Assisting A Boy With Special Needs Education Essay

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The Primary school setting, in which the research will take place, is situated within the Borough of Lambeth and consists of one form per year. The prime research, however, will be carried out in the reception class, consisting of thirty children, one teacher, one early years educator and a teaching assistant (the researcher), all of which come from different cultures, religion and nationalities. The researcher's role within the setting is to assist a boy with special education needs.

The primary school in question encourages the use of reward systems, as they belief these 'will build children's self-esteem and act as an incentive to behave in school' (anonymous, 2009) (Appendix 2). A variety of rewards are primed within the setting, however, for the purpose of this project, only two will be investigated: 'golden time' and 'happy faces'. 'Golden time', is a rewards system used in conjunction with the 'Traffic Light System' (Appendix 2). In order to earn golden time, children must ensure that the class and school's golden rules are followed throughout the week. If achieved, five minutes of 'golden time' per day will be earned. However, if a child fails to adhere to the golden rules, and thus moved to red (traffic light), then the five minutes are not attained. The happy face system, on the other hand, is a system which enables a group of children to earn happy faces by working hard, tidying up silently at the end of each activity, and lining up noiselessly. At the end of the week, the group that earns more happy faces gets a little prize from the 'goody bag'.

Definition Of Research And Link To Professional Development:

Through professional experience, it has been observed how behaviour management systems do not always produce consistent results. Acknowledging these inconsistencies is the first step necessary in order to 'practically change an issue within the working environment to improve the researcher's and their colleagues' knowledge and practice' (Roberts-Holmes, 2005:44). This will be achieved through the use of 'action research', which according to Schon (1983) is an essential part of professional development as it is 'centrally concerned with a process of development, change and improvements' (Schon 1983, cited in Bruce 2006: 256). Such changes might involve individual or collective change of practice and possible policy (Boots and Ainscow 2004, cited in Roberts-Homes, 2005).

1.2 Hypothesis and Research Question:

Following the researcher's curiosity and observations, the following hypothesis was developed 'If reward systems are in place in a primary school setting, then the behaviour of boys aged four to five years old will be positively influenced'. In order to prove the above hypothesis, a question was devised 'Do rewards systems established within a primary school setting positively change the behaviour of boys aged four to five years old?'

Literature Review:

2.1 Definition of two variables:

Rewards: 'are desired objects or events made conditional on having fulfilled some criterion: only if you do this will you get that' (Kohn, 1999:53)

Behaviour is 'everything that we say or do that can influence or have an impact on another person' (Riddall-Leech, 2003:3)

Main Supporting Theories

The purpose of this literature review is to evaluate literature and legislation/s previously or currently published in relation to rewards and behaviour. This in combination with the project's finding might enable the researcher to answer this project's research question: Do rewards systems established within a primary school setting positively change the behaviour of boys aged four to five years old?

Since the publication of Elton Report (1989), schools within the United Kingdom (UK) sponsored the development of reward systems to encourage positive behaviour (Williams, 1993). This approach to discipline is also presently recommended by the UK government's office for Standards and Education (Ofsted, 2005) and the Steer Report (2005), which stated that 'clear rules and the consistent application of rewards [is] essential... to promote pupil engagement and good behaviour' (Steer, 2009:44). The emphasis on the delivery of contingent rewards to acquire a desired behaviour makes the approach a behavioural one. Skinner (1904-1990), one of the behaviourists who most influenced educational practices in behaviour modification, created the term 'Operant Conditioning' (1954), which refers to the idea that a person's (or animal's) behaviour is modified through the use of reinforcements (rewards). Thus, 'when a response (positive behaviour) occurs and is reinforced [with rewards], the probability that it will occur again in the presence of similar stimuli is increased' (Bodnar & Lusk, 1979:216). Similarly, Thorndike (1911) stated that 'behaviour is more likely to be repeated if it is rewarded' (Stuart, 1999:147); he called this the 'law of effect'. An example of this type of approach is 'golden time' which according to Mosley & Sonnet (2005) has become 'a key strategy for rewarding and celebrating behavioural success' (Mosley & Sonnet, 2005:19). They believe that receiving a regular incentive will help children to feel recognised for what they are achieving. This in turn, will positively modify the behaviour of children as well as increase their self-esteem and self-motivation (Mosely & Sonnet, 2005).

Bandura's (1989), on the other hand, further developed behaviourist principles by taking into account the importance of modelling. His 'Bobo Doll' studies demonstrated that children could learn behaviours based on observation and the reward and punishment of others rather than the self (Stuart, 1999). It could be said, therefore, that his theory acted as a bridge between behaviourism and developmental theories, since it took into account the mind or mental dimensions of human learning. He recognised that 'reinforcement is not always immediate and that learning may occur where there is no immediate or apparent reward (Pound, 2005).

After enjoying a period of popularity, behaviourist theory has been heavily criticised. One significance reason is that, when contingent rewards are used to control behaviour and children's intrinsic motivation to perform, the behaviour may appear to be damaged. This is supported by Leeper, Greene and Nisbett (1973) who reported that 'extrinsic reward thus seems to supplant whatever intrinsic rewards an activity provides (Leeper et al 1973, cited in Pallak et al, 1982:1). As a result, the activity is unlikely to be selected unless external rewards are available. Their findings are also presently maintained by author Catherine Corrie (2009) and her 'emotional intelligence' theory, which asserts that:

'the constantly giving [of] rewards are not always good practice. At best it can be a wasted opportunity to develop children's intrinsic motivation; at worse it can develop an ingrained dangerous pattern of behaviour that could lead to a generation of people whose only motivation is to please or be part of any group in which they find themselves'

(Corrie, 2009:108).

Another explanation behind behaviourism criticism is that the benefits which are presented when providing contingent, may quickly be lost once the intervention has ended (Evans et al (2003). Montessori (1912-1964), for example, established through her years of professional experience that 'rewards for school learning [and behaviour modification] are so expected that students might not be willing to perform ... [or behave] without them' (Montessori 1912-1964, cited in Lillard:158). She also came to see rewards as a great interference with children's learning and concentration. She believed that 'a child does not need praise; praise breaks the enchantment' (Montessori, 1989, cited in Lillard, 2005:172).

Others, such as Kohn (1999) and Bruce (2005), not only saw behaviourism and thus the use of reinforcements to control behaviour as partly faulty, but rather as a useless and counterproductive system. Kohn (1999), for instance, argues that the real punishment of rewards systems is the damaging effect on children's adulthood. Thus, 'children who are taught and controlled by a reward...will be perpetually guided by opportunities of instant gratification and the gear of "getting caught" rather than morals, values and self-determination' (Kohn, 1999:165). He also, suggests that 'discipline through the use of rewards is ineffective, but if it did succeed in keeping order in classroom, it fails to help children become reflective and compassionate people' (Kohn, 1999:165). These views are also maintained by Tina Bruce (2007) who expressed concerns about the fact that rewards do not help the child to reflect, analyse or think about the reasons behind their behaviour and thus unable them to develop morally and spiritually (Bruce, 2005). Furthermore, she also addresses a variety of issues in terms of the implementation of reward systems. An example of this is that 'rewards mask problems and ignore reasons why children ... behave as they do' (Bruce, 2005:169).

An important aspect of this project which has not yet been considered within this literature is the fact that genetic difference may have an impact on the results of this project, since boys might find more challenging to obey the rules and/or contingences of rewards. Moses (1999), for example, found that boys are less motivated at school, which makes them less likely to conform to the class/school's norms (cited in Long, 2002), which is supported by aspects such as the generally higher level of behavioural difficulties which boys present. Gurian (1991), for example suggests that 'boys get bored more easily than girls ... [and that] girls are better at self-managing boredom' (Gurian 1991, cited in Browne, 2004:29). She further states that boys' boredom is the cause of them 'acting out' and thus disrupting the class (Browne, 2004). Moreover, Duffy (2002) explains that 'boys tend to be action-orientated, impatient, imaginative, inclined to take risks . . . [and thus] their learning and motivational skills [are detrimental in terms of rules conformity]' (Duffy 2002, cited in Browne, 2004:29)

By considering the above viewpoints, it would seem possible to state that any approach is neither right nor wrong, as each unique child manifest different characteristics within them. Maslow (1968), for example maintained that if the basic needs of the child are not met, his behaviour will be affected, regardless of extrinsic or intrinsic motivations (Maslow 1968, cited in Mosley & Sonnet, 2005).

Ethical Implications

When undertaking a research project, it is imperative to consider a variety of ethical considerations, as research 'carries with it the potential for risk amongst the research participants, both children and adults, and for the researcher themselves' (Coady 2001, cited in Roberts-Holmes, 2005:56). Consequently, prior to the research, consent forms (Appendix 1) were obtained from all adult participants, in which information was provided stating the research's aims and objectives. Children's consent was also attained from their primary carers; however, children were informed that participation was not obligatory and that they could decide to withdraw from the project at any point in time. Consequently, the researcher will ensure that all children are heard and aware of their rights, every time observations and/or interviews are carried out, following therefore the following legislation; National Children's Bureau (NCB) 2002, the United Nations Right of the Children (UNRC) 1991 - Article 12 & 13, the Children's Bill 2004 and the Children Act 2004. Additionally, all participants were notified that personal and sensitive date would be confidential and anonymous, thus adhering to requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998, Duty of Confidentially and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. However, there were also informed that the researcher's duty is to protect the children during research (The National Children's Bureau 2003 & British Sociological Association 1994), hence 'limit [ations] to any guarantee of confidentiality or anonymity where child protection is an issue [were limited]' (NCB 2002, cited in Roberts-Holmes, 2005:61).

This project will too be in line with the following legislations; Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (DfES, 2008), Every Child Matters (2004) and the Common Core. However a detailed explanation of why these and the above policies and legislations have been considered within this project can be found in Appendix 7.


4.1 Triangulation:

Through 'action research', it is hoped to investigate whether reward systems are promoting positive behaviour and thus proving beneficial for children. Since the voice of the child is crucial within this project, the methodology chosen is child-centred. However, in order to 'reach a better understanding of the topic' (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2000, cited in Robert-Holmes, 2005:40) and thus answer the research question, the perspective of all participants will also be measured. This will be achieved with triangulation, which according to Laws (2003) is: 'to see the same thing from different perspectives and thus to be able to confirm or challenge the findings of one method with those of another' (Laws 2003, cited in Bell, 2005: 116). In order to perform this type of research practice, a variety of research instruments, such as observations, questionnaires and interviews will be employed, increasing therefore, the validity of the project as well as making the findings more convincing (Hughes 2001, cited in Roberts-Holmes, 2005).

After considering the above instruments in depth, it was observed how each one of them displays a variety of advantages and disadvantages. These have been recorded in appendix 5, where the researcher has attempted to convert the weaknesses into strengths.

4.1.1 Observations

The purpose of structured/non-participant observations is to collect first-hand evidence from children through the use of a personalised system of categories, which will enable the researcher 'to make a record of the behaviour of individuals in groups' (Bell, 2005:189). It is intended to observe a total of five boys and five girls. However, this will be revised later in the project depending on the respond of children and/or their parents/carers.

4.1.2 Questionnaires:

The purpose of questionnaires is to gain understanding of parents or carers' perspective on the use of rewards to promote constructive behaviour. This is supported by the school's Behaviour and Anti-bullying policy (Appendix 2) and the DfES (2005a) which states that the involvements of parents/carers within the rewards system is imperative if improvement in pupils' behaviour is to continues outside school (DfES, 2005a). It is intended to evaluate a total of ten questionnaires. However, this decision might be modified depending on the respond received.

4.1.3 Interviews:

For the purpose of this project, two set of interviews will perform. The aim of interview A is to learn whether children know the steps necessary to earn rewards and their views about the settings' reward system (The Children Act 2004). The purpose of interview B (structured) is to learn the practitioner's views on rewards and their impact on behaviour. It is intended to interview a total of ten children and five practitioners. However, this will be later revised, depending on participants' respond.

4.2 Research Plan:

A detailed action plan (Appendix 4) has been designed to assist with the schedule of the project. According to Bell (2005), personal research diaries 'can be invaluable in tracking the progress of your research, recording names, addresses, notes of telephone calls, good ideas you had in the middle of the night - anything that happens (or might happen)' (Bell, 2005:180). Personally, the use of an action plan has allowed foreseeing a broad picture of the project, enabling the researcher to prepare in advance for the fore coming stages.


Problems and Possibilities of Change / Barriers to the project and how can they be overcome.

When undertaking action research, it is expected to encounter a variety of barriers; this project was not different. The first barrier manifested at the beginning of the research proposal, after the researcher chose her two variables; behaviour and outdoor play (see reflective journal - Appendix 6). Secondly, the project itself appeared to be large and unmanageable. At first, the researcher was not able to anticipate the steps necessary in order to produce a professional and respectable report. However, through the use of a detailed action plan (Appendix 4), it was possible to organise the project and thus change the researcher's fears and attitude towards the project. Acquiring consent forms from all parents/carer within the reception class (thirty in total), is a barrier which is believed to have conquer before presented , as it will be possible to continue the project if parents/carers and/or children decide to withdraw from the project.

5.2 How is this project linked to your professional development?

Since the beginning of this academic year, it was noted how the use of rewards can be unpredictable, creating therefore predicament for those practitioners trying to promote behaviour through the use those systems. Drew (1980), for example, states that 'research is conducted to solve problems and to expand knowledge' (Drew 1980, cited in Bell, 2005: 4). By undertaking this project, the researcher will be able to expand her knowledge, extensively understand the subject research and extend her professional skills and those of her colleagues, by transferring her knowledge to others. Furthermore, the research outcome will provide the researcher instruments to promote positive behaviour when managing her own class, once she becomes a qualified Primary school teacher.

Word Count: 2160 (excluding quotes)