Behavior Modifications and Students

Behavior modification is focused on bringing about permanent change in a student’s behavior that is observable. The difference in behavior must be what the teacher desires. This involves reinforcement, which is consistent with operant conditioning. For many, this is almost a form of manipulation. Yet, behavior modification is highly effective if it is used appropriately.

The steps explained below are available in most classroom management textbooks and, as such, are not original. The point here is to provide a brief explanation of how these ideas work to save someone the time of reading an entire chapter on this in a textbook. For a typical behavior modification program, you will have the following steps.

  1. Establish the criteria
  2. Complete a performance check
  3. Develop specific behavioral goals
  4. Evaluate results
  5. Praise student base on actual performance

Establishing the Criteria

A teacher needs to first determine what they mean by acceptable behavior from their students. This must also be communicated so that the students can understand, which necessitates the need for simplicity. The criteria are generally vague, and it is refined at step three when you make specific behavioral goals. Examples of behavioral criteria can include such things as being respectful, submitting work on time, etc. Again, how to do this is specified later.

Performance Check

Once a criterion has been established, the next step is to see how well the students are currently doing this. You want to identify where there is serious trouble and focus on developing specific behavioral goals for these problem areas. For example, if students are habitual yelling at each other, this will probably be seen as being disrespectful. AS such, the teacher may want to focus on this particular problem when moving to step 3.

Specific Behavioral Goals

Specific behavioral goals are precisely what individual students need to do to achieve the ideas in the behavioral criteria. Technically, these goals need to be set up for each student individual because no two students have the same performance issues. However, this may not be possible in a large class. Therefore, general rather than specific behavioral goals may have to work. An exception can be made for incredibly challenging students who are disrupting the learning experience.

Goals at this level need to be realistic and measurable. For example, to reduce yelling in the classroom, the teacher might make the following goal.

Upon entering the classroom, the student will never yell at anyone.

The example above contains a condition for entering the classroom. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the student yells outside in this example. Next, the goal states specifically that the student will not yell at anyone. This is the behavior that the teacher is trying to modify. Lastly, the negation never is used as a proficiency. In other words, yelling is not allowed to happen at any time. Expressing this implies perfection in terms of the consistency of the behavior.


Once the goals are set, the student(s) are evaluated over time to see how well they perform. When mistakes are made, students are reminded of the expectations. If it is necessary, disciplinary actions may be used. Although this is generally saved for step 5

Praise and Feedback

Praise and feedback are given once the evaluation is complete. However, when working with children, the last two steps often happen simultaneously in an iterative manner. Children shouldn’t wait too long to be provided with feedback and or discipline as bad habits set in rather quickly.

The goal during this entire process is to shape behavior incrementally over time. The success that you are looking for will not happen immediately. In other words, returning to our example, a student will not stop yelling immediately when the goals are set. Instead, what you want to see is a steady decline in behavior over time. The goal is steady progress rather than instant perfection. This requires patience on the part of the teacher as the student goes through this process.


Behavior modification is one of many tools that a teacher can use to help students. The purpose is to encourage certain behaviors and discourage others. As such, the process mentioned here can improve both teachers’ and students’ classroom experiences. Managing student behavior is a part of the classroom. Students are always trying to test and push the limits of what is acceptable behavior. In response to this, many teachers choose to have some system of reinforcing acceptable behavior. This post talks about several different methods of reinforcement.

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