B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist born in Pennsylvania in 1904. He believed that observing behavior was the best way to figure out the inner workings of a person. His theories have been accepted and applied to the areas pertaining to behavior management (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 102). Skinner is linked with operant condition, originally called behavior modification, which “is a form of learning where an observable response changes in frequency or duration as a result of a consequence; the response increases in frequency as a result of its being followed by reinforcement” (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 102). More simply put operant conditioning can be seen as a systematic way in which one attempts to modify or change behavior through the use of positive and negative reinforcements. The subject of operant conditioning then begins to associate a certain choice or action with its consequence. Skinner believed that individuals would avoid try and avoid negative consequences, but strive for a more positive one. The entire premise of operant conditioning is based on the assumption that the individual will change their behaviors to receive a positive response or reward.
B.F. Skinner interview showing the Operant Conditioning of pigeons.

This thought process laid the foundations for the Applied Behavior Analysis which is: “an approach to management that focuses on the positive, rewarding appropriate behaviors, as opposed to concentrating on the negative, punishing unwanted or inappropriate behaviors” (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 103). Applied Behavior Analysis is used frequently with children who have autism.

This video from 1997 shows Dr. Vincent J. Carbone, Ed.D., BCBA-D working with a child with autism. The child moves from very uncooperative and non-verbal to cooperative and verbal in about 7 weeks. The video also depicts Dr. Carbone transferring the teaching to the child's mother where she produces the same benefits for the child.

In a classroom it can become evident that a teacher is using Applied Behavior Analysis when they exhibit certain characteristics. The teacher will be rewarding those students exhibiting desired behaviors with positive reinforcements, but teachers are not to punish those students who are displaying undesirable behaviors (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 104). This type of approach can be positive for the learning environment in that it sheds light on the students that are behaving, rather than those who are not. The teacher is effectively shaping the student to continually exhibit desired behaviors. “Shaping refers to the practice of gradually changing a student’s unwanted actions to more acceptable behavior over time through the use of reinforcements” (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 104). There are four categories of consequences which are: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, Punishment I, and Punishment II (Wiseman, Hunt, 2008, p. 106.) The areas of positive and negative reinforcement speak for themselves, but Punishment I and Punishment II require further discussion. Punishment I is the more commonly used of the two; it is the application of some undesired stimulus like a trip to the principles office or a note home. Punishment II is different in that it is a withholding of a positive stimuli like having to sit out during a classroom movie or the removal of computer privileges. These tools can be rather useful when handling class management in a class. We see this in our school systems where kids are rewarded with positive reinforcements like extra time on the iPad or their name on the board. Oppositely we see negative reinforcements like time removed from a child’s recess.

By: Drew Sellitti page created 02/07/2015

Wiseman, D., & Hunt, G. (2008). Best Practice in Motivation and Management in the Classroom an Integrative Approach. (Second ed., pp. 101-104). Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher.