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Masters in Educational Practice: Special educational needs and inclusion learning pack


Impact of the environment


Behaviour does not occur in a vacuum

The environment cannot be ignored when one considers the behaviour of a child/young person/group/class/school.

As noted in Topic 4, behavioural approaches assume that behaviour is learnt as a result of what goes on in the child’s environment – changing what goes on can change behaviour. Several learning theories are relevant here – Pavlov’s classical conditioning, Skinner’s neobehaviourism and Bandura’s learning theory. Also, systemic approaches focus on the interaction between the behaviour, the thoughts and the environment of the child.

Behaviour as communication: the emotional environment

Behaviour can be a means of communication. Children and young people respond to their social and emotional experiences by their behaviour. Sroufe (cited in Wetz 2009, p. 58) notes that:

Children with a history of ‘anxious attachment are less ego resilient and are more dependent, show more negative affect and negative behavioural signs, show less positive affective engagement with others and are less popular with their peers. In general they are emotionally less healthy than children with a history of secure attachment’.

Geddes (cited in Wetz 2009, p.56) argues that:

. . . attachment theory might help us to construct a model of schooling as a ‘secure base’ in which young people can work effectively – emotionally and cognitively – in a setting which offers them safety, security and stability. Awareness of the behaviours and responses associated with insecure attachment would help us as teachers to be sensitive to young people’s anxieties in the face of challenges evoked by learning and school environments.

Activity 2.6.1

This activity seeks to consider the emotional environment in your classroom. Does your classroom setting offer safety, security and stability? How do you know? Discuss this with a colleague.

Behaviour in context: the environment

A useful approach to consider with regard to contextualising behaviour is to undertake an ABC analysis of behaviour. This approach is a behaviourist approach, and starts with the principle that behaviour is rational. The ABC refers to Antecedent (possible triggers for the behaviour), Behaviour (what happened) and Consequence (what happened after the behaviour). It is easy to develop an observational table to record this.

Antecedent Behaviour Consequence
ABC Chart

A: Antecedent

What happened immediately before the misbehaviour, the events that led up to it?

  • What was the provocation, who did or said, or did not say, what?
  • What was the setting for the behaviour? Is it always at the same activity, with the same child, or children?
  • Does it always happen at certain times of the day or on the same day of the week?

B: Behaviour

  • What precisely did the child do?

C: Consequences

  • What happened as a result of the behaviour?
  • How was the problem dealt with?
  • What did the others do?
  • How did they react?

Remember that the consequences might be reinforcing the undesirable behaviour, for example, gaining adults’ attention, peer approval, avoiding disliked activity.

(Gloucestershire local authority)

In analysing such a record, it becomes possible to manipulate elements of the environment in order to reduce the occurrence of the undesired behaviour. 

Activity 2.6.2

This activity gives you an opportunity to complete an ABC of behaviour [.doc]. If you are concerned about a learner’s behaviour, discuss with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator – and parent/carer – the possibility of undertaking an ABC of their behaviour. What were the challenges? What were the outcomes?

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