Reflection: What I Have Learned!

I have been somewhat vocal about how I never wanted to do this module. When I was given it, I was pretty annoyed and tempted to swap it immediately. However, after much consideration, I decided that I would go to the first session in order to get the information needed to convince the department to let me swap. After the first lecture I was left even more unimpressed and had the view that Jesse was being lazy in not giving us structured lectures. I also questioned the value that Jesse seemed to put on independent learning. Was it really going to be beneficial for us to create our own topics with such little guidance and information? What on earth would my peers be able to teach me that would not be better coming from an experienced lecturer? Surely a few blogs and comments is going to be far too easy to result in a meaningful module experience?

I am happy to say that I was completely wrong with these opinions. I have arguably learnt more in this module than all of my other modules combined and it has been one of the most valuable experiences in my education to date. In this reflective blog, I am going to address each of my previous misconceptions of this module and note how this module has enabled me to learn more effectively than the standard assignment and exam framework.

I guess the first misconception will be pretty brief – Jesse is lazy. I feel quite bad about this one, particularly seeing as it is so far away from the truth. I have now have no doubt that if Jesse had felt that we would have benefitted more from being taught about the science of education through lectures taken by him, he would have done so. Additionally, the marking that Jesse had to do as a result of the use of blogs and comments in this module was probably hugely time consuming. I am pretty sure that marking 54 blogs, plus around 324 comments, a week demonstrates Jesse’s commitment to providing the best possible education for all of us, regardless of the extra work that this means for him.

The second misconception was the notion that independent learning was a waste of time and that choosing our own topics to debate would not provide us with sufficient information to become well informed in the area. Independent learning has been a welcome change to the mundane regurgitating of information that clouds the majority of our other modules. After all, if any of us want to go into the big wide world of research, then this is something that we will have to do on a daily basis – experience of this search for our own information now will aid us greatly in the future. Furthermore, the research of the benefits of independent learning is abundant in the literature and over the past few months I have learnt that this promotes intrinsic motivation and therefore results in students working harder and achieving better grades. My grades and work ethic in this module supports this notion. Although I am generally quite a hard worker, the amount of work I have put into this module is incomparable to my attitude towards work in other modules, other than perhaps my dissertation. I think this is partly due to our constant deadlines, but more for the notion that we could investigate pretty much whatever we wanted to, providing that it was directly related to education.

The third misconception was my opinion that others in the class would not provide myself and others with the required information to have a full understanding about the science of education. I focussed on the area of reinforcement and punishment in my blogs however, through reading and commenting on others I have learnt about the self-determination theory, the use of grades, labelling and stereotypes, special education, the influence of wellbeing and mindfulness, and the importance of a healthy diet and physical exercise to name a few. It is unlikely that the sheer amount of topics addressed in these blogs would have been able to be covered in the traditional lecture setting without the exclusion of important information. Furthermore, I was impressed by the quality of every single blog written and commenting on others work has allowed me to critically evaluate debates that I would have never had the opportunity to do without the provision of blogs.

My final misconception of the module, and arguably many others who are not taking it, was that a blog and a few comments a week was going to be simple. I am sure that every student in this module would agree that this was not the case. The sheer amount of time that the blogs and comments took up was, at some points, exhausting and the amount of publications that I had to read to produce blogs that I was happy with was even in excess of the research that I put into my dissertation. As a result of these time commitments, I feel well informed on the subject and if someone was to ask a question on any of the topics discussed, I feel that I would be able to offer a coherent argument that would not be possible with our levels of research in other modules.

It is also important to note the values of blogging in general. Prior to this module I did blog on a fairly regular basis, but with the time-constraints of participant testing, dissertation writing, revision and assignments, and extracurricular activities, was unable to continue this in the first semester of this year. This module has allowed me to continue blogging without it affecting my studies. I feel that blogging is important mainly due to the potential employment opportunities that it can promote. Blogs have become an important tool for many researchers, journalists, and even those with a slight interest in the topic discussed, in order for them to produce good work that can be viewed by others. This, combined with the ability to link blogs to social media websites such as Twitter and LinkedIn, ensures that a wide audience can access your own work, thus providing various networking opportunities.

Another benefit of writing blogs is that in these blogs I have been able to say far more than I would have ever been able to do in an assignment. This is due to the fact that during the topic blogs, we were encouraged to expand on the topic every week – an impossible task for traditional assignments. As a result, new research or articles, perhaps not available at the beginning of our topics, could be detailed at a later date. Furthermore, for the first time in my education, I have been able to comment on my own experiences. Detailing personal experiences in areas of psychology is generally frowned upon in other assignment writing however, the opportunity to comment on why and how the school education system seemed to fail myself and others was extremely worthwhile. Hopefully, in seeing how the education system has failed some, combined with the research demonstrating that the system needs to altered, successful changes will be put in place to benefit the teachers, students, and the wider community.

In conclusion, this module has not only taught me a great deal in the areas discussed, it has provided me with the much needed practice of writing coherent arguments about areas in psychology in which I am passionate. I used to loathe the topic of education; now I feel that research in this area is vital – perhaps one day I might even investigate it myself. Thanks Jesse for creating such a great module and to the rest of the class who have provided me with an insight into their opinions and beliefs about education.

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Synthesis Blog: An Overview of Reinforcement and Punishment in Schools and Higher Education

Throughout these topic blogs, I have been addressing the implications of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment in both schools and higher education settings. From the outset I was worried that there would not be enough topics in this area to be discussed, however, I soon found that the use of reinforcement and punishment is highly debated among psychologists, particularly in educational settings. These blogs have allowed me to access a considerable amount of research on this matter, and although debatable, the overall conclusion seems to be that reinforcement is far more successful than punishment, but that it should still be used carefully.

 The first point to consider is the role of punishment in the current education system. As noted in previous blogs, punishment is used often in schools, with 70% of teachers admitting to using the punishment of time-out in classrooms (Zabel, 1986), although due to social desirability bias, this figure is likely to be higher. Additionally, detention is another common form of punishment used in schools often employed by teachers in an effort to control the classroom.

 Time-out can be considered to be negative punishment, due to the fact that the removal of the attention received from the pupil’s teachers and peers should make the behaviour less likely to occur. Detention could be considered to be positive punishment, whereby the addition of extra work during detention adds something unpleasant to the pupil’s environment so the behaviour is less likely to occur. However, detention could also be classed as negative punishment as it prevents the pupil from interacting with their classmates, thus taking something positive away from their environment with the aim of preventing the reoccurrence of bad behaviour.

 As noted in previous blogs, the research exploring the use of punishment in schools is somewhat inconsistent. Sachs (1973) found that poor behaviour in three emotionally disturbed students was dramatically reduced through the implementation of time-out. Furthermore, when Miller and Kratochwill (1979) employed the time-out strategy on a 10-year-old girl who often reported false stomach pains, these complaints became non-existent. However, there are issues regarding the use of time-out in schools, with Zabel (1986) commenting that teachers do not receive adequate training to implement this strategy effectively. Additionally, in the current economic climate one has to consider whether it is economically-viable to have a time-out system in place where students should really be supervised. In schools with already stretched resources, providing an additional member of staff to supervise students sent of the classroom is likely to be an impossible request (Cuenin & Harris, 1986). Furthermore, one has to question whether in trying to punish students through this method, teachers are actually reinforcing the bad behaviour. This could be negative reinforcement, whereby the student avoids doing work through being sent out of the classroom, thus avoiding something unpleasant and therefore making the bad behaviour more likely to continue. It could also be positive reinforcement, as the pupil may get attention from other teachers or students who pass them in the corridor, thus meaning that something positive is added to the environment, which again makes the bad behaviour more likely to continue.

 Clearly, there are benefits to using time-out however, as researchers have noted, it is not currently being implemented correctly so serves as reinforcement for bad behaviour rather than punishment. The same can be said for the use of detention, whereby researchers found that more often than not, detention caused more harm than good and resulted in bad behaviours occurring at a more frequent rate (Atkins et al., 2002). This is due to a variety of reasons, such as teachers using detentions as threats (Latham, 1997). Additionally, as with the case of time-out, in trying to punish poor behaviour, the use of detentions may actually be reinforcing it. This could be through positive reinforcement, whereby students are being given attention from their teachers and peers in detention and, as a result, producing poor behaviour more often to maintain this attention. This could also be negative reinforcement, where the pupil is able to avoid the stressors often frequent in the playground such as bullying and peer pressure.

 Despite the mixed research, it has become very clear to me over the course of these blogs that in trying to punish pupils for poor behaviour, it is often the case that the behaviour is actually being reinforced. Latham (1997) heavily argued this point and has suggested that teachers should focus on positive behaviour rather than the constant focus on the negative.

 In my first blog for this module, I noted the use of token economy as a form of positive reinforcement in the classroom. Token economy is a popular tool often employed by teachers, where the pupil is given a token when they display desirable behaviour, which can be exchanged for something of value to the child (O’Leary & Drabman, 1971).  Previous research supports the use of token economy in schools, with Boniecki and Moore (2003) finding that student participation increased when tokens were given and Filcheck, McNeil, Greco, and Bernard (2004) reporting a decrease in undesirable behaviour through the use of token economy.

 In spite of these findings, and the insistence of Latham (1997) to use reinforcement instead of punishment in schools, there are arguments against the use of reinforcement, particularly token economy. One argument is that some educators feel that token economy is a form of bribery, which could leave pupils reliant on reinforcement after leaving school (Kohn, 1993). Additionally, some teachers may offer rewards for certain behaviours to some students but not others, which could result in the ignored pupils feeling neglected, thus promoting undesirable behaviours. I feel that this is the main issue with token economy, but one that could be solved by giving teachers more adequate training in classroom management (Maag, 1999).

 Another blog that I will briefly mention regarding reinforcement and punishment in schools is bullying. Bullying can be considered to be positive punishment, due to the fact that something unpleasant is added to the individual’s environment, thus making the previous behaviour less likely to occur. In schools, this behaviour will ordinarily be good behaviour, which pupils are targeted for by bullies and can result in the pupil developing poor behaviour to prevent the bullying from continuing (Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, & Karstadt, 2003). This has significant negative implications for the child, such as low self-esteem (Seals & Young, 2003), poor academic achievement (Wentzel, 1993), and poor attendance (Glew, Fan, Katon, & Rivara, 2008).

 There are various strategies that can be implemented by schools to tackle bullying such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Olweus, 2003) (, which has seen bullying incidents decrease by 65% (Black & Jackson, 2007). Schools need to implement strategies that are supported by empirical evidence in order to produce happy and successful students. However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that unfortunately, bullying is unlikely to ever stop fully, but programs such as this can be put in place to not only prevent bullying from happening, but also to minimise the negative impacts that it may produce for the pupils concerned.

 My final topic blog addressed the issue of reinforcement and punishment in higher education and was arguably the blog I felt that I learnt the most from out of all of the ones I had written. This was because finally I could discuss something that applied to all of us – and one topic that everyone writing blogs seems to love – grades! In this blog I realised that universities employ reinforcement and punishment far more successfully than in schools, with a main focus on the positive rather than the negative. Take the POPPS classes for example, praise was given and any negative comments were done in a constructive way and still maintaining a positive focus. This contrasts with my experience of public speaking at school where we were forced to speak in front of our class to practice for our English Speaking Board certificate. I had started at the school the week before and was obviously extremely nervous, but tried my hardest to give a good speech. At the end of my talk, my teacher ripped it to shreds and I completely lost any confidence that I once had for speaking in public. Fast forward a few years and, although I am not the most confident public speaker, I do not get that nervous beforehand (unless Jesse decides to watch). I put this completely down to the way POPPS is run at the university, with the abundance of positive comments and few negative comments making presenting far easier.

 I also discussed at length the provision of grades and how these can act as positive reinforcement when good grades are achieved and positive punishment when bad grades are achieved. The use of grades has been debated heavily during this module (see for some of these arguments). However, one important point to make is that although many of us have argued against the use of grades in education, is there really any alternative? Perhaps instead teachers and lecturers should become more creative with the implementation of assignments and exams, as being given grades for novel work has been found to enhance creativity and critical thinking in students (Swartz & Parks, 1994), something which others have argued grades ordinarily reduce.  

 Whilst looking through these blogs to decide what to include in this synthesis, it did become horribly apparent that I have been slightly critical of teachers so thought I should probably address these criticisms in this final blog. I believe that teachers do an amazing job, certainly one that I could never do; it is not that they are failing pupils in the way in which they teach, it is the way that they are taught to teach where the real problem lies. Maag (1999) stated that teachers are currently given virtually no training in classroom management, which is why reinforcement and punishment are used poorly in schools. Indeed, my friend has just received her PGCE so I asked her what sort of training she received when it came to managing the classroom environment; her reply was virtually none. This leaves teachers being blamed for producing poorly behaved and under achieving students, whereas in actual fact, it is the system that it letting pupils down. Until this problem is acknowledged, the current trend of poor classroom management is likely to continue.

 The notion of why the effective use of reinforcement and punishment is important in classrooms is also something that needs to be considered. Fergusson and Horwood (1995) have found significant relationships between poor behaviour and academic achievement in childhood and delinquency in later life. Clearly, in fostering positive experiences in schools where good behaviour is rewarded could have a dramatic impact on behaviour when these pupils reach adulthood. It is therefore vital that classroom behaviour is properly managed to create happy, successful, and well-adjusted adults who will be able to engage fully in the opportunities that occur in adult life.


 Atkins, M. S., McKay, M. M., Frazier, S. L., Jakobsons, L. J., Arvanitis, P., Cunningham, T., … Lambrecht, L. (2002). Suspensions and detentions in an urban, low-income school: Punishment or reward? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30(4), 361-371.

 Black, S. A., & Jackson, E. (2007). Using bullying incident density to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. School Psychology International, 28(5), 623-638. doi: 10.1177/0143034307085662

 Boniecki, K. A., & Moore, S. (2003). Breaking the silence: Using token economy to reinforce classroom participation. Teaching of Psychology, 30(3), 224-227.

 Cuenin, L. H., & Harris, K. R. (1986). Planning, implementing, and evaluating timeout interventions with exceptional students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 18, 272-276.

 Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (1995). Early disruptive behaviour, IQ, and later school achievement and delinquent behaviour. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 23(2), 183-199.

 Filcheck, H. A., McNeil, C. B., Greco, L. A., & Bernard, R. S. (2004). Using a whole-class token economy and coaching of teacher skills in a preschool classroom to manage disruptive behaviour. Psychology in the Schools, 41(3), 351-361. doi: 10.1002/pits.10168

 Glew, G. M., Fan, M. Y., Katon, W., & Rivara, F. P. (2008). Bullying and school safety. The Journal of Pediatrics, 152(1), 123-128. doi: 10.1016/j.peds.2007.05.045

 Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

 Latham, G. (1997). Behind the schoolhouse door: Eight skills every teacher should have. Utah: Utah State University.

 Maag, J. W. (1991). Behaviour management: From theoretical implications to practical applications. San Diego, CA: Singular.

 Miller, A. J., & Kratochwill, T. R. (1979). Reduction of frequent stomach complaints by time out. Behaviour Therapy, 10(2), 211-218. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(79)80038-6

 O’Leary, D. K., & Drabman, R. (1971). Token reinforcement programs in the classroom: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 75(6), 379-398. doi: 10.1037/h0031311

 Olweus, D. (2003). A profile of bullying at school. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 12-17.

 Sachs, D. A. (1973). The efficacy of time-out procedures in a variety of behavioural problems. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 4(3), 237-242. doi: 10.1016/0005-7916(73)90080-3

 Seals, D., & Young, J. (2003). Bullying and victimisation: Prevalence and relationship to gender, grade level, ethnicity, self-esteem, and depression. Adolescence, 38(152), 735-747.

 Swartz, R. J., & Parks, S. (1994). Infusing the teaching of critical and creative thinking into content instruction: A lesson design handbook for the elementary grades. Pacific Grove, CA: Critical Thinking Press and Software.

 Wentzel, K. R. (1993). Does being good make the grade? Social behavior and academic competence in middle school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 357-364. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.85.2.357

 Wolke, D., Woods, S., Bloomfield, L., & Karstadt, L. (2003). The association between direct and relational bullying and behaviour problems among primary school children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(8), 989-1002.

 Zabel, M. K. (1986). Time out use with behaviourally disordered students. Behavioural Disorders, 12(1), 15-21.

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Blog 7: Reinforcement and Punishment in Higher Education

In previous blogs, I introduced the notion of reinforcement and punishment as strategies for effective classroom management. Taking the current literature in the area and the comments of others on board, I concluded that teachers should endeavour to use reinforcement for good behaviour, rather than constantly focusing on the negatives. Additionally, I noted that educators should receive more training in classroom management strategies in order to produce successful students who have a greater opportunity to become an asset to the community. However, now that we are all ‘mature’ and ‘well-behaved’ university students, this does not necessarily apply to us, other than those considering a career in teaching and/or with children. As a result, I felt that my last topic blog should focus on something that applies to every single one of us – reinforcement and punishment in higher education.

When I first considered this topic, reinforcement and punishment did not really spring to mind when looking at higher education due to the fact that the majority of students display good behaviour in lecture settings. However, we are provided with reinforcement and punishment when one considers academic achievement.

The first, and arguably most important, point when considering reinforcement and punishment in higher education is the administration of grades based on exam and assignment performance. Grades could be considered as positive reinforcement or positive punishment. For example, if a student achieved an A* grade in an exam, this would serve as positive reinforcement, as something pleasant is added to the environment, which should make the behaviour of revision/hard work more likely to occur again. On the other hand, if a student achieved an E grade in an exam, this would serve as positive punishment, as something unpleasant is added to the environment, which should make the behaviour of procrastination/laziness less likely to occur again.

Due to the sheer number of blogs considering grades and creativity, I will try not to go into too much detail. The current literature and class discussions about grades seem to point to the notion that grades reduce creativity, which can result in reduced learning and the mere memorising of information rather than concrete learning (Beghetto, 2005). However, when commenting on Sarah’s blog, I came across some interesting research by Eisenberger and Shanock (2003) who found that rewards, for example grades, for novel work enhanced creativity in students. This combined with the notion that increased critical thinking and creativity results in increased grades (Swartz & Parks, 1994) suggests that the use of grades can be beneficial during a novel task. Let’s use blogging as an example: blogging is a novel way of assessment for students who are ordinarily assessed through assignments and exams. I often find that the more creative I am with a blog, the better grade I am given. Thus, in awarding grades for blogs, we are being given positive reinforcement for creativity, which enhances our learning and understanding of the information being considered.

The use of grades for reinforcement and/or punishment can be successful in a higher education setting. Thayer (1973) found that in a comparison of results in college students for a first exam and a second exam, students who achieved ‘D’s and ‘F’s in the first exam did significantly better in the later exam. Additionally, students who received ‘A’ grades in the first exam, achieved similar, and often better, results in the subsequent exams. This suggests that the positive reinforcement or punishment of grades for high achievers and low achievers can have a positive effect on later academic achievement.

However, despite this research, the reinforcement offered by grades is a somewhat controversial area, with many arguments against the use of grades in educational settings (see Emma and Emily’s blogs: for some compelling arguments about grades that have been addressed throughout the weeks).

One of the main arguments against the use of grades is that some research has suggested that students who are given poor grades are likely to develop a negative self-fulfilling prophecy as a result, even if the student ordinarily obtains good grades (Kolb & Jussim, 1994). This can mean that the student is more likely to drop out of education early (Bean, 1985), thus demonstrating the potentially negative impact that grades can have on a student. Additionally, Butler (1988) found that the implementation of grades was beneficial for high achievers, but detrimental for low achievers.

Critics of the use of grades have also addressed the problems with the reliance of extrinsic motivation to promote good academic behaviour. Grades could be viewed as extrinsically motivating due to the fact that they are material rewards offered by others to reinforce future good studying behaviour (Adelman & Taylor, 1990). Previous research has argued that intrinsic motivation is the preferred motivator for academic achievement, due to the notion that the individual finds the activity inherently enjoyable or of a great interest to them (Ryan & Stiller, 1991). Alternatively, extrinsic motivation is often viewed as producing reduced engagement in learning activities in comparison to intrinsic motivation (Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). However, this is not to say that extrinsic motivation does not have its place in academic settings, with Ryan and Deci (2000) arguing that too often than not, the value of extrinsic motivators, such as grades, are ignored due to the focus on the need for intrinsic motivation. This seems to suggest that intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are both important in terms of learning, thus suggesting that the achievement of good grades can be effective in motivating students to learn.

In effect, this demonstrates the stance that I have been taking throughout these blogs: when grades act as reinforcement they are beneficial, but when grades act as punishment, they are damaging. This suggests that even in higher education, the same focus of concentrating on the positive rather than the negative should be applied as I stated should be used in schools.

Another aspect of reinforcement sometimes used in higher education is verbal feedback, which arguably we do not receive enough of at university. Previous research by Eden (1975) found that individuals who received positive verbal feedback (for example praise) performed better than those who were offered no feedback or material rewards (for example grades). Furthermore, the combination of verbal feedback and material rewards resulted in the optimum performance for individuals. Currently, the only real verbal feedback that we receive is from our personal tutors twice a year or our project supervisors. However, in first year, second year, and the first semester of third year, we received positive verbal feedback during POPPS classes. This is perhaps something that should be applied in higher education, although some students may view this as patronising so one should be careful when using this method. Additionally, implementing this regularly in higher education may be a challenge as it is extremely difficult to offer verbal feedback to a class of 300 on a regular basis.

Finally, related to verbal feedback, written feedback on assignments can also provide positive reinforcement for future studying behaviour. I often find that the constructive feedback on assignments reinforces me to produce work of similar or better standard in the future. In comparison, assignments in which there is very little positive or negative feedback leaves me with no motivation to better myself in future assignments. Hyland and Hyland (2001) supported this notion, finding that feedback was viewed as more constructive and provided more reinforcement if it focussed on both positive feedback and criticisms. This suggests that feedback is extremely useful in higher education, but that it should be provided with care and consistency and avoid only focusing on the positives or the negatives.

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that universities seem to implement reinforcement more than punishment when it comes to academic achievement. This is a focus that I have been arguing should be used in schools throughout these blogs. As much as we can complain about the way in which we are currently being taught in universities, I would argue that at least they concentrate on the positives as opposed to negatives. With regards to the use of grades in higher education, although they do seem to negatively impact on some individuals, they play an important part in our current education system, removal would need to be considered carefully and take place in an entirely new system. Clearly, universities employ reinforcement well and tend to avoid punishment, this is something that needs to be replicated in schools, thus hopefully producing successful individuals who are able to display good behaviour within communities.


Adelman, H. S., & Taylor, L. (1990). Intrinsic motivation and school misbehaviour: Some intervention implications. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(9), 541-550.doi: 10.1177/002221949002300903

Bean, J. P. (1985). Interaction effects based on class level in an exploratory model of college student dropout syndrome. American Education Research Journal, 22(1), 35-64. doi: 10.3102/00028312022001035

Beghetto, R. A. (2005). Does assessment kill student creativity? The Educational Forum, 69(3), 254-263.

Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8279.1988.tb00874.x

Eden, D. (1975). Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and motives: Replication and extension with Kibbutz workers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 5(4), 348-361. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1975.tb00687.x

Eisenberger, R., & Shanock, L. (2003). Rewards, intrinsic motivation, and creativity: A case study of conceptual and methodological isolation. Creativity Research Journal, 15(2), 121-130. doi: 10.1080/10400419.2003.9651404

Hyland, F., & Hyland, K. (2001). Sugaring the pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of Second Language Writing, 10(3), 185-212. doi: 10.1016/S1060-3743(01)00038-8

Kolb, K. J., & Jussim, L. (1994). Teacher expectations and underachieving gifted children. Roeper Review, 17(1), 26-30. doi: 10.1080/02783199409553613

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67. doi: 10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Ryan, R. M., & Stiller, J. (1991). The social contexts of internalization: Parent and teacher influences on autonomy, motivation and learning. In P. R. Pintrich & M. L. Maehr (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement (Vol. 7, pp. 115-149). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Swartz, R. J., & Parks, S. (1994). Infusing the teaching of critical and creative thinking into content instruction: A lesson design handbook for the elementary grades. Pacific Grove, CA: Critical Thinking Press and Software.

Thayer, R. E. (1973). Do low grades cause college students to give up? The Journal of Experimental Education, 41(3), 71-73.

Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: Another look at the quality of academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19-31. doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep4 101_4


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Blog 6: Classroom management: the use of detentions in schools

Over the last few weeks, I have been blogging about the effects that reinforcement and punishment can have on a child’s behaviour, wellbeing, and learning in school. In week 4, I focussed on the use of time-out in schools due to the sheer amount of debate and controversy on the subject, but with the constraint of word limits, I was unable to consider another crucial form of punishment in the classroom. Detention is a used in a substantial number schools and it is therefore imperative to consider this method of classroom management when discussing punishment. I will argue for the cautious use of detention and encourage a school environment built with positivity, as opposed to the constant focus on the negative.

I concluded my fourth blog by stating that time-out does have its uses, but the reliance on sending pupils out of the classroom can actually be positively reinforcing for the pupil. The same can be said for many other methods that teachers currently use, including detention.

During my first couple of years of secondary school, I received my fair share of detentions and it was always fun to see how far you could push the teacher before they gave you one. This was quite possibly due to the seemingly constant threats of detention, where it was used as blackmail to try and get us to behave. When we did end up in detention, it was pretty fun. The teachers on duty always knew that the ‘naughty kids’ in detention would never behave so we would all run riot in the classroom – it was certainly better than being bored in the rain outside at break!

Detention can be classed as punishment due to the fact that the aim is to stop bad behaviour from reoccurring. Within the definition of punishment, it could be referred to as positive, for example if a pupil was instructed to complete an additional assignment during detention, something unpleasant is added to the environment. However, it could also be classed as negative punishment as the pupil is being prevented from enjoying break times with their friends. Ultimately, detention serves as a method of ensuring that bad behaviour is not replicated, but does it really work?

Sometimes teachers may be tempted to use the threat of detention without actually following through on these threats (Latham, 1997). The use of threats in classrooms can be extremely damaging, with researchers finding that teachers who exhibited this behaviour produced pupils who would worry excessively about their grades, avoid school, suffer from nightmares, and demonstrate withdrawal behaviour (Krugman & Krugman, 1984). Clearly, this is the opposite of what teachers would want to achieve on a purely academic basis due to the negative relationships between anxiety (Seipp, 1991), school avoidance (Douglas, 2004), and wellbeing (Feshbach & Feshbach, 1987) on academic achievement.

Another problem with the use of the detention is that it is rarely successful in the extinction of undesirable behaviours and, in some cases, can actually increase them. Research by Atkins et al. (2002) looked at disciplinary records for 314 students in a low-income school and rates of disciplinary referrals were compared through splitting student records into three groups:

  1. Students who never received a detention (‘never group’);
  2. Students who received at least one detention in the fall, but not in the spring (‘fall group’);
  3. Students who received at least one detention in both the fall and the spring (‘fall and spring group’.

The researchers found that those who were in the ‘fall and spring group’ showed no decreases in subsequent undesirable behaviours and that disciplinary referrals for this group actually increased the following year. These findings suggest that rather than providing students with punishment, students are actually rewarded when given detentions.

Instead of punishing the behaviour, students may be receiving positive reinforcement for their bad behaviour. This could be happening because they are being given attention from teachers, which they possibly would not have obtained without misbehaving and attention from peers in the form of admiration for bad behaviour. Additionally, unacceptable behaviour can sometimes be a coping mechanism used by students who are facing challenges, for example bullying in the playground and/or low self-esteem (Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005). As a result, detention may serve as a negative reinforcer for bad behaviour, as the student is able to avoid the stressors associated with the playground, such as unpopularity or bullying.

Clearly detention is not an effective way of ensuring good behaviour in the classroom, with research demonstrating that despite teachers engaging in the active use of detentions, they admit that it is does little to encourage good behaviour (Caffyn, 1989).

In Latham’s (1997) eight skills every teacher should have, he notes that positive behaviour is often ignored whilst negative behaviour draws more attention from the teacher. As stated in my first blog on classroom management, this notion is the reason why students are currently being failed by the education system. Indeed, in Latham’s observations in schools, he found that 90% of acceptable behaviour went unnoticed by teachers and that they were between two and five times more likely to attend to unacceptable behaviour than acceptable behaviour.

So what can be done?

Clearly, far more focus needs to be on attending to acceptable behaviour in the form of praise and/or rewards than the unacceptable behaviour. Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, and Feinberg (2005) found that when acceptable behaviour was focussed on through improving instructional methods, formulating behavioural expectations, increasing classroom engagement, and reinforcement, office referrals and suspensions decreased significantly.

Over these past few weeks, I have come to realise, both from my own experiences and the current research in the area, that punishment is used in schools in a way that actually reinforces the behaviour. It is not until educators fully accept the research demonstrating that their current attitudes are wrong that we will see the use of more successful methods in classroom management. It is shocking that teachers receive relatively little training in this area and it is something that needs to be considered. Reluctance to do so could result in many capable students being left without an education.

Next week I will focus on the principles of reinforcement and punishment in higher education.


Atkins, M. S., McKay, M. M., Frazier, S. L., Jakobsons, L. J., Arvanitis, P., Cunningham, T., … Lambrecht, L. (2002). Suspensions and detentions in an urban, low-income school: Punishment or reward? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30(4), 361-371.

Caffyn, R. E. (1989). Attitudes of British secondary school teachers and pupils to rewards and punishments. Educational Research, 31(3), 210-220. doi: 10.1080/0013188890310307

Donnellan, M. B., Trzesniewski, K. H., Robins, R. W., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2005). Low self-esteem is related to aggression, antisocial behaviour, and delinquency. Psychological Science, 16(4), 328-335. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.01535.x

Douglas, R. E. (2004). Research on school attendance and student achievement: A study of Ohio schools. Educational Research Quarterly, 28(1), 3-16.

Feshbach, N. D., & Feshbach, S. (1987). Affective processes and academic achievement. Child Development, 58(5), 1335-1347.

Krugman, R. D., & Krugman, M. K. (1984). Emotional abuse in the classroom. JAMA Paediatrics, 138(3), 284-286. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1984.02140410062019

Latham, G. (1997). Behind the schoolhouse door: Eight skills every teacher should have. Utah: Utah State University.

Luiselli, J. K., Putnam, R. F., Hander, M. W., & Feinberg, A. B. (2005). Problem behaviour. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 25(2), 183-198. doi: 10.1080/0144341042000301265

Seipp, B. (1991). Anxiety and academic performance: A meta-analysis of findings. Anxiety Research, 4(1), 27-41. doi: 10.1080/08917779108248762

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Blog 5: Classroom management: Bullying in schools

This week’s blog is going to follow on from my previous blogs about the reinforcement and punishment that pupils are given in schools for both good and bad behaviour.

I have previously discussed the use of positive reinforcement for good behaviour and negative punishment for bad behaviour. The presentation that I gave regarding negative punishment, in this case time-out, can be seen below:

As noted, reinforcement and punishment are currently being used badly in schools due to the limited classroom management training that teachers receive (Maag, 1999). It is often the case that in trying to punish pupils, teachers are often reinforcing the bad behaviour, and good behaviour is often punished through the teachers ignoring this behaviour and focusing solely on the bad behaviour (Maag, 2001). However, when looking at reinforcement and punishment in schools, one also needs to consider the ways in which pupils punish and reinforce the behaviour of their peers?

In this blog, I will examine the way in which well-behaved students are positively punished, in the form of bullying, by their peers, the effects that this can have on their behaviour and learning, and argue that educators can challenge this bullying behaviour.

I have previously written about my own experiences at school and how teacher and student behaviour impacted badly on my own behaviour in class. As mentioned in my first blog, I was put in a class with a significant number of badly behaved pupils, with the group even winning an award for the worst class in the school (another example of reinforcement and punishment being used badly). To try and solve this problem, our tutor decided to get a ‘naughty book’ that a well-behaved pupil would be trusted to take to class. The teachers would then write the names of who had been disruptive and what they did wrong, and it would be the well-behaved student’s responsibility to hand the book to the tutor at the morning register the next day.

As proud as our tutor was with this “innovative” method of classroom management, there were two crucial flaws:

  1. badly behaved students would love having their names written in the book and it became almost a competition of who could get their name mentioned the most in a day. As a result, it became positive reinforcement for their bad behaviour rather than the positive punishment it was initially meant to provide.
  1. the well-behaved pupil chosen was me. At first I was proud to have been given the responsibility however, the other pupils started to notice that I was a “teachers pet” and “suck up” and made fun of me as a result.

The punishment that I received from my peers, combined with other factors I have spoken about previously, resulted in my decision to behave badly to prevent this punishment from occurring.

Bullying is a form of positive punishment due to the fact that it adds something unpleasant to the victim’s environment and makes the behaviour previously exhibited less likely to occur in the future. For example, if a pupil came to school with a trombone case and was bullied for playing a musical instrument, they may decide never to play an instrument again, thus punishing that behaviour. The same can apply to a pupil exhibiting good behaviour: if they are bullied for doing so, they are again unlikely to demonstrate good behaviour in front of their peers again.

This notion has been supported by research by Thomson and Gunter (2008) who focussed on a school in the north of England, finding that there was an everyday practice of isolation, physical hassling, and name-calling for students who were viewed as being well-behaved and intelligent. In turn, this can cause pupils to develop problem behaviour to prevent being bullied (Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, & Karstadt, 2003).

This has significant implications due to the positive relationship between bad behaviour in the classroom and poor academic achievement (Wentzel, 1993). This can mean that previously well-behaved students who begin to behave badly due to bullying may achieve far poorer grades than they would have done without the influence of bullying.

When discussing the issue of bullying, one should also consider the impact that this can have on a child’s wellbeing. Previous research has found that not only does bullying affect academic performance (Wentzel, 1993), but it can also lead to depression (Kaltiala-Heino, Fröjd, & Marttunen, 2010), low self-esteem (Seals & Young, 2003), negative future relationships (Bernstein & Watson, 1997), and poor attendance at school (Glew, Fan, Katon, & Rivara, 2008) in both those being bullied and the bullies.

These findings demonstrate that bullying can have a detrimental effect on all parties involved. Our education system needs to acknowledge and address these issues in order to promote pupils with higher levels of academic success, better social relationships, and increased wellbeing.

There are numerous bullying prevention programs that have been implemented in schools, many of which employing classroom management strategies to combat bullying behaviour. I will focus on one of these methods (due to my lack of adherence to word counts of late – sorry Jesse) so please feel free to comment with any other methods or research-based ideas that would be of interest.

The program that I will focus on is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Olweus, 2003). This program is evidence-based and targets students in elementary, middle, and junior high school. It is the teachers responsibility to implement the program on three levels:

1. School-wide:

  • all pupils and staff are given an anonymous questionnaire to determine the prevalence and nature of the bullying.
  • a school conference day is arranged to discuss the findings and interventions.
  • a Bullying Prevention Committee is formed to coordinate the program.
  • areas identified as “hot spots” for bullying are supervised.

2. Classroom:

  • holding frequent class meetings with pupils.
  • the formation and application of class rules and regulations against bullying.

3. Individual:

  • discussions with parents of students identified as being bullied or showing bullying behaviour.
  • interventions with students identified as being bullied or showing bullying behaviour.
  • teachers can be helped in these endeavours by trained counsellors.

The methods employed in this behaviour program focus on fostering a warm and friendly school environment, with strict guidelines regarding bullying behaviour. The implementation of the program has been shown to be extremely effective by Black and Jackson (2007), who found that the program reduced incidences of bullying in urban youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds by up to 65%.

Another point I would like to quickly note is the fact that the majority of research in this area refers to the person being bullied as the ‘victim’. Having attended training for a bullying charity and for voluntary work, it was advised that no person should ever be referred to as a ‘victim’ as it promotes a damaging self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems strange that, in spite of this, researchers are referring to individuals in this way. What are your thoughts on this?

Overall, bullying can impact dramatically on an individual’s life, both in the case of the bully and the person being bullied. It would be foolish to say that bullying can ever be stopped completely, but clearly steps need to be taken by schools to reduce the damaging effects that bullying can have. This can be done by implementing programs such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. This will not only improve pupils academic progress, but also their social functioning and wellbeing.


Bernstein, J. Y., & Watson. M. W. (1997). Children who are targets of bullying: A victim pattern. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(4), 483-498.

doi: 10.1177/088626097012004001

Black, S. A., & Jackson, E. (2007). Using bullying incident density to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. School Psychology International, 28(5), 623-638. doi: 10.1177/0143034307085662

Glew, G. M., Fan, M. Y., Katon, W., & Rivara, F. P. (2008). Bullying and school safety. The Journal of Pediatrics, 152(1), 123-128. doi: 10.1016/j.peds.2007.05.045

Kaltiala-Heino, R., Fröjd, S., & Marttunen, M. (2010). Involvement in bullying and depression in a 2-year follow-up in middle adolescence. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(1), 45-55.

Magg, J. W. (1999). Behaviour management: From theoretical implications to practical applications. Sab Diego, CA: Singular.

Magg, J. W. (2001). Rewarded by punishment: Reflections on the disuse of positive reinforcement in schools. Exceptional Children, 67(2), 173-186.

Olweus, D. (2003). A profile of bullying at school. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 12-17.

Seals, D., & Young, J. (2003). Bullying and victimisation: Prevalence and relationship to gender, grade level, ethnicity, self-esteem, and depression. Adolescence, 38(152), 735-747.

Thomson, P., & Gunter, H. (2008). Researching bullying in students: A lens on everyday life in an ‘innovative school’. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 12(2), 185-200. doi: 10.1080/13603110600855713

Wentzel, K. R. (1993). Does being good make the grade? Social behavior and academic competence in middle school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 357-364. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.85.2.357

Wolke, D., Woods, S., Bloomfield, L., & Karstadt, L. (2003). The association between direct and relational bullying and behavior problems among primary school children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(8), 989-1002.

doi: 10.1111/1469-7610.00687

Another point I would like to quickly note is not particularly related to education so I thought I would pop it here. When looking through the research in this area, I was astonished by the fact that the majority of research refers to the person being bullied as the ‘victim’. Having attended training for a bullying charity and for voluntary work, it was advised that no person should ever be referred to as a ‘victim’ as it promotes a damaging self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems strange that, in spite of this, researchers are referring to individuals in this way. What are your thoughts on this?

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Classroom management: the use of time-out in schools

In this week’s blog I am going to expand on the topic of classroom management that I introduced in my first blog.

I have previously discussed classroom management and the fact that the education system is currently using positive and negative reinforcement and punishment in the classroom in an arguably damaging way. Additionally, I noted the importance of using positive reinforcement, such as token economy, in the classroom to reinforce good behavior. I also gave a presentation highlighting the need for positive reinforcement in class; this video can be seen below:

As I noted in my first blog and presentation, positive reinforcement is being used badly in schools. Poorly behaved students are given attention, which acts as a reward for bad behavior so the behavior is reinforced. Instead, rewards should be given for good behavior so that good behavior is reinforced. But what should a teacher do when bad behavior is exhibited? It is this fundamental question that will be considered in this week’s blog and I will argue for the effective use of time-out combined with consistent administration of positive reinforcement.

Arguably the most common method of coping with troublesome students in the classroom is the use of time-out, for example sending the students outside the classroom to calm down. The popularity of this method has been demonstrated in a survey, whereby 86% of teachers surveyed stated that they use time-out (Zabel, 1986). Time-out is a complex method of behavior management mainly due to the different definitions by different professionals. Some researchers, particularly those who are practitioners in the field, view time-out as negative reinforcement, as the removal of attention results in the good behavior being reinforced. However, some view time-out as negative punishment, whereby the removal of attention results in the bad behavior being less likely to occur (Sterling-Turner & Watson, 1999).

Time-out has been found to be effective in a vast array of settings, including homes (Hawkins, Peterson, Schweid, & Bijou, 1966), psychiatric hospitals (Bowers et al., 2010), and nurseries (Firestone, 1976). Additionally time-out is also successful for behavior management of children and adults with aggressive behavior problems (Dodge, 1993; Wahler & Fox, 1980), noncompliant behavior (Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994) and self-injurious behavior (Vollmer, Iwata, Zarcone, Smith, & Mazaleski, 1993).

In school settings, the effectiveness of time-out has been demonstrated through research finding that when time-out was used for three emotionally disturbed children in the classroom, undesirable behaviors were reduced (Sachs, 1973). Additionally, Miller and Kratochwill (1979) employed the method of time-out on a 10-year-old girl who was disruptive in the classroom by repeatedly reporting false stomach complaints. Through the time-out methods of removing the girl from adult attention and classroom activities, complaints rapidly decreased. A one-year follow-up study demonstrated no further complaints.

Harris (1985) claims that there are three main types of time-out:

  1. Exclusion – the child is removed for a certain amount of time from the area of reinforcement. For example, if the child is behaving badly in the playground, he or she should be removed immediately from the activity. During exclusion, the child should not be able to witness the activities that the rest of the class are engaging in, for example they will be stood in a corner facing the other way.
  1. Nonexclusion – the child is removed for a certain amount of time from the area of reinforcement. Again, if the child is behaving badly in the playground, then he or she should be removed immediately from the activity. However, during nonexclusion, the child will still observe the activities that the rest of the class are engaging in.
  1. Isolation – the child is removed from the reinforcing environment to an environment where there are no reinforcers. Normally the child will be placed in a room that is completely separate from the rest of the class. However, isolation is often difficult to implement in classroom settings due to the fact that additional supervision is required.

Harris (1985) noted that exclusion and nonexclusion tend to be more effective in classroom settings and that isolation should only be implemented as a last resort. Additionally, Kazin (1980) found that exclusion and nonexclusion are more acceptable forms of time-out than isolation.

Clearly, time-out is an effective tool for managing classroom behavior however, there are some noteworthy issues that should be considered. In the case of the study by Miller and Kratochwill (1979), can we really be entirely sure that the stomach complaints were not real? Although medical examinations concluded that there was nothing wrong with her, hospitals can miss things, or it could have been psychological pain. In this case, in using time-out on the child, she could have just been demonstrating learned helplessness (Seligman, 1972). This is an important ethical consideration that teachers need to take into account when implementing the time-out procedure in the classroom.

Additionally, Zabel (1986) states that there is a lack of information given to teachers on how to implement time-out effectively and that they see it as a restrictive form of behavior management (Barton, Brulle, & Repp, 1987). It has also been argued that it requires supervision of individuals in time-out, which schools may not have the time or resources to implement (Cuenin & Harris, 1986).

Moreover, time-out needs to be implemented carefully due to the fact that it could become negative reinforcement for bad behavior. For example, if a student was demonstrating challenging behavior because they do not want to complete their work, sending them into time-out results in the avoidance of work, thus reinforcing bad behavior. Instead, the child should be taken to a different room to complete the work.

Additionally, often time-out serves as a positive reinforcement for behavior due to the fact that many schools make the error of sending the students into the corridor for time-out. This gives the student the chance to communicate with passersby in the hallway, thus resulting in positive punishment. Instead, the child should be taken into a different room away from potential reinforcers.

In spite of these criticisms, time-out can be extremely effective in classrooms as a way of promoting good behavior (Sterling-Turner & Watson, 1999). An additional point to note is the research investigating the use of time-out and token economy (a form of positive reinforcement that I spoke about in my last blog) together for classroom behavior management. Boone Von Brook and Elliot (1987) found that the implementation of token economy for good behavior and time-out for bad behavior resulted in significantly improved classroom behavior in comparison to just one method.

Overall, I feel that time-out does have a place in classrooms however, it should be combined with positive reinforcement methods such as token economy. Time-out is not currently implemented effectively in schools, for example the negative reinforcement that students get from avoiding work and the positive reinforcement that students get from attention from others passing in the hall. As a result, educators need further training in how to implement time-out effectively in the classroom. If educators use time-out appropriately, classroom behavior will be improved, thus resulting in increased academic achievement, learning, and wellbeing of all of the students in the class.


Barton, L. E., Brulle, A. R., & Repp, A. C (1987). Effects of differential scheduling of timeout to reduce maladaptive responding. Exceptional Children, 53(4), 351-356.

Boone Von Brock, M., & Ellior, S. N. (1987). Influence of treatment effectiveness information on the acceptability of classroom interventions. Journal of School Psychology, 25(2), 131-144. doi: 10.1016/0022-4405(87)90022-7

Bowers, L., Van Der Merwe, M., Nijman, H., Hamilton, B., Noorthorn, E., Stewart, D., & Muir-Cochrane, E. (2010). The practice of seclusion and time-out on English acute psychiatric wards: The city-128 study. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 24(4), 275-286. doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2009.09.003

Cuenin, L. H., & Harris, K. R. (1986). Planning, implementing, and evaluating timeout interventions with exceptional students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 18, 272-276

Dodge, K. A. (1993). The future of research on the treatment of conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 311-319

Firestone, P. (1976). The effects and side effects of timeout on an aggressive nursery school child. Journal of Behavior Therapy, 7(1), 79-81. doi: 10.1016/0005-7916(76)90050-1

Harris, K. R. (1985). Definitional, parametric, and procedural considerations in timeout interventions and research. Exceptional Children, 51(4), 279-288.

Hawkins, R. P., Peterson, R. F., Schweid, E., & Bijou, S. W. (1966). Behavior therapy in the home: Amelioration of problem parent-child relations with the parent in a therapeutic role. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 4(1), 99-107.

doi: 10.1016/0022-0965(66)90054-3

Kazdin, A. E. (1980). Acceptability of time out from reinforcement procedures for disruptive child behavior. Behavior Therapy, 11(3), 329-344. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(80)80050-5

Miller, A. J., & Kratochwill, T. R. (1979). Reduction of frequent stomachache complaints by time out. Behavior Therapy, 10(2), 211-218. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(79)80038-6

Rortvedt, A. K., & Miltenberger, R. G. (1994). Analysis of a high-probability instructional sequence and time-out in the treatment of child noncompliance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(2), 327-330. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1994.27-327

Sachs, D. A. (1973). The efficacy of time-out procedures in a variety of behavior problems. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 4(3), 237-242. doi: 10.1016/0005-7916(73)90080-3

Seligman, M. E. P. (1972). Learned Helplessness. Annual Review of Medicine, 23, 407-412. doi: 10.1146/

Sterling-Turner, H., & Watson, T. S. (1999). Consultant’s guide for the use of time-out in the preschool and elementary classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 36(2),   135-148.

Vollmer, T. R., Iwata, B. A., Zarcone, J. R., Smith, R. G., & Mazaleski, J. L. (1993). The role of attention in the treatment of attention-maintained self-injurious behavior: Noncontingent reinforcement and differential reinforcement of other behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 9-21. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1993.26-9

Wahler, R. G., & Fox, J. J. (1980). Solitary toy play and time: A family treatment package for children with aggressive and oppositional behavior, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13(1), 23-39. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1980.13-23

Zabel, M. K. (1986). Time out use with behaviorally disordered students. Behavioral Disorders, 12(1), 15-21.

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Are happy students successful students?

I am sure we have all been there! You have a rubbish day so you have no motivation to work and mope around the house in your pyjamas watching endless episodes of Jeremy Kyle to remind yourself that life is not that bad. Another day the sun will be shining, you have an interesting lecture, and get a great assignment grade so skip down to the library and write an incredible piece of work that you would have never done otherwise. This raises the question of whether happiness increases motivation to learn and, therefore, academic achievement?

Research in this area is vast and has been a prevalent over a significant number of years. Greene and Noice (1988) induced a positive mood in participants through the presentation of gifts and compliments, in comparison to a neutral group, who were not presented with gifts and compliments. The participants then carried out Duncker’s (1945) candle task to assess creative thinking and problem solving. They found that participants in the positive mood condition were better at solving the candle problem than those in the neutral condition, and concluded that positive affect facilitates problem solving and enhances creativity.

Additionally, Fredrickson and Banigan (2005) investigated that broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 2004) hypothesis that positive emotion increases the attention given to a task and thoughts and actions. Participants viewed a film that either provoked amusement, contentment, neutrality, anger, or anxiety. Attention was measured using a visual processing task, and thought and action were measured using a Twenty Statements Test. They found that negative emotions reduced thought-action repertoires and that positive emotions increased attention.

These previous findings demonstrate the importance of positive mood in creativity, problem solving, attention, and thoughts and actions, which can all be applicable to learning in schools and higher education. However, one of the most compelling reports comes from looking at emotions directly in education. Pekrun, Goetz, Wolfram, and Perry (2002) found that emotions significantly influence students learning strategies, cognitive resources, self-regulation, motivation, and academic achievement.

These findings seem to suggest that happiness can influence academic success, yet the current education system does not excite students and does not promote happiness. Selligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, and Linkins (2009) recognised this problem and sought to teach skills that would increase positive emotion, resilience, and engagement. After spending 15 years of investigating effective ways of increasing wellbeing in students, they found positive emotion enhances classroom learning and can be taught in schools.

However, it is important to note that the resources required for this would be extensive and teachers would need to be trained in delivering the skills to students to encourage positive attitudes in the classrooms. Additionally, with the current emphasis on following a strict curriculum with limited timescales, it may prove to be difficult to implement when teachers are already under pressure to achieve results.

In spite of the few drawbacks noted, I feel that we need to implement these methods in both schools and higher education to increase the wellbeing of students. A potential idea could be weekly classes in teaching students skills to increase their happiness and wellbeing. I was surprised that this could be taught, but the research suggests that we can, and we should therefore embrace this new method of helping students achieve the motivation, engagement, and happiness for the promotion of future success.


Duncker, K. (1945). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs, 58, 5 (Whole No. 270)

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512

Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19(3), 313-332. doi:10.1080/02699930441000238

Greene, T. R., & Noice, H. (1988). Influence of positive affect upon creative thinking and problem solving in children. Psychological Reports, 63, 895-898. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1988.63.3.895

Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Wolfram, T., & Perry, R. P. (2002). Academic emotions in students’ self-regulated learning and achievement: A program of qualitative and quantitative research. Educational Psychologist, 37(2), 91-105. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3702_4

Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Well-being in schools. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311. doi:10.1080/03054980902934563

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