This essay is going to be discussing two different theories of learning within the Early Years Foundation Stage. The two theories that are going to be compared are the theory of Operant Conditioning which was conducted by Skinner and the second was the Social Learning Theory which was conducted by Bandura. The first theory that will be discussed is Operant Conditioning.
B F Skinner was a behaviourist who studied children's behaviour and from this he developed the theory of Operant Conditioning. Skinner developed the idea of Operant Conditioning the work of Edward Thorndike. One definition of Operant Conditioning is: "behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences tend to be repeated and thus learned. Behaviour that is followed by unpleasant consequences tends not to be repeated and thus not learned." (Alberto and Troutman, 2006; pg. 12). Operant Conditioning consists of two different types of reinforcement. The first type of reinforcement is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is a way of reinforcing a desired behaviour in children through positive feedback or rewards. For example, in terms of learning, a practitioner may praise a child for giving the correct answer to a question. There are two different types of positive reinforcement. These are positive reinforcers and negative reinforcers. Positive reinforcers are when a positive outcome is used as a reward. So for example, if a child is behaving a sticker will be given to them at the end of the day. Negative reinforcers are when something negative is taken away when the child does something good. So for example, if a child has not behaved and have been told that they are going to be missing some of their play and the child does something good later on the child will have their play returned. The second type of reinforcement is negative reinforcement. This is also known as punishment. Negative reinforcement can be explained by the removal of a negative stimulus to increase the likelihood of the child acting in the desired way. For example, if two children are consistently talking to each other negative reinforcement would involve separating the two children so that they cannot talk to each other. There are two different types of negative reinforcement. These are negative punishment and positive punishment. Negative punishment is where something positive the child has been given is taken away from them after bad behaviour. If the school uses a chart system such as a rainbow chart to show children's behaviour and a child has behaved throughout the day and had their name put on the rainbow, if they then misbehave they will be moved lower down the chart towards the cloud. Positive punishment is where the child is misbehaving and they have a negative response for it. An example of this is where the child a child gets scolded for poor behaviour. Another example of this is where a child rocks on their and are told off for it. If they do it again and fall off of the chair and hurt themselves they will learn not to do it again. Children within the Early Years Foundation Stage are still learning the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Operant Conditioning Theory is relevant to children of this age group due to the fact that the key concept of this theory is reward and punishment. If children are rewarded for good behaviour and punished for bad behaviour consistently, they are more likely to learn the correct way to behave.
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Skinner's Operant Conditioning Theory can clearly be seen within my setting. Throughout my setting each of the classes use Operant Conditioning a lot with the children. In my particular classroom, the teacher uses a system known as the rainbow system. The children's names start off on the sun at the beginning of the day and if they behave really well and work really hard then there name will be moved up to the rainbow and if they continue to work hard then their names move up to the pot of gold. At the end of the day if there are children whose names are still on the pot of gold then they receive a sticker. However, if the children are being disruptive, they are given a warning by the teacher and if they carry on then their names and moved down to the cloudy sky image and then if they still carry on their names will be moved down to the rain cloud. I feel that Operant Conditioning theory is relevant in my setting as it is used consistently throughout the school. Firstly, it is not just in the EYFS it is used, it is also used in all of the other classes through a merit system. The merit system is very good as if the children get enough merits throughout the year and their time in the school they receive a reward. Also, on Sports Day, they school is split into six different groups and if the merits each child gets throughout the year for their group is added to the total they receive on Sports Day and the group that wins is given the House Cup. Another reason why I feel that Operant Conditioning is relevant in my setting is due to the fact that it is consistent throughout the whole school. It is not just used in the classroom, they also use it in assemblies. For example, throughout the assemblies the practitioners walk around and observe the children and those that are behaving throughout the whole of the assembly will receive merit points to hand to their teacher. However, there are some weaknesses in the ways in which this system in used within my setting. For example, although it is a good idea, I feel that not all of the children are recognised for their good behaviour. Although I understand that it may be difficult for the practitioners to recognise all of the children that are behaving well, some of the children may feel that they are not noticed for behaving appropriately.
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The second theory in which is going to be discussed within this essay is Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory. Albert Bandura is a behaviourist theorist. Social Learning Theory is based mainly on Behaviourism and Cognitive Theory. The main ideas behind the Social Learning Theory are modelling and observation. An example of Social Learning Theory within a school setting is when a child is misbehaving and another child who is very familiar with child imitates their behaviour. Social Learning Theory is relevant to the Early Years Foundation Stage due to the fact that the key concept of this particular theory is imitation and modelling. Children of this level and age tend to copy others in terms of how they behave. They also tend to copy those that are role models to them.
Bandura's Social Learning Theory is also evident within my placement. Throughout the school the teachers act as good role models for the children and they try to get children to replicate good behaviour. For example in my placement the teachers try to get the children to replicate good behaviour that they see within the classroom setting. So if a child is not sitting quietly and another child is the teacher is likely to comment on the child's good behaviour. Then the teacher will tell the child misbehaving that should act how the other child is acting. The theory is also evident within my placement through the practitioners themselves. For example, children tend to imitate the ways in which their teachers behave, so the practitioners within my setting behave in ways in which they want the children to behave so that the children will replicate good behaviour. I feel that this theory is also relevant in my placement. There are some strengths and weaknesses to this theory being used in the EYFS. First of all the strengths of using this theory in my placement are that if a child is behaving well in the classroom, other children around them are more likely to copy this behaviour. However, a weakness of this theory being used within my placement is that children who are not behaving and are not addressed by the practitioner are also likely to have that behaviour imitated by other children in the class which could lead to many of the children behaving in this way.
Operant Conditioning and Social Learning Theory are different in many different ways. First of all; in Operant Conditioning the main focus is on rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour, but in Social Learning Theory the main focus is on children replicating behaviours that they have observed and witnessed from their role models. Another way in which operant conditioning and social learning theory differ from each other is in terms of when children learn. First of all, in operant conditioning, children learn how to behave from what they have experienced previously, whereas with social learning theory, children learn from each experience when they imitate a behaviour from the practitioner or their classmates.
Both of these theories are also similar in many different ways. First of all, both of the theories focus on children observing behaviour and behaving in a way that they have learnt is the appropriate way. So for example in operant conditioning the children observe other children around them behaving to get rewards or they themselves have behaved in order to get rewards and they have learnt that to get the reward they need to behave the same way in which they did before. In social learning theory the children observe other people around them behaving in a particular way and they imitate this behaviour, especially if it is someone they consider a role model or it is someone who they are very good friends with.
To conclude, both of these theories are very useful to use in a classroom setting when working with younger children. However, from my experience I feel that Bandura's Social Learning Theory, may not be the best theory to use when working with the EYFS due to the fact that the children are very young and do not quite understand the concept of good and bad behaviour and they do tend to imitate the behaviour of those around them that they are friends with. Overall, I do feel that although there are limitations when using Social Learning Theory both Operant Conditioning and Social Learning Theory do work well together in aiding practitioners in educating the children within the EYFS.
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