we develop a relationship with our student’s we will begin to make school or our class an intrinsic reinforcer of its own. Students will feel safe and want to come to school. This sense of well being will help students pay attention and benefit their memory/learning.
- Extrinsic reinforcers are rewards given to motivate people to have a behavior they may not have on their own.
- a. I will use extrinsic rewards only with purpose and an end goal in mind. I believe if you have a student struggling with a desired behavior you can motivate them with praise, a treat, or earned prize. After the desired behavior is achieved, the student will begin to see the benefit outside of the given reward. At this time, the reward should be weaned away.
- Self-regulation skills are a part of Social Emotional Learning. If self-regulation is to be learned effectively it must be consistent and routine across all aspects of the day. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018 p. 114)
- a. As I have observed other teachers, I have developed one question regarding behavior that I think must always be asked. Have I taught them what I expect them to do? Self-regulation cannot be boiled down to one session with the counselor a week. Teachers must incorporate those learned skills into their classroom. It must be shared as an expectation, restated, and modeled throughout the day. I like the Second-Step curriculum and incorporate it throughout my day. We can also not assume these skills are being taught at home.
Principles I will not use in the classroom
Through my experience I have also found many principles that I will not use in future classroom settings. I have cringed as I felt the shame a student experienced during a public call out. I have been mystified by the lack of knowledge some teachers have about the general personality of their students. It is simple, if a child does not feel safe or loved in a classroom, they will not be able to learn.
- Public punishers. A punisher is any consequence that is used to weaken a behavior.
- a. I understand there are times when removal punishment is necessary. Recess must be lost, and homework must get done. I will, however, never use public scolding as a punisher. I will often ignore a behavior until I can plan to address it formally one on one. If I must call a student down, I will use pre-established hand signals to get their attention, or I will ask them a question and try to bring them back into the group.
- Extrinsic reinforcers. It has been noted that giving extrinsic rewards when it is something a child would have done anyway will greatly undermine long-term intrinsic motivation. (SLAVIN, R. E., 2018 p. 103)
- a. Yes, this is listed as a model I will use. I list it again because I use it only with a great amount of forethought. Overuse can hurt the class when they have found no intrinsic reason to be there or to learn.
- I will not ignore information processing or put it to the back of my mind as just something that is good to know. Teachers and paras will be better able to help students learn if they are aware of the way we create memory. They also need to realize the importance of helping students operate from their executive state.
- a. Trauma Informed Care and Conscious Discipline: I hope to get further training in these areas. I believe that not only must we be aware of where our students are coming from, we must be aware of the state we are starting from. Learning more about these processes will help. This is even more important to me because I have 5 paras under me. I often don’t observe the student’s behavior or that of the para. By sharing this knowledge with my para’s, I will help ensure success in the classroom I am not part of.
- Peterson, S. (2018, March 19). Effects. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/medical-trauma/effects
- SLAVIN, R. E. (2018). EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY: Theory and practice. PRENTICE-HALL.
- Wagenheim, J. (n.d.). There’s Nothing Soft About These Skills. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/16/01/theres-nothing-soft-about-these-skills
- Brain State Model. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://consciousdiscipline.com/methodology/brain-state-model/
- Dendy, C. Z., ADHD Editorial Board, ADHD Editorial Board, & ADHD Medical Review Panel. (2019, September 26). Teaching Students with ADHD: Strategies That Help Every Child Shine. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/teaching-strategies-for-students-with-adhd/