Archive for the 'Need' Category

Why animal research matters

In “Like a Rat: Animal research and your child’s behavior” that they penned for Slate, Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella explain why it is sensible to infer methods for modifying human behavior from research on rats, pigeons, and monkeys. They quite clearly show how what we know from systematic research on infra-human organisms applies to us, the magnificently complicated, subtle, and rational organisms—at least as we seem to see ourselves.

Psychologists who work with children and families tend to avoid mentioning to parents that the treatments they use are often based on research done on animals. It’s no secret that the widely used technique of the timeout was developed in studies on rats or that important early research leading to treatments for anxiety in humans was done on dogs, cats, and other species—but the subject doesn’t come up a lot in conversation. We will confess to doing our bit to perpetuate this professional shyness about animal research by tiptoeing around it….

If you, dear reader, have ever wondered why research about pressing levers or pecking disks matters for changing human behavior or have had someone ask you a question about the connection between research conducted in a laboratory with animals and learner performance, you should read Professors Kazdin’s and Rotella’s “Like a Rat: Animal research and your child’s behavior.”

By the by, it’s just one of many excellent pieces that they’ve published on Slate.

News account about classroom management

In “Controlling a classroom isn’t as easy as ABC” Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles (CA, US) Times describes teachers’ struggles and successes with classroom management. She also reports what teachers say are important and unimportant components of management.

Not only does she describe conflicts in the classrooms, but the recommendations she received about management show conflicts, too. She captures this disagreement concisely with this example: “Some teachers, for example, offer rewards for good behavior; others believe that creates a false motivation.”

Here are recommendations I gleened from the teachers in Mr. Mehta’s article:

  • Consistency
  • Follow through
  • Caring
  • Clear behavioral expectations
  • Automatic consequences
  • Address misbehavior quickly and dispassionately
  • Ignore what you learn in teacher education

For the most part, these seem sensible and appropriate. But, they also seem platitudinous and generic. If teachers are served this sort of stuff in teacher education, then I can even agree with the last one.

Instead, we need to teach more operational and evidence-based practices. I hope that’s what I accomplish in my classes. Mayhaps I don’t. Sigh.

Link to “Controlling a classroom isn’t as easy as ABC.”

US House to review seclusion and restraint

The press offices of the US House Committee on Education and Labor issued notices about pending hearings regarding seclusion and restraint procedures. As noted elsewhere, statements by advocacy organizations and news reports about instances of terrific abuses have made the use of seclusion and restraint at current issue in the US.

Advisory: House Education Committee to Examine Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, May 19, the House Committee on Education and Labor will hold a hearing to examine abusive and deadly uses of seclusion and restraint in U.S. schools. Seclusion and restraint are physical interventions used by teachers and other school staff to prevent students from hurting themselves or others.

WHAT: Full Committee Hearing on “Examining the Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools”

WHO: Witnesses TBA

WHEN: Tuesday, May 19, 2009
10:00 a.m. EDT

WHERE: House Education and Labor Committee Hearing Room, 2175 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Seclusion and restraint may be appropriately employed as a means of reducing responding (i.e., decreasing the frequency of behavior), but they very rarely are necessary. In addition to conducting FBAs, there are many means of decreasing responding that do not require physical seclusion or restraint (see, for example research on the procedures such as the “time-out ribbon” by Foxx and Shapiro). Unfortunately, people who do not employ behavior modification procedures in ways that are faithful to the research sometimes use seclusion or restraint, and they make such a hash of it that they hurt children. To borrow a phrase, school is not supposed to hurt.

People who hurt children, whether because they misuse procedures than can be used effectively or because they simply don’t know better, should receive immediate and sustained coaching in how to use effective and benign behavior modification methods. If they do not subsequently the employ those effective and benign procedures, they should find another place to work.

I hope one of the outcomes of these hearings is an emphasis on ensuring that the faculty and staff members in schools are required to learn how to iimplement effective behavior modification procedures. Given that there are millions of people involved in the educational endeavor, it is unlikely that mis-uses of behavioral procedures will ever be completely eliminated. However, educators could decrease the incidence of abusive instances by understanding and employing behavioral procedures appropriately.

See notes on Teach Effectively (15 Jan 2009), The Life that Chose Me (12 Mar 2009), EBD Blog (21 Apr 2009), and (surely) elsewhere on the Internet. It is likely that additional information will be posted at the House Committee’s Web site.

Progressive education and behavior modification

Over on Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL Larry Ferlazzo, a teacher of high school students who are learning English, reports that he adopted what sounds like a response-cost system for managing behavior and found it quite successful. Under the title “Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got ‘Out Of Control’?,” Mr. Ferlazzo explained that he awarded 50 points to sub-groups of students and then deducted points for misbehavior.

What’s interesting about that? Isn’t this a bit like the Good Behavior Game? Don’t lots of teachers use response-cost systems successfully? True. True.

One particularly interesting feature of the story, though, is Mr. Felazzo’s disarmingly honest assessment of his own views about employing such a system. Mr. Felazzo explains that, after several of his usual strategies proved ineffective, he found that he had to move beyond building relationships with students. That’s when he adopted the response-cost system.

Yes, I know some of you are thinking, as I initially thought, what is a progressive educator like me doing considering a classroom management system that sounds like behavior modification and operant conditioning? Why am I not continuing my focus on positive strategies to help students develop their own intrinsic motivation?

After Mr. Felazzo thinned the schedule of reinforcement (though he doesn’t report it that way), he discovered that the students were still behaving appropriately. He inferred that they developed intrinsic motivation. That’s possible. Alternatively, perhaps there is a behavioral trap operating in his situation: When they behaved appropriately, less-obvious reinforcers (e.g., success in class?) began to control the students’ behavior. For whatever reason they continued to display student-like behavior, and for that we should all be glad.

Thanks for the good example, Mr. Felazzo!

Link to Mr. Ferlazzo’s blog post.

Doesn’t have to happen

Still shot snagged from WFAA video

Shelly Slater of Dallas (TX, US) television station WFAA published a story entitled “Video shows Dallas bus driver choking student” that alleges that bus driver Janet Pitts assaulted a student named Xavier Nava in January of 2007. Ms. Slater reported that Ms. Pitts was removed from her position by the Dallas schools, reinstated, and then resigned voluntarily before the news story ran.
Continue reading ‘Doesn’t have to happen’

Ms. Libb on Fred Jones

Over on Sines of Learning, Ms. Libb has a post about Fred Jones’ resources on classroom management. In “Tools For Teaching Part I.” Ms. Libb wrote

One of the most useful resources I’ve come across was Fred Jones’s works. Even though the teacher certification program I went through was great in many respects, we had -no- training in classroom management (big surprise, right?). Once I asked the best teacher we had, our math methods teacher who had been a classroom teacher herself, and her response was “The best discipline plan is a good lesson plan.” Riiiiiight. There’s tons of truth to that, but every trainee in the classroom knew we needed more than that!

Ms. Libb, who’s just getting started in teaching, goes on to explain how she then found one of Professor Jones’ books. She provides a review of it, refers to her experience attending a workshop on the methods, and promises a review of Fred Jones Website. Professor Jones’ recommendations about classroom management are good ones. I hope that they serve Ms. Libb well.

Link to Ms. Libb’s post.

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