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The use of aversive consequences to increase student performance

Gretel Diaz, December 11th, 2019

I want to talk about Miami-Dade Public Schools, specifically, how teaching methods are being ineffective with all children, not only with special needs children but in all types of classroom structure with even typically developing children. BF Skinner, in 1968, wrote the book The Technology of Teaching, inspired by a visit to his daughter's fourth-grade classroom. After reading only the first chapter, everything that he talks about in his book is exactly the same issues we are experiencing today in schools. Skinner starts comparing the consequences in place to increase student performance from previous times and the ones being used in the 50s, which are not that different from the current ones. He was able to identify that back then consequences were based on physical punishment, as the teacher will hit the student with a ruler or a rod. Today’s physical punishment is prohibited in schools and therefore not used anymore. However, to be able to maintain a high student performance, aversive consequences are still in place; it has just shifted from a physical form. For example, in today’s schools when a student is not behaving appropriately or has not completed his work, he would encounter reprimands, a bad note sent to the parents, talk with the principal, or even extra assignments. The problem with the use of aversive consequences to having a child engage appropriate behavior is that leads to the child losing motivation and then engaging in disruptive behavior, due to the amount of work the child needs to complete in class, which requires a lot of effort and concentration and the presentation of aversive consequences when he decreases performances. Therefore, all of these variables make the school experience and the learning process aversive in general, and just the presentation of work of instructions in that setting could trigger disruptive behaviors, just because this child already knows that with any error, he will be encountering aversive consequences. Therefore, focus on any appropriate behavior the child is engaging in the classroom and really provide lots of praise and reinforcement for those behaviors instead of providing negative consequences when the child is engaging in problem behaviors, creating a contrast of behaviors. As a result, because there is more reinforcement available for appropriate behaviors, problem behaviors tend to decrease. Yet, if we provide aversive consequences and a lot of negative attention to inappropriate behaviors, we are still reinforcing their behaviors. We are acknowledging those inappropriate behaviors and therefore they will increase.

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