Scenarios for Using Behaviorism

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LeAnne Garland, Linda Martin,May Xiong
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia

Positive Reinforcement


Positive reinforcement is “presentation of a stimulus that increases the probability of a response” (Standridge, 2002). The stimulus is generally a reward or something that a person desires. Positive reinforcement uses extrinsic motivation to engage a person in a particular behavior or task. It has a direct cause-effect relationship; desired behavior leads to reward.

Implementation of Theory

Ms. Parker is a high school English teacher. She enjoys teaching literature; however, this year, the biggest barrier to learning has been students' poor classroom behavior. Her fourth period students are particularly disruptive, disrespectful, and defiant of the classroom rules and procedures. To restore order, Ms. Parker calls for a class meeting. She explains that new rules will be established and greater effort will be used to enforce these rules. However, instead of dictating them, students will have an opportunity to create rules and consequences that they feel are fair and equitable.

First, without judgment, she will write their ideas on the board. Then, they will vote on the ones that they like best, and these will become the “new” classroom rules and consequences. Immediately, hands begin to fly into the air. Upon collecting their suggestions, Ms. Parker notices a striking similarity to hers, but as these are from the students, there is a heightened sense of ownership, accountability, and motivation.

Once agreeing to the new rules and consequences, Ms. Parker mentions rewards as an incentive for good behavior. Again, she allows the students to come up with a list of desired rewards. The list includes:

  • Free time at the end of class (during Study Hall, the last thirty minutes of class)
  • Leaving class one minute earlier to beat the lunch crowd
  • Coming back to class one minute later without penalty
  • Free homework or quiz passes
  • Being able to bring and eat their lunch in class, if they clean up the trash

Students immediately perk to these possibilities. Once they realize that their good behavior will result in positive rewards, there is an immediate and noticeable change in their attitude and behavior. They begin to act more respectful and civil to each other and the teacher. Ms. Parker, as promised, rewards them.

Negative Reinforcement

Mrs. Garcia is the media specialist in a busy rural school. She has noticed that first and second grade students are finishing their books quickly, but all students are limited to one visit to the media center per day. She is concerned that these early readers need access to more materials, but if the entire school was allowed unlimited access to the media center, she and her media clerk would be overrun. She decides to allow students who finish books on their reading level to check out as often as they need to. They must prove to their classroom teacher that they have read their book. Mrs. Garcia meets with the first, second and third grade teachers during their planning meetings. She explains the concept of negative reinforcement: a response is followed by the removal of a stimulus. The response is more likely to recur. Students who complete their books will have their library visit limits lifted. The teachers think this is a great idea. They all agree to let their students tell them what the book was about (a mini oral report) and then go to the media center to get a new book. The teachers agree not to limit the students' trips to check out and Mrs. Garcia agrees to help the students select books on their reading level. The students enjoy coming to the library and they improve their reading skills.

Presentation Punishment (or Positive Punishment)

  • Presentation punishment --Decreasing the chances that a behavior will occur again by presenting an aversive stimulus following the behavior. (This definition found at .)
  • Presentation punishment is also called “positive punishment”.

Mrs. Henderson, a first year Media Specialist, enjoys her job and is learning as much as the students. The majority of students view the library as a welcomed change from the classroom. They listen and respond to her read-aloud stories and participate in the work involved in learning effective research strategies. However, she is having a few discipline problems across the elementary grade levels. Stern looks and private talks are not having the desired effect on the “problem students”. She has talked with the classroom teachers and has utilized some of their suggestions, but still feels she has not “hit her stride” in managing the students.

Not satisfied with the current state in the media center, Mrs. Henderson decides to search for some answers. First, she consults her old textbooks. There really does not seem to be much information concerning classroom management for media specialists. Mrs. Henderson racks her brain and remembers her undergraduate Educational Psychology class. She looks for her notes, but unfortunately, they are long gone. Then, doing what comes naturally for a teacher of “information literacy”, she begins her research. She runs across several good articles that discuss reinforcement and punishment. The idea of “presentation punishment” strikes her as a good solution. Presentation punishment provides/presents the student with an unwanted object or activity in order to discontinue the behavior.

Mrs. Henderson talks over with several classroom teachers the concepts and reasoning behind presentation punishment. They agree that this is a common practice among educators. Mrs. Henderson decides that she will try two forms of presentation punishment. With the younger students (K-2), Mrs. Henderson will give a note to the disruptive student's teacher announcing that the student misbehaved in the media center. With the older students (third – fifth grades), Mrs. Henderson will require the student to copy the library rule that was broken. The student will then have to write a paragraph explaining why their behavior was disruptive and how that relates to the library rules. Mrs. Henderson believes this punishment will work because younger students do not like to disappoint their teachers and parents with notes sent home and older students do not want to do more work.


Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction. (1999). Negative Reinforcement University. Retrieved October 27, 2004 from

Ormrod, J. (2003). Educational psychology: developing learners . 4 ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Positive Reinforcement: A Self-Instructional Exercise. Retrieved 9/18/04 from

Standridge, M.. (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Available Website:

Tulley, M., & Hwang Chiu, L. (1998, Summer). Children's perceptions of the effectiveness of classroom discipline techniques. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 3. Retrieved July 8, 2012, from

Wang, S. (2001) Motivation: A General Overview of Theories. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, & Technology. Available website:


APA Citation: Orey, Garland, L., Martin, L., Xiong, M. (2002). Scenarios for Using Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from