Understanding Student Behaviors

'We found the donut to be more of an incentive for him.'

The sight of my dad’s black leather belt with a metal buckle was frightening for me as a child. Whenever my brother and I would fight about petty things, dad’s belt was always right there waiting. That was my dad’s way of disciplining; even my mom can’t stop him. It built fear in me and my brother. On the other hand, good grades from school meant ice cream, chocolates or Jollibee meals. That was the fun part during my childhood. My dad was generous in giving things we like.

When we finally moved to the province without my dad, I started disregarding my studies. I totally lost my appetite for learning; I was always late for school and I rarely did my homework. The tangible rewards that I used to get as a child only encouraged me to show the behavior my dad wants to see because I wanted that reward. However, it didn’t really help me desire learning intrinsically. The spanking effectively decreased our fighting for the time being but with dad being absent, my brother and I continued with it. It only stopped when we grew out of it.

Using corporal punishments and tangible reinforcers were the effective approaches in my household when I was growing up. Effective they maybe for that time being, but do we ask ourselves of preventative measures for undesirable behavior not to occur? Is giving tangible rewards the right approach to achieving and sustaining desirable behavior? In a school setting, there are factors that play an important part in our student’s behavior.  I think it’s vital to reflect on them before deciding how we discipline our students.

Teacher Behavior

I realized that teachers are a key dynamic to a student’s desirable behavior. How do we react when our particular student kept disobeying the rules? What words come out of our mouths?  Do we exude positivity or negativity? Are we being authoritarians? Do we overreact on little things? Are we fair and consistent? The way we present ourselves and take things could either create or minimize students’ undesirable behavior.

Learning Environment

The learning environment we create for our students are imperative for them to have effective learning experiences. However, when these aren’t met, students bring out disagreeable behaviors. If you were a student in your class, would you enjoy learning in there? Is it inviting? Does it support you as a learner? It’s important to research what our learners need to be able to exude positive behaviors. Develop or modify activities that suit them well to make them engaged, challenged and interested.

Student’s Socio-economic and Cultural Background

It’s also important to know the upbringing of our students. Some students grew up in homes with different sets of beliefs, culture and socioeconomic background. Knowing these things will help us in understanding our students better. What could be a deviant behavior to you may not be to some of your students. There are many things that they go through that we aren’t aware of, therefore, it also helps to not jump into conclusion but rather have empathy for them.

Teacher-Student Interrelationship

Researchers found that students with a more positive relationship with their teacher displayed towards peers, on average, 18% more prosocial behavior (and 10% more up to two years later), and up to 38% less aggressive behavior (and 9% less up to four years later), over students who felt ambivalent or negative toward their teacher. When we make our students feel cared for and supported, we eliminate deviant behaviors. They are more aware of their actions toward us and have more desire to work hard because they also care for us.

Approaches’ limitations

The behaviorist approaches we learned are all helpful tools in regulating student behavior. However, we are being restricted in taking into considerations that our students have motives for showing certain behavior. Behaviorism’s view on motivation (Incentive Theory) focuses only on the cause, prevention or suppression of behavior. It focuses only on observable behavior and their theories are founded on experimentation. Thus, conscious motives such as drives, needs, and beliefs are being disregarded.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

I believe that motivation plays a key role in regulating our students’ behavior. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way, or at least develop an inclination for specific behavior. The question is which motivation can effectively regulate behavior in a long term?

Extrinsic motivation comes from influences outside of the individual. Usually extrinsic motivation is used to attain outcomes that a person wouldn’t get from intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one’s capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for consideration.

I think that as teachers, we have to be mindful of what kind of motivation we are using to regulate student behaviors. I believe that instilling intrinsic motivation will have great effect on student engagement and behavior. Intrinsically motivated individuals have shown traits of increased self-advocacy, goal achievement, and positive self-esteem. Extrinsic motivators such as rewards only require students to get the job done. It also decreases students’ intrinsic motivation to perform a task also known as the overjustification effect.  Once rewards are no longer offered, interest in the task is lost.

Intrinsic motivation may take a while to affect behavior and may require lengthy preparation but it is long lasting and self-sustaining.






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