Model Information

Behavior Modification: B.F. Skinner

Underlying Assumptions

  • Human beings have no will. They simply reply to external stimuli.
  • Human beings are essentially responders to external stimuli. They are regulated by external influences that satisfy basic needs.
  • For students to behave appropriately, they must receive guidance from their teachers.
  • Students cannot learn to be responsibly self-governing.
  • They must be managed by someone who can arrange reinforcers appropriately.
  • If the behavior of humans is not managed, we can expect an increase of discipline problems, crime, povery, war, and other social ills.


  • It is simple to use.
  • Results are immediate.
  • It accommodates most teachers' desire to maintain control.
  • Students can feel successful when they obtain rewards.
  • Standards of behavior are uniform, consistent, and clear to all students.
  • Time does not have to be spent in class discussing rules and students' conduct.
  • It can be readily employed with all students regardless of age.
  • The procedurre has been well researched and found to work consistently.


  • The results might not last long.
  • Students may not perform as desired when rewards are terminated
  • Students may not leran how to govern their own behaviour
  • The approach may seem too much like bribery to some teachers
  • It ignores any underlying problems caused by influences at home, in society, or at school
  • To use so much control in a democratic society may be unethical
  • Students do nto get an opportunity to clarify emotions, weigh alternatives, decide on soluntions, or develop their intellect
  • Rewards undermine intrinsic motivation

Corrective Discipline

Skinner didn't believe in punishment, necessarily. He believed that by rewarding the good behavior and ignoring the bad, the bad behavior would diminish. Very occasionally will behaviorists agree that punishment is necessary. Only when absolutely necessary should bad behavior be stopped (such as a during a fight - don't wait for the fight to be over, it should be stopped and a punishment handed out). Some students find punishment as a reward, so teachers should use punishment only when absolutely needed. Some punishments act as reinforcements. Rather, teachers should reward good behavior so that students learn to only behave in the desired way.

Preventative Discipline

Discipline problems according to Skinner are prevented when behaviour modification principles are implemented. Skinner believes that a proactive approach to behaviour problems is effective and minimizes problems in class.

- Specifying rules clearly

- Ignoring disruptive behavior, while bringing attention to good behavior

- Praising children for following rules

Other Important Information

For behavior modification to work in a school-wide setting, teachers need to work together and decide on the best way to reinforce good behavior. For example, charts could be put up in the hallways at school, keeping track of how many books each student has read. Once a student has reached a certain number of books, reward them. Or, instead of charting each individual student's progress, just keep a general tally of how many books all the students have read. Once they reach a certain number, have a party that everyone can attend.

Personal Reviews


I found B.F. Skinner’s Behaviour Modification approach to be very interesting. I particularly liked how Skinner believed that to punish a child for bad behaviour is actually acting as a reinforcer. I found this interesting, because, as the text mentioned, it is very common for parents and teachers to make this mistake. However, I do not 100% agree with how Skinner believes we should ignore bad behaviour. I do to some extent think that some children act out to seek attention, but it does not make it right. Imagine if the whole class acted this way. I think in the classroom you will have to pick your battles. I personally like the idea of rewards in the classroom. I think that if students are following the rules they should be rewarded, I think it is a good motivator. I am excited to try some of Skinner’s Behaviour Modification approaches out on a classroom!
While some aspects of Skinner's Behavior Modification theory would work wonderfully in the applied setting of a classroom, such as the intermittent schedule of reinforcement, I believe other aspects would not go over quite as well. Rewarding children every single time they follow a classroom rule might teach them not to follow rules if there is nothing in it for them.
On a different subject that has shown to be not so popular, choosing to ignore inappropriate behavior would not only be difficult, but it would also be disruptive to the rest of the class, who might in turn join in when they see that there is no consequences.


Behaviour modification works in some settings. It is a good method to use when modeling and practising new routines. For example, the first few weeks of school.
On another note though, I do not believe in ignoring poor behaviour in a classroom. Rules are established at the start of the year and agreed upon with your students. These rules generally include being respectful, being responsible, and being safe. Letting a student display poor behaviour, lets the whole class down. However, I have seen first hand, behaviour modification work amazingly. The first few days of school when O Canada is played over announcements, students are fairly quiet. One teacher handed out gummy bears randomly to the "singers" of the group, each day she would hand out a few gummy bears. This use of intermittent schedule or reinforcement worked great; by the end of the year, her whole class sang every day.

I like some aspects of Skinner's Behavior Modification and some I'm not too fond of. I think that reinforcing good behavior helps tremendously! Kids like to be rewarded for doing something that they know is right. I think that the concept of ignoring bad behavior is not as productive though. In some cases, I can see how reinforcing good behavior and ignoring bad behavior would work (ie a student whispering in class and the teacher gives a reward to the ones who are not talking - the whisperer would probably stop right away), but there are other instances where I don't think it is appropriate to ignore the bad behavior (such as if a student were throwing books across the classroom or calling other students mean names). By ignoring the bad behavior, some children will only work harder and do more inappropriate things to get a teacher's attention.

I think, personally, I am going to try the rewards idea when I do my student teaching. I think children like the idea of getting a reward for good behavior - I know I did!


The idea of Behavior Modification by B.F. Skinner is very interesting, It can be very useful in a classroom setting however; I do not agree with Skinner when he says that we should ignore the students' negative behavior. I think if we ignore the negative behavior the child will never be able to differentiate between right and wrong. When this model is used properly it works awesome. As a teacher, I think it is a great idea to give rewards/reinforcers to the students that deserve it sometimes. If students work hard and listen they should get credit for it in some way. I also think it is important for students to have some intrinsic motivation. Students must do some things because they have to, not because they are getting a reward for it. I believe that too many rewards will affect the students negatively in the long run. Students need to be aware that there will not be rewards for everything they do in life. Too many rewards for students may lead to a lack of intrinsic motivation and effort!