5... 4... 3... 2... 1 silence

3rd January 2014 at 00:00

Teachers are more creative than lovers. That is the implication of "Cut out noise in class with our 35 top tips" (Professional, 13 December), which enumerated 35 techniques for shutting up students. Whereas Paul Simon, according to the accompanying editorial ("Rejoice in the sound of silence"), could come up with only five ways to leave your lover in his famous song.

The behavioural scientist in me says humbug to that. There are just five ways to silence a class and the teachers thought of only four of them. First, you can change the antecedent - what happens before the desired behaviour. Hence teachers do things like rattling tambourines. Second, you can add positive reinforcement (ie, a reward). Third up is negative reinforcement - for example, taking away points. Fourth is positive punishment, as demonstrated by the teacher-turned-referee who hands out yellow and red cards.

The missing trick is negative punishment, or removing something bad. You can scratch your nails down the chalkboard (if you have one). Or play the guitar badly until the students beg you to stop. This torture is of course nothing compared to the things people have dreamed up in order to end a relationship. I wonder, are teachers simply more squeamish than lovers?

Tony Sherborne, Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University.

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