Behaviorism is a theory about why people behave the way they do. It is basically concerned with observable behaviors that can be measured. In learning, behaviorism focuses on stimuli that create a response. Behaviorism is action-oriented and does not take into account thoughts or emotions associated with a reaction or behavior because these are not observable and not measurable. Although a mature awareness of behavior in students includes non-observable variables, several teaching situations require a behaviorist approach to be effective.
Students with autism have atypical social and language development and engage in stereotypical behaviors. They often exhibit aggressive behavior toward themselves and others. Many times children with autism have difficulty with change. Although autism is not curable, behavioral modification has been shown to be an effective teaching methodology. Behavioral theory says that behaviors can be shaped using rewards and punishment. Consistently rewarding a student for exhibiting a desired behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will be exhibited again. Punishment of undesired behavior has the same potential to reduce unwanted behavior.
Social learning theory is an off-shoot of behaviorism and is based on the premise that students learn by observing others and modeling behavior. In a classroom, using peer models has been shown to be an effective learning tool. When students model what they observe another student doing, learning takes place. The student who is observing learns that the behavior had either a positive or negative outcome for the model. Setting up positive models in a classroom is an important teaching method for good behavior.
Positive Behavior Support
Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) is a research-based, function-based method for eliminating unwanted behaviors and replacing them with pro-social skills. PBS employs some of the tenets of behaviorism in that students are taught to observe how to use appropriate classroom behaviors. Students are taught to listen for a verbal stimuli such as, "Put your toys away." The teacher models putting toys away and the students practice. When a student does not follow the model, he receives a response from the teacher to try again. Students are taught to judge their own success or failure in responding to teacher requests.
Behaviorism and Challenging Behaviors
Behavioral strategies for addressing challenging behaviors in the classroom include: shaping, fading, prompting and modeling. One behavioral approach for dealing with challenging behaviors is called the ABC. The "A" refers to identifying the antecedent to the behavior--what happened right before a behavior occurred. The "B" refers to behavior and identifying, in detail, what behavior followed the antecedent. The "C" refers to consequence, or what happened when the behavior occurred. Using the ABC approach to behavior management helps a teacher know what causes a behavior (antecedent or stimuli) and what consequence(s), or response, reinforced the behavior.
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