Motivate Your Class Through Group Contingency

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Group contingency is a set of techniques based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which can be used for groups of children and adults. In ABA, these are used for individuals, but professionals and educators have found ways to adapt this to groups.

Group contingency aims to reinforce target behavior in a group setting. The goal is to change or modify behavior. It can be highly effective if used correctly. Group contingency can be used where there are groups of children or adults, be it in a classroom setting, work, or social groups.

What Types of Behavior can be Changed?

Group contingency can be used for behaviors that occur regularly.

Types of Group Contingency

Choose the type of group contingency based factors such as the number of individuals in your group, the severity of the behavior, group dynamics, and your goal. Below are the three types of group contingency.

  1. Dependent Group Contingency

In this group contingency, the behavior of an individual child or a small group of children will be targeted. The entire group will earn reinforcement if the individual child or small group can meet the criteria.

An example would be a child that constantly stands up and transfers to a different seat during class. The criteria would be to make that child stay in his or her seat for the duration of an entire class for one week. The student may be reinforced with extra 10-minute playtime at the end of the school week to encourage them to stay in their seat. If the child or small group can accomplish this, the entire class will have extra 10-minute playtime; otherwise, no one will have extra playtime.

This is a good strategy for targeting specific behaviors and teaching students accountability. However, this has to be carefully planned because this will put one child or a small group under the spotlight. If the child cannot meet the criteria, they may face anger and frustration from their peers.

2.                  Independent Group Contingency

In the independent group contingency, all members of the group have to meet the same criteria and will work toward earning the same reinforcer. The group will only access the reinforcer once everyone in the group has met the criteria. This can be useful if you want to change a specific behavior of the entire class. For example, handwashing after recess. The criteria can be washing hands for 20 seconds after recess for an entire week with a reinforcement of storytime on Friday before going home. Each student will be assessed. Those who can do this will be given credit, while those who don’t have to keep doing it until they meet the criteria.

Once all students can wash their hands thoroughly after recess, they can have storytime with the teacher on Friday before going home.

One advantage of this is that students will learn to look out for each other. If they want that storytime, they will make sure to remind their classmate about handwashing after recess. One disadvantage would be that it can be labor-intensive for the teacher. The teacher has to devise a way to monitor each students’ handwashing. This might be difficult with classes that have a lot of students.

3.                  Interdependent Group Contingencies

In this group contingency, all members of the group have to meet the same criteria. All children will earn or not earn the reinforcement. It’s an all-or-nothing arrangement. Interdependent group contingencies might work for a class that has strong teamwork. Since the students will work toward a common goal, they might motivate each other to do well. On the flip side, it might backfire if it cultivates a culture of peer pressure. This might not work for groups that have students with special needs.

Establishing Group Contingency in the Classroom

  1. Identify 2-3 concerns that you wish to address (attendance, proper hygiene, homework completion, etc.)
  2. Choose which one you wish to work with first.
  3. Determine what alternative behavior you wish to reinforce.
  4. Choose a reinforcer
  5. Choose the type of group contingency to use
  6. Collect data
  7. Gather the group. Teach the contingency and reinforcers. If it’s appropriate, have the group vote on which reinforcer they want. 
  8. Collect data and track the group’s progress

Final Thoughts

You can use different types of contingencies based on the needs you identify and the goals you wish to achieve. Keep in mind that each type of group contingency has its pros and cons. Make sure to target one behavior at a time. Always be mindful of the skills and aptitude of the group you are working with. Document the process well to assess whether your plan was successful.

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