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Group Dynamics & Classroom Discipline: The Pioneering Work of Fritz Redl & William Wattenberg


Fritz Redl emigrated from Austria

to the United States in 1936. He was a researcher, therapist, teacher, and professor of behavior science at Wayne State University.

He made many contributions as a

member of the department of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Albany, where he worked with deviant juveniles.

William Wattenberg, born in 1911, was a

educational psychologist that taught at Northwestern University, Chicago Teachers College, and Wayne State University. Wattenberg authored The Adolescent Years (1955), All Men Are Created Equal (1967), and co-authored Mental Hygiene in Teaching with Fritz Redl.

Contributions to Discipline
Prior to Redl and Wattenbergs contributions, classroom

discipline was thought of as teachers strong efforts to impose behavior requirements upon resistant students.

Mental Hygiene in Teaching (1951): The first set of

theory-based suggestions designed to help teachers understand and deal with misbehavior in the classroom.

Redl and Wattenberg were the first to describe how

students behave differently in groups than as individuals and the first to identify social and psychological forces that affect classroom behavior.

Central Focus
Redl and Wattenberg focused on group behavior,

its manifestations, causes, and control. Their purpose was to help teachers understand and deal with group behavior in the classroom. They showed how group behavior differs from individual behavior, pinpointed some of the causes of those differences, and set forth specific techniques for helping teachers deal with the undesirable aspects of group behavior.

Principle Teachings
People in groups behave differently

than they do individually. Students adopt identifiable roles in the classroom. Group dynamics strongly affect behavior. Teachers play many different roles that affect student behavior. Diagnostic thinking helps teachers solve behavior problems effectively. Teachers can correct student behavior and maintain class control by using influence techniques.

Principle Teachings continued

Supporting student self-control

is a low-key influence technique. Providing situational assistance is also a low-key influence technique. Appraising reality is an influence technique that helps students understand the underlying causes of their misbehavior and foresee the consequences if they continue. Invoking the pleasure-pain principle is an influence technique that entails rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior.

Analysis of Redl and Wattenbergs Views on Discipline: Student Roles and Behavior
Leaders: those that show

above-average intelligence, responsibility and social skills Clowns: those that assume the role of entertainer Fall guys: those who take the blame and punishment in order to gain favor with the group Instigators: those that cause trouble but act like they are not involved.

Group Dynamics
Group dynamics is when The effects of group

groups create their own psychological forces that bring strong pressure to bear on individuals.

dynamics are

1) Contagious behavior 2) Scapegoating 3) Teachers pets 4) Reactions to strangers 5) Group disintegration

Psychological Roles of Teachers

Representatives of

society Judges Sources of knowledge Helpers in learning Referees Detectives Models Caretakers Ego supporters Group leaders

Targets for hostility Friends and confidants Objects of affection

Surrogate parents

Control Techniques for Misbehavior: Diagnostic Thinking

Diagnostic Thinking

Forming a hunch 2) Gathering facts 3) Exploring hidden factors 4) Taking action 5) Remaining flexible

Applying Influence Techniques

Influence techniques: the actions that teachers use when

attempting to resolve problem behavior In order that teachers might acquire a consistently effective procedure for dealing with misbehavior, Redl and Wattenberg urge that teachers ask themselves a rapid series of questions before taking action:

1) What is the motivation behind the misbehavior? 2) How is the class reacting? 3) Is the misbehavior related to interaction with me? 4) How will the student react when corrected? 5) How will the correction affect future behavior?

Applying Influence Techniques continued

The answers to the previous questions help teachers

select a corrective technique that is likely to produce positive results overall. The 4 examples of corrective techniques are

1) Supporting self-control 2) Providing situational assistance 3) Appraising reality 4) Invoking the pleasurepain principle

Corrective Techniques: Supporting Self-Control

Supporting self-control is a technique that teachers

use aimed at helping students help themselves. It is low-key and is not forceful, aggressive, or punitive. Teachers can use the following techniques to support self-control:

Sending signals Physical proximity Showing interest Humor Ignoring

Corrective Techniques: Providing Situational Assistance

Situational assistance is used when the student

cannot regain self control. Teachers can

Provide hurdle help or individualized assistance Restructure or reschedule Establish routines Remove distracting objects Remove the student from the situation Use physical restraint

Corrective Techniques: Appraising Reality

In appraising reality, students examine a behavior

situation, note its underlying causes, and foresee its probable consequences. Teachers can

Clearly make a frank appraisal Show encouragement Set clear, enforceable limits

Corrective Techniques: Invoking the Pleasure-Pain Principle

The pleasure-pain technique should be the last technique used if the

previous 3 techniques failed.

In describing this principle , Redl and Wattenberg refer to rewards

as punishments but give relatively little attention to the reward (pleasure) aspect, while having much to say about the punishment (pain) aspect. the purpose of which is to change behavior in positive directions. These punishments should not be physical or vengeful toward the student. help the student. If the student feels good intentions from the teacher, he or she will be upset with themselves for losing control.

Punishment should consist of planned, unpleasant consequences

Teachers should communicate that they are not angry but wish to

Corrective Techniques: Invoking the Pleasure-Pain Principle continued

Punishment should only be used when other methods have failed. Many

things can go wrong when punishment is used: 1) Punishment takes the form of revenge or release from tension. 2) Punishment has detrimental effects on student self-concept and on relations with the teacher. 3) Over time, punishment reduces the likelihood that students will maintain self-control. 4) Students may endure punishment in order to elevate their status among peers. 5) Punishment presents an undesirable model for solving problems. Threats: emotional, empty statements that make students anxious and fearful Promises: unpleasant consequences that will be invoked when rules are broken.

Threats vs. Promises

Classroom Scenario


Additional Reminders
Redl, in his 1972 book When We Deal with Children,

reminds teachers of several principles to keep in mind with regard to student misbehavior.

1) Give students a say in setting standards and deciding consequences. Let them tell how they think you should handle situations that call for punishment. 2)Keep students emotional health in mind at all times. Punished students must feel that the teacher likes them. Talk to students about their feelings once they have calmed down. 3) Be helpful, not hurtful. Show your students you want to support their best behavior. 4) Punishment does not work well. Use it as a last resort. Try other approaches first.

Additional Reminders continued

5) Dont be hesitant to change your course of action if you get new insights into a situation. 6) Mistakes in discipline need not be considered disastrous unless they are repeated. 7) Be objective, maintain humor, and remember that we are all human.

Redl and Wattenberg made 4 landmark

contributions toward helping teachers work more effectively with students.

1) They described how humans behave differently in groups than they do individually, thus helping teachers understand classroom behaviors that might otherwise be perplexing. 2) The provided the first well-organized, systematic approach to improving student behavior. 3) They devised for their system a procedure for diagnosing the causes of student misbehavior, in the belief that by dealing with the causes, teachers could eliminate most misbehavior. 4) They established the value of involving students in discipline decisions and maintaining positive feelings.

Although Redl and Wattenbergs suggestions for

identifying student and teacher roles seemed viable, in practice they have provided limited benefits in classroom discipline. Once teachers identified roles, they remained unclear as to what to do about them to help student behavior become more acceptable. Their suggestions were too cumbersome and difficult to implement efficiently. Redl and Wattenberg may have been too optimistic.

Fritz Redl & William Wattenberg, Mental Hygiene in

Teaching (1951) Chapter 1, Group Dynamics and Classroom Discipline: The Pioneering Work of Fritz Redl and William Wattenberg Packet