Our Brains on Stress

In my last post I wrote about classroom stress and the choice that you can make between being calm and being angry in classroom situations. I also wrote about how you should not give away your power to a child. After all,

No one can make you angry without your permission.

Now it is time to examine what goes on in our heads when we are faced with a stressful situation.

In 1996 a research study was conducted about the effects of parental anger. The study revealed that anger causes people to form mistaken beliefs about the actions of the person they are angry at. These mistaken beliefs are called “trigger thoughts,” and for teachers, they prevent us from seeing the underlying causes of children’s behaviors.

The researchers grouped trigger thoughts into three distinct categories:

  • Assumed Intent – when we assign intent to the student’s actions, usually negative. Assumed intent usually means that we feel the child is misbehaving on purpose in order to upset us or another child.
  • Magnification – when our thoughts make the situation seem worse than it actually is.
  • Labeling – when we use negative words to describe the child or their behavior.

Below is a list of trigger thoughts that have been adapted from the 1996 study, as well as from Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline system. See how many of these trigger thoughts you can identify as being part of your thought process when you become angry in classroom situations:

Assumed Intent:

  • You are just doing this to annoy me.
  • You are deliberately defying me.
  • You know this is wrong and you’re doing it anyway.
  • You’re trying to drive me crazy.
  • You’re trying to see how far you can push me.
  • You are tuning me out intentionally
  • You are doing this deliberately to get back at me, hurt me, embarrass me, spite me, etc.


  • I can’t stand this one minute longer.
  • Your behavior is intolerable.
  • You have gone too far this time.
  • You never listen, pay attention, etc.
  • How dare you speak to me like that, look at me like that, etc.
  • You turn everything into a power struggle, lousy time, nightmare, chaos, etc.


  • You are getting out of control.
  • You are manipulating me.
  • You are lazy, malicious, stubborn, disrespectful, ungrateful, willful, selfish, cruel, etc.
  • You don’t care about anyone but yourself.
  • You’re deliberately being mean, cruel, hurtful, a jerk, a smart mouth, etc.

Trigger thoughts are very powerful. They usually enter our heads when we are stressed, and they have the power to transform that stress into powerful negative emotions. Imagine this scene, for example:

You cook a very special dinner for your spouse or significant other. You have spent a lot of time and effort to put this meal together. You proudly set the food in front of him, but he barely acknowledges the work you did or even the taste of the food. You become over-anxious and concerned that your loved one isn’t enjoying the meal, and as the silence continues even after the meal has ended, the trigger thoughts roll through your head:

“He doesn’t care about anything I do.”

“He is so ungrateful and selfish!”

“He purposefully didn’t say anything about all the work I did! Well, I’ll show him!”

And then you begin the silent treatment, when all along your significant other was simply distracted by his own stressful day at work! Rather than stopping and allowing yourself to discover why your significant other was behaving this way, you allowed your trigger thoughts to light a fire under the stress and anxiety you were feeling, and that created a huge explosion of anger. But you forgot one important thing:

No one can make you angry without your permission!

In the next post, we will discuss how to begin changing our mindset.

Rewards vs. Cognitive Skills

In the Dan Pink video that I posted about a week ago, he said something that interested me: he said that rewards motivate mechanical skills, or skills that do not require much brain power or reasoning. Rewards actually hinder cognitive skills and make it harder to reason through a problem.

One of the things I love about kids is their ability to reason. You wouldn’t think that a two-year-old has the ability to reason very well, but they do. They don’t understand general, abstract statements, but they do understand that we perform an action for a specific reason. We clean up our toys so that we don’t trip on them and fall. We walk when we are inside so that we don’t trip and fall. We don’t jump on the bed because we might fall off and bump our heads!

If we can assign purpose to our actions, we become much better at assigning goals to ourselves. Our brains become better at reasoning through the steps that we need to take to reach a desired end because we have trained it to think that way. In contrast, doing something for a reward does not train our mind to look at the bigger picture or the higher goal. We can’t even reason through the steps we need to take to reach that reward, much less the goal, because we are so intently focused on the reward. It is almost like tunnel vision. The process of learning how to reason through steps or creating a goal is a practiced skill, though. We have to practice using the reasoning part of our mind in order for it to work well.

Learning cognitive skills is vital for a child of any age, but especially so for young children who are just learning about how the world works. If we simply tell them that we don’t want them to behave in a certain way and bribe them with rewards, then they don’t truly understand why we are asking them to behave a certain way. Understanding leads to a change in behavior, but at the same time it is important to remember that it takes 21-30 days to create a new habit. That means that it may take 21-30 days of a teacher explaining over and over the reasoning behind a certain action before the child makes a habit of behaving in the desired way. Even with the added benefit of an explanation that fuels the reasoning skills, the child may not stop behaving in the undesired way right away. It takes time and a lot of patience on the part of the teacher to actually teach children the correct social way to behave, and do it in a way that stimulates the cognitive skills of the child.

Building Positive Relationships: The Three Areas of Classroom Management

The other morning I was going through a brainstorming session, wondering what to write about next. I have been doing a lot of writing about observation lately, and because I use observation for so many different aspects of the classroom I began to think about it in terms of classroom management. And then I began to think about the big picture of classroom management.

Let me first just say that I hate the term “classroom management”. I only use it because that is the going term these days within the education community for how to get the class to accomplish what you want to accomplish with the least amount of behavior problems possible. I prefer the term “Building Positive Relationships” because that is what I do. I don’t necessarily manage. I hate feeling like I am “managing” the classroom. The children don’t seem to appreciate it that much either.

So what do I do? Well, a few years ago I realized that there are several elements that are involved in dictating a child’s behavior. These elements work together to define the atmosphere of the classroom, which helps define the behavior of the children in it.

1. The Teacher

The teacher is probably the biggest factor influencing the behavior in the classroom. The way that the teacher reacts to behavior, how she/he conducts lessons, and how she/he interacts with the children sets the tone of the classroom. If the teacher is very overbearing and likes to micro-manage children, this will affect the mood and tone much differently than if she/he is more easy-going and flexible in the classroom.

How the teacher views children is usually evident by how they handle these different aspects of the classroom. In workshops and in talking to colleagues, I strongly encourage teachers to take a step back and really think about how they view individual children, as well as their class as a group. The attitudes that we feel about the children manifest themselves in our actions and reactions in the classroom, and impact the tone and mood of the class.

2. The Child

We all know that children come into the classroom with their own temperaments, their own baggage, and their own way of wanting to do things. Kids are kids. Kids like to move around, question everything, and experiment with life. These are things that we need to remember when we think about behavior in the classroom. I am actually working on a workshop right now that talks about the nature of children and how we view them. Want to see what I have so far?



It really is another post for another time, but it outlines different aspect of not just children, but people. All people have these different needs or qualities about them, and we need to remember that children have them, too. These different needs and qualities enter the classroom with the child, and every child has differences in the degree and kind of these needs and qualities. The mix that results is different in every classroom, and teachers need to be aware and structure the environment and atmosphere accordingly.

3. The Environment

I mentioned in a previous post that I do not view the classroom environment as a static entity. This does not mean that I move desks or tables around once a week – although that does help. The exploratory items in the classroom – from the manipulatives to the art selections to the blocks are ever changing and evolving to fit the interests and needs of the children in the classroom. This helps keep the calm as children explore new things (although the first few minutes of excitement over new items is kind of crazy) and keeps the children engaged. Playing or working with the same items over and over again in the same ways can get boring – we all know that – so we should change things up in the classroom, or provide new ways to experiment with old items.

These three areas can always be broken down into smaller elements, such as how the different areas of the classroom can be arranged so as to stimulate curiosity and excitement, or how to react when a child does X, Y, or Z. This post is intended to be an outline to get teachers thinking about the big picture and how it all works together. Sometimes I think that it is important to step back and remember the big pictures in the classroom, and reflect on our place in that big picture.

Building Positive Relationships: How Observing Children Strengthens Relationships

My post yesterday about Six Uses for Observation really got me thinking about how I use observation in the classroom. Observation seriously is one of the foundations of my teaching practice. There are several reasons for this, most of which are outlined in yesterday’s post. But one of the most important reasons is that it can change the way you look at children. Sometimes it isn’t even the way you look at children in general. Sometimes it is the way you look at one specific child.

I recently wrote a post about how we as adults are slow to change our views about something. We think we know it all because we have been around a while and we take that knowledge for granted. We forget that sometimes it is important to slow down and try to see things from a different perspective. This is where observation comes in. If we just take a moment to slow down and observe a child in action, we may see something that is contrary to our previous view of the child. We may begin to attribute positive intent to the child’s actions rather than negative intent. If we open ourselves up to the possibility that there may be more going on with the child than we are presently aware of, we may find that to be the case. And if we find that to be the case, our view of that child can change dramatically.

I know a lot of teachers out there shake their heads and roll their eyes when I say that children don’t do things without a reason. But the reason why I say this frequently and with authority is that I have done enough observing of children to know it to be true. The only way that we will be able to know or try to understand the intent of a young child is to observe for ourselves. And even older children may not tell us their intent because they are more worried about getting in trouble because of their actions related to their intent. Observation has allowed me to truly be able to decipher the intent of children and come up with productive ways to deal with behavior in a non-punitive way.

Let’s put this in context: Let’s pretend that you decided to try a different format for circle time because you felt that it would hold the children’s interest better than your current format. Your administrator walks in and wonders what the heck is going on and tells you in no uncertain terms that she does not like the new format and she doesn’t want to see it again. And doesn’t listen to your explanation of why you did it. How would that make you feel? The administrator paid absolutely no attention to your intent, only to your actions. That is what we do with children when we do not try to figure out their intent.

I have had children display physical behavior simply because they want to play with other children but do not know how to approach them. I have had children hit or even bite others because they have issues with personal space. There are a myriad of reasons why children behave the way they do. And this isn’t just about children’s behavior related to other children. It can be related to the way children use materials, as well. I have had children drag chairs into the block area because they have built a television and want to “watch” it. I have had children bossing other children around, only to find out that one is pretending to be a baby and one is pretending to be a mommy, or – even more amusing – one is pretending to be a dog and the other is pretending to be the owner. I have had a house that the class built in the middle of the floor turn into a swimming pool in an instant, and everyone’s shoes and socks become strewn about in order to wade in the pool. I have had countless scenarios happen in the classroom, and the only way to sort it all out without hurting many feelings and tapping into my punitive side is to slow down and observe what is going on.

So how does this strengthen relationships? Well, as I pointed out at the beginning of the post, it changes the way you look at children. You begin to see what they are thinking about, what they are interested in, what they need to learn on an individual basis (as opposed to what the class is learning as dictated by the lesson plan), and you simply get to know the children in your class on a more personal level. If observation happens frequently enough, it helps to form a direction that the class can take in order to achieve the maximum amount of learning possible, because the ideas of the children are present – because you know what they are. In short, it helps you to get to know the children in your classroom better. And that helps you to deal with the children in your class positively, which strengthens and enhances your relationship with them, and their relationships with each other.

strengthen relationships

Six Ways Observations Can Enhance Teaching

Observations can go a long way in the classroom. From watching a child explore a new concept to discovering how children interact with other socially, observation can be an indispensable tool when it comes to teaching skills in the classroom.

1. Observations Can Be Used To Plan New Classroom Activities

Through observing children, we can find out different concepts and ideas that they are interested in. Just as the boy inspired me to begin looking into pulley and pendulum activities, different activities and conversations around the classroom can be the basis for new activities and projects. I once had a couple of boys in my classroom who were obsessed with sliding trucks down the slide on the playground. This observation led to a long term project about ramps, roads, and bridges. Children obsessed with parties can wrap presents, bake a cake, and do other activities related to parties. The key is to find an interest and brainstorm ways to expand on that interest.

2. Observations Can Be Used To Teach Social Skills

Perhaps, through your observation, you witness one child take a toy from another child, who then retaliates by hitting the child. From this observation you can conclude several things. First, the child that took the toy needs to be made aware of how his action made the other child feel, and that this feeling prompted the child to hit. The child who took the toy also needs to be taught the words to use to ask another child if they can share or take turns. The child who hit needs to be taught the words that they should use to let a child know that they do not like it when they take their toy.

There are many different learning opportunities that present themselves when children interact socially, because children have not learned the necessary language needed to productively deal with others. Add to this the fact that most young children are egocentric in their thinking, and the atmosphere is ripe for the teaching of social skills.

3. Observations Can Be Used To Expand On the Use of Materials

I have a couple of boys in my class that like to put hollow blocks on their arms and pretend they are robots. I have another who stacks them end-to-end and pretends that it is a microphone. I have yet another who stacks a couple end-to-end and places a wide block on top as a TV. We have expanded on a few of these uses, including setting up a theater complete with a popcorn stand.

Children seem to have the creativity in them to use different materials in any number of ways. Observing the ways that they use the available materials can provide inspiration for other materials that may extend their play, or an activity that may expand their knowledge about the topic they are expressing interest in. Observations of the way children use materials can also help identify where they are developmentally.

4. Observations Can Highlight Children’s Thinking

There are several ways in which children’s thinking becomes obvious during observations. The first is the dialogue: What are the children saying while they play? Recording the dialogue (whether audio, video, or written) can help you determine their frame of reference in relation to the activity, and their misunderstandings or misconceptions about what they are thinking about. Recording these and reflecting back on them later can help you come up with activities or projects that will provide a new frame of reference or clear up any misunderstandings that are present.

Another way observations highlight children’s thinking is when abstract ideas are seen as themes during play. Children like to explore ideas that may be difficult for them to comprehend, like life and death, good vs. evil, caregiving, and other vague ideas. Sometimes they reenact a scenario that may have happened at home or at school that they either do not understand or did not like the outcome. By observing children and then reflecting on the observations, we can spot themes, misunderstandings, and the points of reference of children. This can allow us to help children explore these topics deeper.

5. Observations Can Explain Children’s Behavior

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “He did it for no reason!” to explain the behavior of a child? Children always have reasons for their behavior, but they may not have the language to articulate their reason, or they may not have the skills or knowledge necessary to do something differently. By observing the child we can gain clues that can help us figure out why the child is behaving as they are, which can help us figure out how to teach him more productive behavior.

6. Observations Can Tell Us About a Child’s Development

From language skills, motor skills, social skills, and others, observations help us understand not only where a child is developmentally, but help us determine how we can meet the child where they are in their development and provide appropriately challenging activities and projects.

Are there any other ways that you use observations? Tell us in the comments below! We love learning new things from other people!

observations six

In A Reframing State of Mind: Using Observations to Assign Intent

Sometimes in my classroom I feel guilty. I feel guilty because, while the majority of my colleagues plan circle time activities and implement them, or do small group activities with the children in their class, I simply watch children. In fact, I have been known to introduce a small group activity, model how it should be done, stick around for moral support, and then walk away – to watch. This technique has served me well for many years, actually, because it allows me a chance to see a child’s thinking without my interference or manipulation. I have watched children use materials in unique, surprising ways. I have listened to conversations that have opened my eyes about where a child is coming from. But most importantly, I have observed children in the throes of social situations to see how they handle them.

This last example has driven co-teachers of mine bonkers. They can see that I see that there is a dispute, but I am doing nothing to stop it. I am simply watching and listening to a couple of very young children attempt to work out their differences. Of course, if things start getting physical, then I step in to help resolve the issue. But until then, I usually just sit back, watch, and listen. The reason for this is that I can learn a lot about how the children settle social disputes and what I need to teach them in order to make it easier for them to handle disputes on their own.

A lot of times, I watch to understand why a child behaves a certain way. Especially with young children, physical actions against other children can be a sign that a child does not have the language necessary to deal with social situations, be they positive or negative. I have had a few children who have gone through my classroom who have not known the language to use to invite themselves to play with another child, or have lacked the self-confidence to approach other children. In most cases, this has manifest as physical aggression against the other child. There has been more than one case where I have had to shadow and watch a child, simply to discover intent.

The important thing to realize is that children have intent. They do not do something just to do it. They act on their environment in order to figure out how it works, but they do not come into this world already knowing how to deal with other people. And as adults, we all know how complicated it is to deal with other people sometimes. We have had years of practice to hone our skills of language and social maneuvering. Young children have not had time to develop the language or the knowledge needed to handle social situations. It is our job, as teachers, to observe them as they interact with their peers so that we can learn what skills and language need to be taught.

obs intent

In A Reframing State of Mind: The Three Little Pigs

Recently my class began a unit on the Three Little Pigs. I always look forward to talking about this book with young children, because there is so much that you can do with it. I have only picked the book up twice so far, though, and haven’t even gotten through it once. The first time we started to read it, one of the children wanted to build a house. We moved all of the furniture out of the middle of the floor and set to work (you can read about what happened during that experience here). The second time we picked up the book, I stopped reading and started asking the children questions about what was happening in the story, to kind of get a feel for their thoughts and feelings about it. And I was very shocked by what I found out.

“The pigs were being mean and it made the wolf mad!”

“The wolf blew the house down because he didn’t like it when the pigs wouldn’t let him in.”

“The wolf just wanted to come into the house and the pigs weren’t nice because they wouldn’t let him in.”

Of course, being three years old, the kids didn’t have one important piece of information: wolves like to eat pigs. But I was very intrigued by the thought process here, and the connections they had made to reach this conclusion.

See, I am a firm believer that children are mean for a reason. They don’t hit just to hit. Usually their feelings have been hurt in some way; sometimes it is not because of the child that they hurt, but by an outside source such as a teacher. So in my classroom we talk a lot about how our actions affect the people around us. If you take a toy the child isn’t going to like it and is probably going to retaliate. We talk a lot about using language and telling children that they don’t like something instead of hitting them. So the language that they used to talk about how the pigs were treating the wolf helped me to see that they are making a lot of connections between behavior and action.

So what does this have to do with creativity? Creativity is about making these connections, and the children in my classroom who have been able to make these connections have come up with some creative ways to deal with each other socially rather than just having an all out free-for-all. They have begun to learn to work together toward a common goal, such as creating original ideas (like the swimming pool) because they have moved beyond thinking simply about themselves and what they want. They have come to see how their actions affect other people.

Reframing is a powerful tool in this respect. When you practice reframing and teach it as well, it can totally change the dynamics of a classroom environment. It is extremely difficult and time-consuming to implement, but the rewards are totally worth it.

Especially when you see a class of two- and three-year-olds assigning blame to the pigs in The Three Little Pigs!

The Tale of Two Discipline Styles

Anyone who is anyone in parenting or education has read the Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“, and many of them have already responded to the article. I decided to respond to the article because it characterizes a philosophical debate that has been plaguing me for a while now: two differing and extremely prevalent discipline styles. The idea that there are two differing styles is not what has plagued me, but the fact that there aren’t many people who seen to understand that there are differing styles, or what the mentalities behind these roots are. For this reason, I applaud Amy Chua’s article for bringing this to light.

There are two different mindsets about children that are the root of these philosophical differences. The mindset showcased in the article is that children are inherently bad; if left to their own devices they will choose destructive, lazy, or hurtful activities. For this reason their activities and entire day must be micromanaged by adults, whether it be parents or teachers. This mindset is prevalent in our society as well as Amy Chua’s, although it doesn’t manifest itself in quite the same way. I will explain what I mean in a minute.

The other mindset is that children are inherently good; if left to their own devices they will choose activities that are meaningful to them and that they will learn something from. Because they are children and don’t have all of the answers when it comes to the world around them, the adult’s role becomes that of a guide who helps the child understand the world around them, including how to interact with the people around them in a positive way.

There is a world of difference in these two mindsets, and the differences have been made startlingly clear to me in a couple of different ways in the past month. I have been striving to act more as a guide to the children in my classroom, especially in the area of social skills. Rather than reprimanding a child when they do something hurtful to a classmate, I have started using these as “teachable moments“, explaining to the child why an action was not acceptable and informing them of a different way they could have dealt with the situation that would have been more positive. Now, note that I said that the child did something hurtful to a classmate. This does not mean that the child went out of their way to be hurtful to someone. If we only look at a child that hits and not at the reason for the behavior, we will never teach ourselves or the child anything. Through my observations of children with “discipline problems” I have found that every problem has a specific reason behind it. Granted, I have been observing for about six months, which isn’t a long time. I can’t say that I have all of the answers for every child. I can only speak about what I have personally dealt with. But every child that I have dealt with does have a reason for their actions. One child hits their friends and throws toys at them for apparently no reason. Upon observation I noted that this child did these things because something didn’t go their way and that was their way of dealing with it. The way I handled the behavior was to teach the child anger management techniques and talk to the child about alternatives to that behavior. It has helped tremendously where time-outs and even “say you’re sorry” have not.

The setting for the first moment I went through in recognizing the stark difference in these two mindsets, as well as how prevalent the “children are inherently bad” mindset is, was at a training session about discipline. New state guidelines about discipline had been put into place and we were being trained on these new guidelines. When reading from the script, the presenter talked about the proper way to talk to the child and using using positive guidance. But when it came to discussion about the topic  (and there is always discussion when it comes to discipline) the presenter seemed to get off track. There was discussion about how to handle a child who seemed out of control: attempting to stab with scissors and throwing around furniture. Rather than discussing the methods of the teachers, the presenter and those involved focused on the behavior of the child, and revealed that the child had been dismissed from the center (the presenter was the director of the center) due to the behavior. What hurt my heart was that those involved in the discussion did not talk about trying to find out what the underlying causes of the behavior were; it was assumed that this was how this particular child was – this child could do nothing but exhibit destructive behavior. I was completely taken aback by this mindset; it is very hard for me, as a teacher, to imagine another teacher not trying to find out if there may be something else going on with this child and if they are dealing with that the only way they know how. It is hard for me to see a child labeled “bad” when every child has potential and every child that I know wants to use that potential; some of them just don’t know how and need the guidance of an adult.

The second eye-opener came at my own center, where I had implemented a discipline system in my classroom which was based on teaching correct behaviors rather than punishing bad behaviors. If a child did something hurtful to another child, I would pull both children aside and address the victim first. I would teach them to let the offender know that they did not like being treated in the way that they were treated. I would then explain to the offender that they had hurt the other child (most children really do not understand that feelings and actions hurt), teach them how to correct the hurt, and also teach them a more appropriate way to handle the situation that they were reacting to when they hurt the other child. This method had been wildly successful in my classroom for a couple of months, with children taking responsibility for their own hurts and actions without my involvement – and these were three-year-old children! Another strategy that I was employing in my classroom was child-directed activities, which made the children in my care much happier and cut down on discipline problems as well. This strategy had been in place for about a month when I was called into the office and told that my children were undisciplined and my classroom lacked structure. I was thoroughly taken aback and when I tried to explain the systems that I had put in place and how they were helping the classroom I was told that my philosophies weren’t in line with the company’s philosophy (the company’s philosophy is based on Reggio Emilia, so you can only imagine what impact those words had on me, who was trying to make my classroom more child-centered while staying in the company’s Reggio inspired curriculum).

Because of these moments I have felt the clash of the two discipline styles personally and I have seen the effects of both on children. I have even spent the last month implementing a more micro-management-type style into my classroom, only to be thoroughly disgusted with the results, which have been an increase of discipline problems and a lack of general enthusiasm for being in the classroom on the parts of both the children and myself. My belief is that children are inherently good, and they hold a special wonder for the world around them. They will do whatever they can to figure out the world around them, and that may manifest itself in ways that may seem destructive. The key to figuring out what is behind a child’s actions is objective, unbiased observation, and the key to correcting behaviors is positive, educational guidance. That is my belief.

When I first heard the term “child advocate” I was in agreement with the terms of the phrase,  but I never thought that I would feel like I needed to be a child advocate when it came to teachers. Apparently there is a huge need for advocates for children in the realm of the teaching profession, because I am seeing time and again that children are “bad until proven good”. It is time to turn this belief around and help teachers realize that children are only trying to figure out the world around them, and our job is to help them in their discovery rather than label their attempts as “behavior problems”. I am starting to think that, if there really is such thing as a calling, this is mine.

A Deeper Look at Outcome-Based Education and the Role of Behavioral Psychology in Education

I have spent my weekend researching the role of behavioral psychology in education. To most of you, that may sound like a boring way to spend the weekend, but I have been in my element and have enjoyed it very much.

My journey started when I realized that I had misdirected an opinion at Pavlovian conditioning, when I really should have directed that opinion at operant conditioning. This made me realize that I should do some research on just what exactly operant conditioning is, and how it is being used in our school systems.

Operant conditioning is a behavioral theory that uses reinforcement, punishment, or extinction to affect behavior. A reinforcement is a positive consequence that causes a behavior to occur with greater frequency. A punishment is a negative consequence that causes a behavior to occur with lesser frequency. Extinction is lack of a consequence, which can result either in a reduced frequency of an inconsequential behavior, or a reversal in the frequency of a behavior that has either been reinforced or punished.

Educational theory took this psychological theory, developed behaviors that they wanted to see exhibited by children, and created a curriculum around this. Grades are a form of operant conditioning; if a child gets a bad grade, that is the punishment that is supposed to modify the behavior and get the children to try harder to get a good grade.

Educational psychologists have actually come up with four different types of domains for which to produce outcomes: cognitive, affective, psychomotor, and interpersonal. I haven’t yet found out how each of these domains is “graded” but if you are clicking on the links provided, you may find that there is still some debate and research going on as to how to grade for each of the domains.

All of this research has left many questions in my mind, but it has also produced a lot of answers. First of all, I have written posts in the past that view outcome-based education as some sort of conspiracy to gain control of our children. I no longer believe in these conspiracy theories. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that the psychologists are coming from the right angle.

Outcome-based education uses operant conditioning as its base. This means that educators are using extrinsic motivation rather than intrinsic motivation to get students to do what they believe they should do. Extrinsic motivation does not motivate students in the same way as intrinsic motivation does, and this is one of the many reasons why our education system is failing us. Students are bored in the classroom, listening to lectures about things that seemingly have nothing to do with them. They have very little intrinsic motivation when it comes to learning more about what they are being taught. Their motivation comes extrinsically – from the threat of a bad grade or a mad teacher or parent.

One of the basic problems is how the child was viewed in the development of these theories. Outcome-based education works on an equation: if you tell the child to do “X” and offer this motivation “Y”, then you should get “Z” as the result. What this doesn’t take into account is that children have free will and emotions. Children need to feel engaged in the learning process. Being engaged does not usually mean that they are sitting and listening to a lecture. Being engaged doesn’t even mean that they are answering questions during a lecture. Being engaged means that they are somehow actively engaged in the topic at that moment, whether through a project or through individual research. Children also need to have choices when it comes to the work that they will do to show their proficiency in the topic. This could also come in the form of projects.

One of the interesting things that I found during my research was the Constructivist learning theory. This theory not only works well with the child’s free will, emotions, and thinking skills, but also allows the child to formulate his own opinions. A teacher is not “indoctrinating” a child into any particular way of thinking, and the child will feel engaged because they are actually using their own thinking skills and making their own opinions. One criticism I have heard about the constructivist view is that the child is being primed to be part of a group rather than an individual. Throughout my research I have found that children do not necessarily have to work in a group for the constructivist theory to be effective. Children could just as easily do the work on their own.

One thing that I worry about with the constructivist theory is that it will get swallowed up in the behaviorist conditioning that we already have, which will make the theory less effective. The key is to try to find ways to increase intrinsic motivation in our students, and the only way that can really happen is if we guide the students rather than bore them to death with lectures; we have to get out of their way and let them live and find out on their own. We can guide their way and provide them with help with the knowledge that we possess, but we can’t make them do anything that they don’t want to do.