Behaviorism is a theory about why people behave the way they do. It is basically concerned with observable behaviours that can be measured. In learning, behaviorism focuses on stimuli that create a response. Behaviorism is action-oriented and does not take into account thoughts or emotions associated with a reaction or behaviour because these are not observable and not measurable. Although a mature awareness of behaviour in students includes non-observable variables, several teaching situations require a behaviourist approach to be effective.
Students with autism have atypical social and language development and engage in stereotypical behaviours. They often exhibit aggressive behaviour toward themselves and others. Many times children with autism have difficulty with change. Although autism is not curable, behavioural modification has been shown to be an effective teaching methodology. Behavioural theory says that behaviours can be shaped using rewards and punishment. Consistently rewarding a student for exhibiting a desired behaviour increases the likelihood that the behaviour will be exhibited again. Punishment of undesired behaviour has the same potential to reduce unwanted behaviour.
Social learning theory is an offshoot of behaviorism and is based on the premise that students learn by observing others and modelling behaviour. In a classroom, using peer models has been shown to be an effective learning tool. When students model what they observe another student doing, learning takes place. The student who is observing learns that the behaviour had either a positive or negative outcome for the model. Setting up positive models in a classroom is an important teaching method for good behaviour.
Positive Behavior Support
Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) is a research-based, function-based method for eliminating unwanted behaviours and replacing them with pro-social skills. PBS employs some of the tenets of behaviorism in that students are taught to observe how to use appropriate classroom behaviours. Students are taught to listen for a verbal stimuli such as, "Put your toys away." The teacher models putting toys away and the students practice. When a student does not follow the model, he receives a response from the teacher to try again. Students are taught to judge their own success or failure in responding to teacher requests.
Behaviorism and Challenging Behaviors
Behavioural strategies for addressing challenging behaviours in the classroom include: shaping, fading, prompting and modelling. One behavioural approach for dealing with challenging behaviours is called the ABC. The "A" refers to identifying the antecedent to the behaviour--what happened right before a behaviour occurred. The "B" refers to behaviour and identifying, in detail, what behaviour followed the antecedent. The "C" refers to consequence, or what happened when the behaviour occurred. Using the ABC approach to behaviour management helps a teacher know what causes a behaviour (antecedent or stimuli) and what consequence(s), or response, reinforced the behaviour.