Changing the Negative-Identity Behavior Pattern of a Student
Students misbehave for many reasons (i.e., they are bored, repressed, displacing aggression, forgetful, or testing their power, etc.), and in the average class, most students will exhibit only occasional problematic behavior. Most students see themselves trying to achieve success (i.e., perform successfully, win friends, achieve goals, etc.), using positive behavior (i.e., effort toward some positive goal, trying to do the right things, etc.).
Occasionally a student will enter your class who has developed a pattern of anti-social behavior. In these cases, if the problem is not organic (i.e., ADHD, a mental or emotional handicap), it is usually related to the student having developed a negative identity pattern. The negative identify pattern is the result of the behavior modification cycle depicted below.
Student attempts negative behavior
Others get upset
and give lots of attention
Student attempts positive behavior
Others’ language confirms
“role.” Negative self-image develops
Others are not impressed
Work is unfavorable in
comparison to others
student chooses more
CHANGING THE PATTERN:
The key to transforming a negative-identity cycle into a positive-identity cycle is to first, alter the system, and then second, reconstruct it. Let’s explore how a teacher could stop the cycle, and then replace the dysfunctional with functional behavior.
A good starting point is the use of EXTINCTION at stage 1. Extinction essentially refers to the removal of the reinforcement for the unwanted behavior. The reinforcement that is motivating the student’s behavior is probably somewhat complex, but it likely includes teachers and students getting annoyed, laughing, being shocked, or giving pity after the student exhibits dysfunctional/inappropriate behavior. Therefore, the worst thing that you can do is get upset and single the student out. Try to determine the reinforcing stimuli the student is attempting to achieve with their behavior and remove that stimuli. But be prepared for an extinction burst (the student will exaggerate the behavior for a while when the reinforcement is removed). The second equally important teacher behavior at stages 1 & 2 is to promote more positive behavior. That means helping the student meet their basic needs especially competence and love/belonging. In most cases, a sense of inadequacy is at the heart of this problem.
At stage 2, the most powerful reinforcement is going to come from peers. It will not be easy, but you need to create an expectation that “in this class, we only encourage each other to act in ways that are positive for ourselves and for the class as a whole.” This can be accomplished through the teacher’s encouraging language, modeling, and class meetings.
At stage 3, it is critical that the student has explicit/written goals that they are working toward. These goals should define behaviors that are within the student’s control that they want to exhibit each day (i.e., effort toward getting work done, appropriate behavior, treating others well, positive self-talk, etc.). The student needs to know them well and commit to them. This is where the practice of SHAPING will be very critical. The teacher needs to reinforce (i.e., recognize, note in assessments, reward, etc.) attempts by the student to achieve their goals of positive behavior even if they are not entirely successful. If the teacher reinforces behavior that is close to that desired, the student will be able to build up to full goal achievement. If the student experience failure and/or a lack of support toward his/her goals at any point they will no doubt revert to their trusty negative ID cycle behavior.
At stage 4, and through out the cycle, it is essential that the teacher be absolutely intolerant of any labeling by peers or the student themselves that promotes a negative-identity (i.e., “In this class, there are no ‘bad kids’, ‘fools,’ ‘dumb kids’ ‘losers, ’failures,’ and especially no helpless victims.”).