Exploring the Foundations of Middle School Classroom Management: The Theoretical Contributions of B. F. Skinner, Fritz Redl and William Wattenberg, William Glasser, and Thomas Gordon All Have Particular Relevance for Middle School Educators

By Bucher, Katherine T.; Manning, M. Lee | Childhood Education, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Foundations of Middle School Classroom Management: The Theoretical Contributions of B. F. Skinner, Fritz Redl and William Wattenberg, William Glasser, and Thomas Gordon All Have Particular Relevance for Middle School Educators


Bucher, Katherine T., Manning, M. Lee, Childhood Education


Effective ways to encourage and teach appropriate student behaviors are highly valued by educators. This article examines the work of several theorists who laid the groundwork for contemporary classroom management. Some of these theorists did not directly address behaviors in school settings; rather, they focused on other psychological aspects of human behavior. Moreover, they did their work prior to the middle school movement. Nevertheless, their theories have withstood the test of time and can be applied effectively to middle school classroom management. The theoretical contributions of B. F. Skinner, Fritz Redl and William Wattenberg, William Glasser, and Thomas Gordon all have particular relevance for middle school educators.

Rationale for Choice of Theorists

These theorists provided the foundational work for classroom management theory, and their ideas continue to influence classroom management. B. F. Skinner proposed behavior modification as a way to shape behavior. Although some contemporary educators might object to using rewards and punishments to shape behavior, tokens, stickers, and other rewards and punishments continue to be popular and effective management techniques. Redl and Wattenberg's group dynamics theories also are useful, in light of the powerful role that peer pressure plays in middle school classrooms. Students who model appropriate group behavior often influence other students to do likewise. In addition, middle school educators may use Redl and Wattenberg's idea of supporting self-control and appraising reality to help young adolescents learn to manage their own behavior. William Glasser's choice theory points to young adolescents' ability and need to accept responsibility for managing their own behavior. Rather than middle school educators demanding appropriate behavior, choice theory would suggest that young adolescents should make the choice to behave appropriately and take action toward that goal. Features of Thomas Gordon's theory, know as "Discipline as Self-Control," include the use of "I-messages" and active listening as ways of improving young adolescents' behavior. Middle school educators will likely be more effective when they point out the concrete effects of young adolescents' negative behaviors on others, rather than making accusatory remarks beginning with "you."

Table 1 shows the relationship between the developmental characteristics of young adolescents and some common behavior problems found in middle schools. The theories of behavior modification, group dynamics, choice theory, and self-control have relevance for managing young adolescents' behaviors in these and similar situations. To explore the specifics of how these theories address common misbehaviors in middle schools, we need to explore each of the theorists in more detail. Although each theorist can be used with a variety of misbehaviors, Table 1 shows the application of each theory to a different misbehavior.

B. F. Skinner (1904-1990)

The noted psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner proposed that proper and immediate reinforcement strengthens the likelihood that appropriate behavior will be repeated (Skinner, 1948, 1970). Skinner did not work in elementary or secondary classrooms, nor did he describe instructional or general classroom practices that should reduce students' behavior problems. Nevertheless, his research on operant conditioning, or behavior modification, had a profound influence on the field of classroom management.

Contributions of Skinner's Theories. William Wattenberg (1967) explained that many teachers believe B. F. Skinner's behavior modification approach holds potential for shaping students' behavior. Just as Skinner believed that positive rewards shape most learned human behavior, many teachers believe that students will repeat "rewarded" behaviors and stop "unrewarded or ignored" behaviors. Thus, teachers shape students' behaviors by first determining desired behaviors and selecting appropriate reinforcers to encourage students to repeat those desirable behaviors. …

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Exploring the Foundations of Middle School Classroom Management: The Theoretical Contributions of B. F. Skinner, Fritz Redl and William Wattenberg, William Glasser, and Thomas Gordon All Have Particular Relevance for Middle School Educators
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