Reflection on Habits and Behaviors

This unit in CEP800 was a study in human behavior. We began by reading the first three chapters of the book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (2012), which discusses the theoretical discoveries and concepts of the habit loop. The habit loop consists of three stages: the cue, the routine, and the reward, and individuals can actually learn to crave and anticipate the reward at the end of the loop (Duhigg, 2012). In a similar manner, behaviorist theories of learning, namely B.F. Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning (1938), promote the conditioning of healthy habits through a series of rewards and punishments, where “behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated” (McLeod, 2018). 

When thinking about these theories in regards to my own educational practice, I can’t help but think of the new Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiative that my school is currently undertaking. We already have a series of rewards and reinforcements that will be tweaked and put into effect with new vigor, but how do we ensure that the entire school, students and teachers alike, adhere to the principles of PBIS that are put into effect? The PBIS team will need to educate the teachers well on the effects of consistent positive reinforcement in order to ingrain the behaviors (and create a habit) we want into the culture of our school. The program will also need to be closely monitored for consistency – if we are inconsistent with our reward system, both how we verbally praise students and with our observable (Moore, 2011) token-system, the habit will not take effect as well as we’d like. 

In my own classroom, I use techniques from Paula Denten’s The Power of Our Words (2013) to establish a culture that is built around positive, reinforcing language. In her book, Denten discusses how teachers need to be “aware of [their] habitual ways of speaking and the messages, positive or negative, they may be sending to students” (Denten, 2013). After using these techniques in my practice, and after learning more about habit-formation, I can definitely see how positively-reinforcing speech patterns slowly transform the way students behave in the classroom. It can sometimes take awhile for the positive habits to form, but gradually throughout the school year, more students start to participate in the behaviors I highlight, such as speaking kindly to their neighbor or quietly reading their book when finished, rather than the negative behaviors they may have previously exuded. 

To use some of Skinner’s Operant Conditioning terms, whenever I use my language as a way to shape the culture of my classroom, I am demonstrating a mixture of both positive reinforcement and negative punishment (Nebel, 2017). For my students whom I verbally praise, they are receiving something they enjoy (positive reinforcement). This praise then provides a reward of intrinsic pride that can then stimulate the formation of a habit loop (Duhigg, 2012), ensuring that they will continue reproducing behavior that is acceptable to me . But when I ignore the students who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, I am essentially taking away the attention that they desire (negative punishment). According to Duhigg (2012), this negative consequence can then spur students to change their behavioral pattern since they are not receiving their desired reward.

Overall, I learned a lot in this unit and find the principles of behaviorism very compelling, especially when considering the statistic that 40% of what we do on a daily basis is a habit, aka learned behavior (Duhigg, 2012).

References

Denten, P. (2013). The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn. Responsive Classroom.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit. Random House.

Habits-to-be-made photo used with permission by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

McLeod, S. (2018). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Simple Psychology. 

https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

Moore, J. (2011). Behaviorism. The Psychological Record, 61(3), 449-463. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/BF03395771 

Nebel, C. (2017, August 10). Behaviorism in the classroom. The Learning Scientists. https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/8/10-1

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: Appleton-Century.

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