Academic Behavior



Discipline through Drama Integration


In this section we will be taking a look at student academic behavior as it affects the learning attributed of children. Included will be an examination of several success versus failure student behaviors including the “Success-oriented,” “Failure-avoider,” “Overstriver,” and “Failure-acceptor” models. We will also look at how parental input affects these behaviors and how putting students in perceived personal control of their academic behaviors can impact the negative effects of these models. We will then look at how the “Executive Functions” of the brain affects academic behavior; innovative concepts of classroom management; and contemporary attitudes toward student discipline and how it too impacts student academic behavior and learning. We end this section with a look at some innovative physicality of the contemporary classroom.


In WikiEducator Attribute Resource (2008), behavior problems are caused by many factors but primarily they are the result the immature executive functions of the developing brain (See: Executive Functions and Academic Behavior below). However basically negative behavior deficits fall into three categories:

Fear – A climate of fear can be created and includes the fear of the material, of the teacher, or of fellow students. Students express fear in various ways and this includes a fear of being struck, embarrassed, and/or excluded. Children should never be hit, under any circumstances. They should also never be belittled or treated with lack of respect.

Flight – This is the largest segment of student negative behavior. The students who are not remembered are the ones who seem quiet in class and are often the ones who suffer the most in social situations. They know how to hide or leave difficult situations. This behavior is often referred to as “flight” because it describes students who tend to remove themselves from the interactions in the classroom. In other words, they “flee” the classroom environment because they feel uncomfortable in it.

Since students cannot physically remove themselves from what is happening in the classroom (with the exception of serious behavioral problems where students – especially older ones – get up and leave during class or skip classes). Covington (1999) quoted one high school dropout as saying “I was invisible, man. I knew it. I sat in those schools for two years. I sat in the back of the room and did nothing. I didn’t speak to anyone and no one spoke to me. Nobody said, ‘Do your work,’ or nothing. Then one day I said it, ‘Man, I’m invisible here.’ I got up and walked out of the door and never went back” (p. 25).

This student type often employs strategies that allow them to reduce their presence in the classroom. Some students pretend that they are absorbed in taking notes or working on a problem in their notebook to avoid being called upon and participate in class, for example. They do not understand the material or have no interest in what is being taught/discussed, and instead of asking a question the way an engaged student would, they stay silent and will often pretend that they are doing work because they know that the teacher is less likely to ask them a question if they appear to be on task. Some students, when asked if they understand the material, will state that they do, when in fact all they are doing is deflecting attention from themselves, hoping that the teacher will move on to someone else.

Students who find classroom situations stressful (because they do not have any friends in the class, or because they just have no interest in being there, or because they are exceptionally shy) are quite likely to blame themselves for all their shortcomings, which causes even more disengagement from the class, their peers, and the teacher. Teachers need to create the kind of learning environment where such students will be encouraged to participate and to “risk” engagement.

All too often, teachers tend to assume that students who appear to be working or who stay quiet are one less problem to worry about – often, the opposite is true. A good teacher will ensure that all students participate and feel comfortable asking questions, seeking clarification, admitting that they do not understand, and interacting with their peers and the teacher.

Fight – Disruptive students intimidate their teachers. Their behavior may be confrontational or aggressive. They are often attacked themselves, either at home or in their community, and this is often all that they know. They may withdraw from classroom interactions or, more commonly, may be openly hostile to the teacher or their peers – this is their way of asserting control. Often, the reaction of the teacher – whether anger or punishment – makes the situation worse.


Covington (1998) wrote that in 1930, at the University of Berlin Ferdinand Hoppe, an achievement motivation researcher, conducted an experiment using an odd conveyor-belt contraption with a series of pegs that moved on circular rollers at a uniform rate of speed, much like a row of ducks in a shooting gallery. He was trying to determine how, psychologically, humans define success and failure. Unlike the objective measurement of height, weight, or temperature, there are few consistents when it comes to judging whether a particular achievement is successful. Success and failure mean different things to different people. The same accomplishment can elicit pride in one person and self-rebuke in another, giving rise to the truism “one person’s success is another person’s failure.” For all the subjectivity involved, however, these judgments do proceed in lawful ways as Hoppe was to discover (p.27).

Hoppe (1930) invited an assortment of local tradespeople and university students to practice tossing rings on the moving pegs at various distances from the target. He found that some subject’s behavior was self-satisfaction after placing, say, eight rings, while others expressed extreme frustration at only twelve correct tosses. Additionally, Hoppe found that the performance level needed to arouse feelings of success changed over time for each individual. A score that was initially judged a success might well be considered unacceptable on a later practice trial (p. 28).

These behaviors make sense only in light of an individual’s personal goals, or as they eventually came to be known, “levels of aspiration” (Diggory, 1966). Hoppe found that judgments of success or failure depended less on the actual levels of performance than on the relationship between their performances and their aspirations. Thus when Hoppe’s subjects achieved their personal goals they felt successful. By the same token, when their performances fell below their self-imposed minimums, their behavior reflected feelings of failure.

It was now possible to give meaning to the concept of self-confidence (see: Achievement Motivation), another psychological state of mind like success and failure. Self-confidence is subjective which is why some people may see hope in a situation that seems hopeless to everyone but themselves while other people behave despondent despite the fact that they seem to have everything going for them. Basically, self-confidence reflects the extent to which individuals believe themselves as able, strong or coordinated (p. 29).

The word “expectancy” generally refers to perceived estimates of eventual success; of how sure individuals are of doing well but not necessarily that they themselves are the cause of their success. As such, expectations and confidence are not the same. For example, some students may remain optimistic about an outcome not necessarily because they judge themselves equal to the test, but because the assignment might be perceived as easy or because they may be counting on help from others. Accordingly, success may or may not act to increase self-confidence.

By raising or lowering their aspirations, Hoppe’s subjects created a check-and-balance mechanism involving what researchers have subsequently called a “typical shift” (e.g., Atkinson & Raynor, 1974). After success they typically shifted their aspirations upward and, conversely, after failure they usually shifted them lower. In the latter case, they protected themselves against the possibility of repeated failure, and by raising aspirations after succeeding they avoided getting bored.

So pervasive were these self-correcting maneuvers that subjects would often unconsciously lean in closer toward the pegs after a failure or two, or after committing themselves to a particularly high performance goal, thereby making the task easier without necessarily having to change their aspirations. In fact, the distance that individual subjects stood from the target, when given a choice, became recognized by later researchers as an important measure of the person’s willingness to take risks (p.30).


John Atkinson’s theory of achievement motivation (1957, 1981, 1987) was built on Hoppe’s research. According to Atkinson, all individuals can be characterized by two learned drives, a motive to approach success and a motive to avoid failure (see: Innovative Education and the Concept of Iteration). These two opposing motives are viewed as relatively stable personality characteristics. Psychologically speaking, the approach mode is defined by a hope for success or, as Atkinson (1964) put it, “a capacity to experience pride in accomplishment” (p. 214).

However, students are not to the extreme either/or success-oriented or failure-avoiding. Students are more likely to share these characteristics to one degree or another, a circumstance that creates an almost endless variety of motivational patterns within the same classroom. Common sense as well as the observations of many clinical psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, suggests that individuals can be simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the same situation.

Atkinson acknowledged this reality by suggesting that the motive to approach success and the motive to avoid failure are separate, independent dimensions. This simply means that where individuals find themselves on one dimension, say, high on the approach dimension does not depend on their placement on the avoidance dimension. This independent relationship allows the description of four different types of students, each of which represents a distinctly different combination of achievement motives:

Success-oriented: These students, also known as success-strivers, are characterized by a combination of high approach, low avoidance. They possess a great capacity for intrinsic involvement and a restless curiosity. Their “free” time normally includes various extracurricular activities. Self-sufficient, resourceful, and self-assured characterize this student type.

Failure-avoiders: These students are considered the opposite as low-approach, high-avoidance. Their avoidance tendencies normally outweigh the anticipation of success and can be characterized as “able but apathetic (Beery, 1975).” Their feelings toward school and life in general are continual boredom; they often appear listless and vaguely apprehensive much of the time. Normally good but not superior students they usually figured out the easiest way to get a good grade which includes relying on a last-minute surge of studying to make up for weeks of neglect, procrastination, and disinterest in classes.

These passive, ambivalent reactions to school stem not so much from indifference, that is, a relative absence of the motive to achieve, but rather from excessive worry about failure and its implications that they are not able enough. In such cases fear is most typically avoided by escaping the threat, either actually dropping out of school or by means of psychological withdrawal. In the psychological realm, the implications of failure can be avoided through the use of defensive, magical thinking by which the student sometimes denies the meaning of impending failure or by which they minimizes the importance of assignment. They can feel guilty and anxious about their accomplishments, worrying secretly that they are somehow a fraud, not really as knowledgeable as their grades reflect and bothered that someday they will be found out. This student type is also known as “anxious-defensive” (Wieland-Eckelmann, Bosel, & Badorrek, 1987) who repress or disregard threatening messages and react to stressful events by withdrawing (Depreeuw, 1992).

Overstrivers: These students are characterized as a combination of high approach, high avoidance and illustrate the importance of independent dimensions. Independence allows the characterization of the achievement process as a conflict of opposing forces. The essential nature of overstrivers reflects this conflict and they are both drawn to and repelled by the prospects of achievement.

These individuals attempt to avoid failure by succeeding. This reason for achieving is eventually self-defeating because its purpose is basically defensive, even though in the short run it may lead to extraordinary successes. These students are normally a teacher’s joy in that they are bright, hard-working, compliant, and seem especially mature for their years. Whenever possible they do far more than their assignments require and when school work is not challenging enough, which is usually the case, they sets additional goals by negotiating extra-credit assignments. They sometimes have intense doubts about their adequacy and can be slavish commitment to work that often drives them to the edge of exhaustion (p. 38).

Failure-acceptors: These students reflect the relative absence of both hope and fear (low approach, low avoidance). In this case any conflict (and therefore arousal) is minimal, and as a result the chances of these individuals learning very much are minimal, too. They remain basically indifferent to achievement events although indifference is open to several interpretations. With the failure-avoiders passivity as a kind of motivated inaction that allows them to avoid making mistakes and looking stupid. But indifference can also mean genuinely not caring, as when, for example, the lessons to be learned in school hold no relevance for one’s life.

Indifference may even reflect hidden anger, as when one is forced to conform to middle-class values that hold no attraction. This latter kind of indifference has often been attributed to minorities and poor white children. Finally, indifference may also reflect resignation and loss of hope. In self-worth terms this means giving up the struggle to avoid the implications of failure and in the process concluding that one is not bright enough to succeed in school (Covington & Omelich, 1985). (p. 39)