Whether you call them Behaviour Strategies or you prefer the terminology rebrand, ‘Positive Behaviour strategies,’ practises such as Golden Time, group points, raffle tickets, house points, sticker charts, colour charts, Dojo, Behaviour Charts, clips etc. all exist to modify and control behaviour through a system of punishment for bad behaviour and rewards for good behaviour.
These ideas originate in the work of B.F. Skinner’s ‘Radical Behaviourism’ theory and systems related to this work are used in schools and institutions the world over.
Whilst Pavlov was an example of early work on conditioning, the first theory of Behaviourism came in 1912 when John B Watson wrote an article titled, “Psychology as the behaviourist views it,” and set out the basic assumptions behind Behaviourist theory:
- All behaviour is learned from the environment
- Behaviourism is about observable behaviour and discounts internal events like thinking and emotion
- Behaviour is the result of stimulus-response
This became known as Methodical Behaviourism and it influenced the work of Skinner who developed much further on these theories and acknowledged that people had thoughts and emotions, but wrote in 1971 that there was no free will or “autonomous man” and that behaviour was controlled by their environment.
“A person is responsible for his behaviour, not only in the sense that he may be justly blamed or punished when he behaves badly, but also in the sense that he is to be given credit and admired for his achievements.” (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 21, 1971)
If you behave badly and break the rules you are punished, if you are given credit you get a reward. Whilst you may agree that is a good way to operate, many people do, let us reflect for a moment that we are still using behaviour systems that are influenced by work that doesn’t believe thoughts and emotions influence behaviour. The court system has moved on and will take people’s psychiatric conditions into account when sentencing them for crimes, but schools still use the bad= punishment and good= reward… Where is the gray area of children’s needs?
Firstly, what is bad behaviour?
I’m sure we can all agree that the following are examples of behaviour that should have consequences:
- Violence or threatening violence
- Wilful destruction of property
- Victimising and bullying others
- Unnecessary rudeness*
- Persistent use of foul or offensive language
- Sexualised behaviours
- Drug or alcohol misuse in school
- Any other criminal act
*Rudeness can often be a matter of interpretation, particularly when talking about “tone of voice” or “facial expressions.” Rudeness is also a social construct and as our society becomes multi-cultural we must accept that the majority of the world speak more directly and are often “blunt.” Dancing around issues to be delicate is a very British concept and sanctioning children who may not have the same cultural background for “their tone” or “their manner” is just petty.
Then there are other behaviours that are often described as “low level disruption” which often include:
- Calling out without putting their hand up
- Being chatty
- Consistently not following instructions
- Not listening to teachers instructions
- Making noises or singing
Usually, if a child exhibits one of the behaviours on the first list they will receive some form of punishment that may vary due to the severity of the act, the context of the act or the school policy. If they persistently display these behaviours those punishments will usually escalate, but more importantly, the reason why they are behaving that way will be questioned or investigated i.e. a child may punch someone in a fight once, be sanctioned and then never punch anyone again, but a child who acts violently frequently will worry the school and they will try to find out the underlying causes of this anger, as they should do.
Unfortunately, a completely different approach is taken to low level disruptive behaviour, it is considered annoying and I have heard several teachers say before,
“they are like that because they have no rules or boundaries at home and they get away with murder.”
I always get really annoyed by this sweeping judgement because they have never been into those children’s homes and these bold and often inaccurate generalisations can subconsciously damage the way other school staff think of the family.
After several warnings, if the behaviour persists, a very common punishment for persistent low-level disruption is to put the child on a behaviour chart but rarely are questions asked about WHY these behaviors persist, it is more common to blame a factor like bad parenting or label the child “a chatterbox.”
Now, every child that causes low level disruption will not have ADHD but all of those traits listed are common symptoms of ADHD and happen automatically without premeditation. To be clear, a child with ADHD cannot help doing the above BUT these traits are considered BAD behaviour in schools and are frequently punished.
When I was younger I was frequently punished for talking too much, interrupting and calling out. I could not count the amount of times I was told, “Well you couldn’t have been listening properly!” when I did not know what to do in a task.
I missed choosing time, was shouted at, given detention, lines, my parents were called, I got shouted at again, sent to my room, no tv, things taken away… yet I still kept on doing them.
There was no amount of punishment that I could be given, no consequence so severe that it could stop me from blurting out answers that popped into my head, chatting to the person next to me when I didn’t know what I was doing or interrupting people. The most severe and brutal torture as a punishment could not have stopped my mind from wandering off to 5000 different things when I was supposed to listen to something that I did not find engaging.
Let’s be blunt. There is no teacher who would punish a child in a wheelchair for not standing up, so why are children with ADHD punished for their neurology?
Luckily, I was never a victim of a behaviour chart but I have seen them used and I think they are a completely ineffectual form of “punishment” for several reasons.
A Behaviour Chart can take various forms but two of the most common I have seen are; a sticker every time they have made a good choice (common for young children) or the more widely used teacher comment after every lesson which is then sent home for parents to see.
I have already expressed my concern that these charts are given out to children with ADHD whose neurology means that they cannot help some of their behaviours. What results is a written record of all the child’s imperfections sent home every day for their parents to be disappointed in them too.
You might have children in your class with behaviour charts and really object to what I’ve just said. If so, answer me this, if your boss wrote down every one of your imperfections on a list every day and you then read it on the way home from school, how would that affect your self-esteem? Would you think you were performing well in your job? Would you worry about disciplinary action or being fired?
Behaviour charts do nothing to fix behaviour that is neurologically predisposed but they do make children feel like they are bad, worthless, that they hate school and have little worth.
Similarly, the famous Golden Time display, big pictures of; a sun, a sun covered in a cloud and a dark angry cloud. At the beginning of the week the children all start on the sun and as the week goes on, they move towards the dark cloud, if they have been guilty of rule breaking and classroom indiscretions. At the end of the week, the children who are on the sun all get to enjoy Golden Time, where they can choose activities to do with their friends as a reward for being good all week. Those who have advanced towards the cloud will serve some time out as punishment for their indiscretion or some may lose all their Golden Time. At the end of the week, are the ADHD kids more likely to be on the sun or the cloud? All of the children I spoke to in a support group said they were ALWAYS on the cloud and some joked that they would be shocked if they ever saw a full Golden Time.
What’s more, the display is usually up on the wall so that the whole class and anyone who walks into the room- another child, teacher, Head teacher or parent- sees the names of all the children who have been breaking rules, this public shaming builds a reputation and some of the kindest most gentle children have been known as “bad” in places I have worked because they are always missing Golden Time. If you don’t think this affects children and their self-image then you are mistaken. Every school and class has that rare occasion when the “good girl” gets a Golden Time sanction- a moment of temporary insanity for the girl who has never been in trouble a day in her life and always tries her hardest and best. You see that girl red faced and sobbing because she has lost some Golden Time, her name is off of the sun, and she is inconsolable- her perfect world has ended and she is so worried about telling her parents… that girl’s feelings of upset and embarrassment are not more worthy that the child who constantly interrupts or never stops talking. That red face, sobbing and embarrassment is what they feel every week, they just get used to hiding it on the outside.
A brief word on ‘Class Dojo.’ This is an online way of rewarding points to children and has taken the country by storm. There are very few teachers who have anything bad to say about it, in fact most rave about it as the best creation on earth.
I must disagree.
Aside from the dubious Data Protection issues- the data is stored in the USA and while there is a current agreement about some kinds of data sharing- that agreement is not permanent, but the data you uploaded about the children is permanent. It doesn’t matter if you only use a first name, if they are linked to the school, the class, you as a teacher or if the part of Dojo that links to parents is activated- then you may as well have used the surname because the data link to the child now exists.
Most schools do not ask parents for permission before signing their child up for Dojo, why not? And even where parental permission is granted, I do not believe the child knows the implications of having their behavioural profile kept online? You may think that this is an overreaction, but I have strong moral objections to keeping an online behaviour profile for a child when the way that data is used may change according to policy in the USA which we have no influence over.
I’m not even going to go into the fact that Article 16 of the UNCRC allows the child a right to Privacy and creating a behavioural profile online and sharing their every joy or indiscretion in an environment they do not understand certainly does not give them privacy.
These are all of my own thoughts as someone who received repeated punishment for being me, and still receives constant criticism for my personality traits- I talk too much, I’m too emotional, why can’t I just act like everyone else? I don’t want to.
I have also come to these conclusions as a teacher who has watched children in the various schools I have worked in look defeated for being punished AGAIN and worked with children in support groups who have just accepted their fate as “bad.” There is nothing more crushing than hearing that come out of the mouth of a wonderful child with a beautiful soul- that not many people take the time to get to see.
While these are my own thoughts, I am not the only one who holds these beliefs and some of the articles below explain it so much better than I do. There were literally HUNDREDS of these articles online and I think I have read every one of them, please google some more!
If your school uses Behaviour Charts, show them this post and the links below and ask them to reconsider.
From around the web
McLeod, S (2017) ‘Behaviourist Approach’ [online at] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014776/ Accessed 1st October 2017
Skinner, B. F. (1971). ‘Beyond freedom and dignity.’ Harvard (18th edition)