What Are The Possible Alternatives to Punishment?
This essay seeks to discuss the possible disadvantages of negative reinforcement, specifically corporal punishment, as a means of discipline, when used by educators teaching young learners. Also, positive reinforcement, such as praise and feedback, as an alternative method to discipline young learners will be discussed.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Desriel G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
State of The Problem
As mentioned, the negative reinforcement measure that will be discussed in this essay is ‘corporal punishment. The definition for ‘punishment’ when referenced herein, follows that of The Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2001, and adopted by UNICEF Global; ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment is defined as, “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.”
In our contemporary society, the use of corporal punishment by teachers, as a means of disciplining students, especially young learners is a controversial issue. In the past, while corporal punishment may have been generally accepted as a method to discipline young children in schools, this approach is now greeted with great scrutiny and often disapproval in many cultures across the world. The professional literature on school discipline policies is replete with emotional pleas to ban corporal punishment (Shaw & Branden, 1990). But why? Why is the age-old practice of the firm, strict corporal punishment as a discipline being removed as an option from the ‘teacher’s disciplinary tool belt’?
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Punishment as a Teaching Tool
One argument being suggested is that corporal punishment is a discipline measure that involves a physical, and by extension, violent response. Straus, 1991, cross-sectional study supported the theory that although physical punishment may produce conformity in the immediate situation, in the long run, it tends to increase the probability of deviance, including delinquency in adolescence and violent crime inside and outside the family as an adult.
Educators, especially those teaching young learners, are tasked with more than just teaching their students the specific subject matter outlined in the curriculum. They are also responsible for teaching students how to manage interpersonal relationships and also guide them as they develop other social skills. Teachers who use corporal or physical punishment, are essentially teaching their students that a violent response is an acceptable reaction to solve a situation.
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Negative Effects of Punishment
The following is a short scenario demonstrating how a corporal punishment may negatively impact a student: A teacher responds to a child failing a quiz by striking the student twice with a ruler. Though the teacher’s intention might have been to motivate the student to study more for subsequent exams, a young learner, as they are young and the punishment painful, might focus exclusively on the physical pain.
This might cause the child to have negative feelings about the teacher, or even the subject. Anxiety and nervousness regarding examinations or the subject, in general, might begin to form due to these negative emotions. So, while the teacher may not have meant to negatively impact or shape the student’s academic motivation and performance, they may have done just that. Moreover, the student has now learned striking an individual twice with a ruler is an acceptable reaction when someone answers a question incorrectly. Thus, when engaging with their peers, when the student who was punished observes their peer making a mistake, they may simply repeat the behavior they would have just learned from their teacher, and strike the other student.
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Punishment vs. Encouragement
Researchers, educators and most ministries responsible for education around the world are encouraging teachers and schools to adopt more positive reinforcement and solution-focused responses. Rushton, 1978 study on the effects of reinforcements revealed that positive reinforcement led to increased generosity while punishment led to a decrement. Positive reinforcement measures can be as simple as offering praise in a range of scenarios encountered in the classroom, including but not limited to, tests, punctuality, deportment, participation, interactions, and so on.
Teachers can also engage in providing feedback for students experiencing difficulties within the classroom setting. Some of these difficulties may be directly related to the subject, but others might be related to behavioral issues or interactions with other students. Quite often younger learners are not yet aware of how their words or actions might impact others. This may be a result of their lack of life experiences as they are still young children. Reflective activities and exercises initiated by teachers can encourage students to develop empathy and understanding for their classmates and others.
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Therefore, genuine understanding and proper management of interpersonal relationships can have a far longer-lasting effect as compared to short term impacts seen when utilizing negative reinforcement measures such as corporal punishment.
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