Friday, January 19, 2007

Teachers, there's no need for punishment and correction to gain hand-raising during calm, peaceful classroom management.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]


This figure represents one student's particular classroom behavior during the first twenty days of a hypothetical school year. Let's say the class has a new teacher. A different teacher from the previous year had unwittingly conditioned one of the girls not to raise her hand by constantly reminding her to stop calling out without raising her hand, thus reinforcing her interruptions with attention, and causing it to happen more often. The new teacher studied some behavior analysis techniques and learned how to thoroughly ignore undesired attention-seeking behavior. The girl's interrupting behavior generalizes from the old to the new teacher, but he only recognizes the students who do raise their hands, so he begins extinguishing her calling out responses by saying nothing when it happens.

The chart shows a typical extinction curve. It has a burst, a crest, and a decline. The burst is caused by the lingering effect of the reinforcement from the previous year and the new effect of extinction. At first she "tries hard" to get a reaction, so the behavior increases, but the teacher completely ignores it, so she "gives up trying." The rate of interruption levels off and diminishes to a low level of response. (For actual extinction curves in rats, see Skinner (1938.)

He differentially reinforces a suitable alternate behavior by only calling on her when she does raise her hand. He knows immediate reinforcement works better than delayed reinforcement so he responds soon after she raises her hand. Now she has an acceptable way of gaining his attention.

Next he can modify the rule. Sometimes, during free time, for instance, the class doesn't need to raise their hands. So he traces an outline of his hand onto a blank sheet of paper and colors it green. When he wants them to raise their hands, he tacks the green hand onto the bulletin board and continues calling on students who raise their hands and ignoring those who don't. When the green hand is not up on the board, he can respond when they talk without raising their hands and ignore them when they do raise their hands. They learn to discriminate between the green hand and the non-green hand conditions. The discriminative stimulus, we can say, sets the occasion for hand raising and gains control over their behavior. In the end, they will only raise their hands during the green stimulus if he extinguishes hand raising during the non-green condition.

See the previous post, Don't Reward "Bad" Behavior for more about how a teacher can unwittingly cause undesired behavior in a student.


Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis (1991 ed.). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.