Is Punishment Effective in the Classroom?
Surprisingly, studies have shown that punishment is not as effective as it seems. A negative correlation has been found between addressing behavioral difficulties and punishment. Unfortunately, punishment was and still is an answer to containing discipline in the classroom. If we are to effect lasting change in young people, we need to look for a wider range of approaches towards promoting positive behavior.
When is Punishment Applied?
When a student “misbehaves”, opposes to the teacher’s opinion, makes a funny comment, does not take notes, shows up late to class, does not complete his homework, cheats during the exam, talks with his friends during lecture, “daydreams” in class and so on and so forth, he/she would be punished.
The problem here lies in the way the teacher approaches the behavior. When a student’s behavior is not desirable, the teacher only observes the behavior and acts accordingly. If the teacher takes a step backward and tries to figure out the underlying cause of that behavior, maybe their response would take a different route. If a student is always trying to be funny in the classroom, maybe that student lacks attention at home for example and is looking for it by showing off. When teachers attune to the particular needs of the students, they might understand the reason behind their behaviors and answer their needs in a positive way. In this case, for example, attention would be met by giving the student a certain space to show off his comedian side in parallel to the subject in hand, instead of punishing him.
Why Intervention is Necessary?
In addition to being ineffective, punishment might lead to social and emotional behavioral difficulties. Students might feel stigmatized, rejected and unloved. This might also result in developing a negative self-image, persisting behaviors (the challenging ones), and later on punishment might become their way to deal with problems because they were exposed and used to it.
On the other hand, positive reinforcement is another way to dealing with students in the classroom. It is considered more appropriate, genuine and directed towards the individual. However, when it is used as a mechanism to make students behave in certain ways, it fails to respect the individual, as it becomes manipulative and controlling. Perhaps what is more important is encouragement and positive feedback, which fosters further learning.
New approaches to promoting positive behavior are needed, away from the currently applicable techniques. Rather than focusing on sanctions and rewards, new techniques should focus on the understanding of self and others at the core, leading to greater insight into interpersonal relationships and the development of empathy.