Behavioral Principles: The Basics of Understanding Student Behavior
Throughout the school day, a multitude of behaviors are happening simultaneously. All these behaviors—whether they enhance, disrupt, or have no affect on classroom instruction—are learned. Moreover, these behaviors are influenced by biological and environmental factors. Knowing this allows educators to actively promote expected behaviors and eliminate undesired or challenging behaviors.
Although it is important to be aware of the biological factors that influence student behavior, educators should primarily focus on the environmental factors within their control. One common framework that educators can use to better understand these environmental factors is the ABC model, which separates behavioral occurrences into three components.
|Any situation, action, or event that precedes a behavior (i.e., what happens before the behavior)
|An observable and measurable act
|Any response, action, or event that follows a behavior (i.e., what happens after the behavior)
Antecedents influence the likelihood of behaviors occurring in the present moment by:
- Signaling the availability of consequences, indicating the behavior will result in a reinforcer (or payoff)
- Changing the value of consequences, making them more or less desirable
On the other hand, consequences influence the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future and can involve something being either provided or removed. Consequences can exist in three forms: reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. Although educators can use all three forms, reinforcement—which increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future—is more likely to lead to meaningful change in student behavior. When using reinforcement, educators should understand that students tend to engage in behaviors that have the best payoff. To evaluate the effectiveness of reinforcement, educators can use four features:
- Quality: a student’s opinion of the reinforcement’s value
- Immediacy: how quickly students receive reinforcement after a behavior
- Magnitude: the amount of reinforcement
- Behavioral effort: the level of difficulty in demonstrating a behavior to access reinforcement
Finally, generalization is necessary to achieve meaningful change in student behavior. Generalization includes:
- Maintenance of the behavior over time, even when reinforcement is not available
- Transfer of behavior to new contexts (e.g., different people, settings, materials)
- Generation of similar new behaviors that meet the same needs
Once familiar with these foundational behavioral concepts, educators can use them to promote a positive and productive learning environment and to support students.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
What behavioral principles should educators be familiar with to understand student behavior?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.