Psychology in Action

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Active Learning Activity 6.3 - Candy as a Reinforcer Begin your standard lecture/discussion for this chapter. The first time a student asks a question, take a piece of candy out of your pocket, walk over and place the candy on their desk. While doing this, answer their question but do NOT explain or comment on your "candy dispensing behavior." Continue your lecture until the next question and then give the second piece of candy--again saying nothing about your own behavior. Continue answering and dispensing candy. Students will begin to laugh and their questions will immediately increase. Wait until someone asks you a direct question about the candy, and then ask them what they THINK you are trying to demonstrate. This is always effective and you can use the demonstration to teach several terms and concepts. Active Learning Activity 6.4 - Candy as a Punisher In a moment of inspiration, we once extended this candy demonstration (Activity 5.3) as a punisher to a troublesome group of students in the back corner who repeatedly ignored our requests to refrain from talking during our lectures. (Have you had this same group? They seem to come to many of our classes and appear on many campuses.) On the day we began giving out the candy, they started rolling their eyes and smugly giggling to one another (obviously thinking this was too childish for their level of "maturity"). In a moment of inspiration, we decided to try punishment. Each time they talked to one another, we quietly walked over and placed a piece of candy on their desk without comment. They were completely perplexed. They stopped talking for that day and for several subsequent sessions. We thought we had "won," but a few weeks later they returned to their initial behaviors (spontaneous recovery? or lack of reinforcers?). Since we didn't have candy with us on this day, we took our chances and decided to make the problem overt. (We had tried talking to them-individually and as a group-- several times outside of class.) We described what we had done with the initial demonstration and the candy, how they had responded, and how they were now showing some of the problems associated with punishment. We talked in a calm, non-aggressive manner and listed several terms on the board. We talked about how candy was a reinforcer for some students and a punisher for the talkative group. We asked for suggestions to correct the problem using conditioning principles. The class decided that the best way might be to remove the reinforcers for talking within the group (i.e., spreading the group members out in the classroom). This was all done in a very gentle, "fun" manner. The offending students stayed after class that day, apologized, and "straightened-up" for the rest of the term. They remain friendly and in contact even years later. We mention this incident because we believe it sometimes helps to make our teaching strategies overt to our students and to use the class as a real life laboratory. If we can't "practice what we preach," our students lose respect for us and for the field of psychology. We also believe it may be helpful to someone reading this manual to see that we all have
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