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Unformatted text preview: issues with the use of reinforcement systems in classrooms, and the issues with
behavioral approaches to instruction. 40 The Debate Over the Use of Reinforcement Systems in Classrooms
Recently, Alfie Kohn (1993a; 1993b; 1995) has become one of the more
outspoken critics of the use of behavioral techniques such as reinforcement in
classrooms, and his criticisms include the following.
• Reward systems in classrooms are a technique for controlling students.
These systems do not allow students to develop the skills to selfcontrol and problem-solve. • Reward systems are ineffective. Once the rewards stop, students revert
to the earlier misbehaviors. They do not lead to permanent changes in
behavior. • Reward systems may decrease students’ intrinsic motivation for
academic tasks. This contention is based on a series of studies that
suggest that when students are reinforced for activities they already
find enjoyable, their interest in those activities can decrease (Lepper,
1983; Lepper & Greene, 1978). As you might expect, there have been responses to these types of
criticisms. First, behaviorists going all the way back to J. B. Watson and B. F.
Skinner have suggested that environmental control is a natural part of the world
(See for example, Skinner, 1953). The issue is not whether environments exert
control, but how that control might be used to help individuals. Also, as we will 41 discuss in Chapter 4, learners can be taught to use behavioral techniques to selfregulate their own behavior.
Second, behaviorists would challenge the idea that reinforcement systems
are ineffective, because this challenge fails to consider their functional definition
for reinforcement (Maag, 1999). As you remember from earlier in the chapter,
reinforcement is defined in terms of its effect. If you went to a behavioral
psychologist and said that you had tried reinforcement and it didn’t work, she
would most likely respond by saying, “I don’t know what you did, but it wasn’t
reinforcement. Reinforcement by definition increases the likelihood of the
behavior.” From a behavioral perspective, it would be more accurate to say that
your attempt at reinforcement failed. Although this may seem like a matter of
semantics, behaviorists would be quick to point out that poor applications of any
idea are likely not to be effective. It should be noted, that well-designed
behavioral interventions have generally been to found to be effective
interventions, especially for students with disabilities (Lloyd, Forness, & Kavale.
1998; Maag, 2001). Given the inclusion movement in this country, this is a
The criticism that the effects of reinforcement systems do not maintain
once the reinforcement program has terminated is one criticism that has been
generally supported by research on behavioral interventions, specifically when
these programs are used to modify problematic behaviors (Kazdin, 1977). 42 Behaviors can and often do extinguish once reinforcement is withdrawn (Alberto
& Troutman, 1999). Additionally, the effects do not seem to easily transfer
beyond the original settings wher...
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This document was uploaded on 03/29/2014 for the course EPS 324 at N. Arizona.
- Spring '08