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Behavior Modification Methods And

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Education in the United States is a continuous source of controversy. How should the generations be taught? This is an extremely important and in depth issue that has many levels. Each level has its own disagreements. One particular level of education that has been researched is whether or not behavioral methods are effective enough to be used in the classroom to improve academic performance. As can be seen in the data included here, there are many forms of positive reinforcement contingencies that can be presented in the classroom. These may include social rewards, like acceptance and encouragement from peers, tangible rewards, like the token economy, or internally motivating rewards, like having a sense of self-efficacy and feeling confident and proud of a particular accomplishment. The studies included here investigate cooperative learning strategies and how behavioral methods relate to academic performance that way, the use of rewards for good or improved performance, and then finally how the removal of a punishing aspect of the classroom environment, like a teacher's criticism can possibly improve academic performance.

Cooperative learning is one process that includes behavioral methods. A reward structure is included in cooperative learning technology. Rewards can include grades, teacher approval, or physical rewards. In order for a reward structure to be effective, the rewards must be presented to the student quickly after the desired behavior has occurred. What makes this type of reward structure particular to cooperative learning styles is that rewards are given based on how well a group has learned something as a whole. Each person in the group gets rewarded if and only if each individual person has learned the material sufficiently.

A second facet of cooperative learning includes positive goal interdependence and positive reward interdependence (Mesch, Johnson, & Johnson, 1987). Positive goal interdependence is when students perceive that they can achieve their goals if and only if the other students with whom they are cooperatively linked achieve their goals. Whereas, positive reward interdependence exists when each member of a cooperative learning group receives the same reward for successfully completing a joint task (Mesch, Johnson, & Johnson, 1987). Mesch, Johnson, and Johnson (1987) state that on the positive goal interdependence side of the controversy are Deutsch (1962) and Johnson and Johnson (1986), who state that in this situation students will all work to increase one another's performance to result in increased achievement results. Conversely, in the same study Mesch, Johnson, and Johnson (1987) mention Hays (1976) and Slavin (1983), who state the in a positive reward interdependence setting, students will increase their individual performance only if there is a specific academic group contingency reinforcing them to do so.

Two interesting studies have been conducted in the cooperative learning area with behavioral methods included. Mesch, Johnson and Johnson (1987), have done studies analyzing the impact of positive goal interdependence and the combination of positive goal interdependence and reward interdependence on the academic achievement of regular students and four handicapped students who were being mainstreamed into the regular classroom. These four students were put into a class with the lowest level of reading. They studied vocabulary words for 20 minutes every Thursday for 21 weeks, in preparation of a quiz on Friday. Every Tuesday, the children chose whether they wanted to study together or alone to complete a nonvocabulary instructional task. The specific reward contingency was bonus points toward their test grades. The positive goal interdependence condition consisted of this sequence except that every Thursday, the students studied in heterogeneous groups for 20 minutes. This particular study indicated that positive goal interdependence alone increased achievement, but furthermore, the combination of positive goal and reward interdependence had a greater effect, especially for the four handicapped students.

There was some speculation whether these results would corroborate other research that has been done in the cooperative learning area. Previous research has most commonly been short-term studies, lasting only a few days or weeks, while this study was long term, lasting over six months. As it turns out, its findings did support the results of the short-term studies. Then again, the results are not very generalizeable, since the two 10th grade classes studied were not only advanced but they were social studies classes. The fact that the groups consisted of advanced students may have influenced the results, and if further research were done on more average students, the results would differ. Moreover, social studies is not as concrete a subject as math where you have to learn certain rules. More research with students in other subject areas could also produce interesting and possibly different results.

Lew, Mesch, Johnson and Johnson (1986) also performed a study dealing with isolated students and whether there was an impact of opportunity to interact with classmates, positive goal interdependence, an academic group contingency, and a collaborative-skills group contingency on the achievement of the students. It was concluded that neither the addition of positive goal interdependence nor the addition of an academic group contingency to the opportunity to interact with classmates significantly increased achievement. But again, as with the previous study mentioned, the combination of academic and collaborative-skills group contingencies did (Lew, Mesch, Johnson, & Johnson, 1986). This implies that just the simple reward of two to four bonus points on a quiz grade contingent upon all members of a group succeeding had a significant effect on the academic performance of the students.

Again, this study is hard to generalize, because it did only deal with isolated students, not to mention only four of them, two male and two female. They were identified as social isolates and academically and socially deficient. They were members of a low level sixth grade reading class. The fact that baselines were acquired in both studies is extremely beneficial, because it is easier to see an improvement, and also straightforward whether or not there is a sustained improvement.

Research in the behavioral area of education does not only include cooperative learning strategies. They also include such principles as the Premack Principle and token economies. Briggs, Tosi and Morley (1971) did a study on high-risk female college students. Studying was dependent on escape from the aversive character of the traditional conditions of study. For example, if the girls studied for a specific amount of time, they were able

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