Cover image for Freedom to learn : creating a classroom where every child thrives / Willans & Williams.
Freedom to learn : creating a classroom where every child thrives / Willans & Williams.
Publication Information:
Gabriola, BC : New Society Publishers, 2018.

Physical Description:
xi, 227 pages ; 23 cm
"Freedom to Learn combines a unique application of behavioral science and neuropsychology to create a powerful process for creating classroom environments in which the universal needs of children are met and students want to succeed, while behavioral problems largely vanish. Packed with real classroom examples and practical teaching methods, this guide gives teachers the tools to transform even difficult classrooms."-- Provided by publisher.


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Material Type
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371.1024 WIL Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Ditch the behavioral charts and start teaching for universal success

Disinterested students and behavioral problems are all too common in schools. Yet results show that behavior charts and other reward-and-punishment systems simply don't work. Teachers are burning out and students are failing. But what can be done?

The secret lies in a unique combination of behavioral science, neuropsychology, and group dynamics. When teachers get the classroom experience right, students want to succeed and achieve to their potential, while behavioral problems largely vanish.

For decades, it has been widely accepted that children have motivating needs including the need to avoid pain, a need for autonomy, and the need to belong. The authors harness these motivations into a method of interactions that increases cooperation, and in which children want to succeed and help others to thrive.

Packed with real classroom examples and practical guidance for using the methods, this guide gives teachers the tools to transform even difficult classrooms.

Start teaching for universal success in classroom management and academic accomplishments.

Author Notes

Dr. Art Willans holds Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in education and a Ph.D. in Developmental and Child Psychology. He operates a preschool/therapeutic preschool, where he has refined his revolutionary methods. He and his wife live in Reno, NV. Cari Williams is a teacher with a Bachelor of Science in Education and Special Education K-12. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband and three children.



Chapter Four The Methodology of Creating Successful Classrooms The most incredible thing about children is that they are ready made for learning. If a teacher is prepared to begin at the students' developmental level, children are perfectly built to learn in schools. They come to school in small, varied, and imperfect packages, but with the necessities to learn B human needs. The psychological and survival needs of humans serve as the motivational drive necessary for humans (students) to learn in any possible environment. When teachers learn how to help students meet their needs, they can develop students who are ambitious, cooperative, outstanding students, or anything else imaginable. Currently, in this country, this is easier than ever before because with only a few exceptions, the survival needs of children are at least minimally met by social programs. When survival needs are satisfied, students are instead driven to satisfy their psychological needs including socialization, avoiding psychological pain, intellectual stimulation, and autonomy. When we talk to teachers, they often tell us the only problems affecting their class are a few behavior issues; nevertheless students would not excel if our methods only provided solutions for behavioral problems. To solve the behavior problems and help students reach their potential, teachers must have a new system for motivating appropriate behavior. At the beginning of a school year, teachers will need to learn to adjust their methods for the grade level and type of students they have in class. The first order of business is to develop the students' expectations of success. This is not so much the cognitive expectations as it is the students' emotional expectations. While the students= cognition will play a role, all students must develop a positive emotional outlook for the classroom and coming school year. At the kindergarten and primary level this will mean, in just two or three days, anxiety is replaced by an eagerness to succeed. The fear of failure gives way to hope of success. The teacher helps students replace their self-doubt with a budding self-confidence. Soon, some students, who dread being rejected by classmates, will begin to feel included and important. Other students, who are terrified of being identified as a failure, will soon realize that they are becoming successful. Teachers at different grade levels and in various schools will encounter different challenges. Maybe in a suburban school, a second grade teacher can move past this emotional outlook step in a few hours. However, a fourth grade teacher, with a class where most of the students had little success in school for the past three years, will have a steep hill to climb. In essence, every teacher will need to start by ensuring all students develop an optimistic mindset. Teachers will often say, I know how to teach students to read, and understand numbers; However, I am not a psychologist. I cannot create a new mindset or change how students feel. The answer is, "Teachers are interacting with students every minute of every day.@ They are, therefore, affecting students at the social, emotional, behavioral, and, cognitive levels; each of these elements interact to influence academic learning. Our job is to help every teacher develop the expertise to use every interaction to develop self-confident students who use all the elements of their mind to excel. The Motivational Process. Many teachers find themselves bogged down in trying to stop problem behavior; however, the secret to developing the classroom environment that teachers want, is to approach the problem differently. For every inappropriate behavior that ever occurred in a school, a corresponding appropriate behavior represents the lesson to be taught. The most important question in education is how to approach nearly every potential problem by creating and building appropriate behavior. Instead of using consequences for every problem, a teacher uses specific techniques to develop appropriate behavior. When Dr. Willans talks to potential teachers and describes his approach to teaching, nearly everyone is enthusiastic. However, one teacher, just three minutes after entering the classroom for the first time, saw a student grab a treasured toy from a second child and a chase and resulting fight started. The teacher immediately concluded, ASo much for that ridiculous theory.@ She later said that she was thinking, AThe idiot who thought up that idea had never seen a real kid.@ She yelled at the students running through the classroom and they stopped and returned to their seats. This teacher had temporarily succeeded. Her anxiety had momentarily gone through the roof; however, as the two students walked back to their seats her anxiety receded. The science of human behavior is a funny thing; teachers are also subject to learning by the same process that affects students. The immediate actions of students can affect teachers' actions. When the students went back to their desks, they taught her to raise her voice. Because of the immediate success, she soon learned to stop disruptive behavior by raising her voice. Those two students had stopped what they were doing and that is exactly what the teacher wanted. Her response had worked; however, inappropriate behavior of students soon became a nearly constant problem. By yelling at the students the teacher had increased the anxiety of those two students and all the other students. As humans, the students, also, are motivated to reduce their anxiety, and they have several ways to do just that. They can talk to their friends, run around the classroom, throw things, call the teacher names, or get angry with someone. All of those behaviors will reduce anxiety and consequently the students were soon doing those things and more. The vicious cycle had begun. The teacher=s pain could have been avoided if only Dr. Willans had poured all of his knowledge and experience into her head before she started; unfortunately, we do not have that technology. After several days, the teacher asked Dr. Willans, AIs there a way off this merry-go-round that does not involve homicide, suicide, or insanity.@ The answer was, Ayes.@ Following six days of training, the cycle was broken and the students were free to learn. If a teacher wants students to refrain from certain behaviors, several factors are necessary. First, students must understand the rules and benefits of those rules to themselves and others. Second, students must trust teachers to protect them from injury and psychological pain. Third, teachers must create success. Fourth, a positive motivation system that encourages appropriate student behavior must be used. Fifth, each group of students must learn to work for the benefit of everyone. With these conditions present all students can use their prefrontal cortex to inhibit inappropriate behavior. A teacher does not want to be in a position of stopping misbehavior; instead teachers want the students to choose to behave appropriately. However, such a scenario requires a unique approach to teaching, and that approach must be consistent with the research into human behavior and neuroscience. The solution is not to punish inappropriate behavior, but to strengthen appropriate behavior. Individuals do not easily give up on functional responses. A caveman did not quit fishing because a bear chased him away from the river. Humans easily learn to persevere in the face of hardship. Too often, in education, coercive teachers become the hardship. As a result, students develop a perseverance to endure school, or ridicule the teacher. A difficult lessen for teachers to understand is that students will eliminate their own maladaptive responses when they are driven to learn. We have had teachers complain that they cannot wait for such a process to work; however, the process we describe will start working in just two minutes. In just a few weeks, teachers can have students managing their own behavior. Using Positive Motivation. For a student or a group of students to master their academic material, they must first learn to behave in ways that promote learning in a group setting. To help students in this process, teachers will need a motivational system. This chapter will describe the framework of a positive motivational system and later chapters will detail the application to the behaviors students need to learn. Motivation of human behavior was carefully studied decades ago, and the science is still the same. However, the application to education has resulted in behavior management procedures that have muddled the science almost beyond recognition. As described in Chapter Two, behavioral research showed, that any behavior that is immediately followed by a reinforcing stimulus will occur more frequently. Consider an example. When a child is hungry, he remembers that food is kept in the kitchen. The child, therefore, goes to the kitchen. He does not go to the bathroom, bedroom, or shed out back, unless that is where food is kept. Children will both remember where food is kept and engage in the necessary behavior to get food. Finding food was a reinforcing stimulus for remembering where to go and going to the kitchen. Readers should also understand, the behavior will be learned even if at times children do not find food in the kitchen. Sometimes the caveman did not find apples on the apple tree, but he did not forget how to find the tree. The same brain functions are necessary for remembering information and appropriate behavior. Students will choose to behave in ways that benefit them, because that is the nature of humans. They may or may not behave in ways that benefit teachers. If teachers want students to behave in ways that make teaching easier, they must be sure that such behavior benefits every student. Getting students willingly to pursue accomplishments is the only realistic path to academic achievement. Teachers only have a few choices for motivating behavior. Of the psychological needs, only two have much potential for teaching. Intellectual stimulation is important but cannot be manipulated to strengthen specific behavior. Social approval is the only human need that can be manipulated to motivate student behavior in classrooms. Fortunately, teachers can use social approval to build any behavior that is important to success in school. Chapter Two established the reasons for not using secondary reinforcers. To apply the motivational methods, teachers must understand different types of behavior. We will classify behaviors into three types. We call the types simple, complex, and continuation behaviors. Simple behaviors typically take very little time to complete. A student sitting down in his seat, is an example of a simple behavior. However, a student remaining in his seat is a continuation behavior and such behaviors can be maintained for considerable periods. For example running is a simple behavior that marathon runners continue for hours. Running for more than a few seconds would be considered a continuation behavior. Some behaviors are considered complex because they require chaining several simple behaviors together to do a task. For instance, starting a car is a complex behavior. To start a car one must have a key in his hand, insert it in the ignition, have ones foot on the brake, the transmission in park, and turn the key to start the engine. Each behavior is a simple behavior, but they must be combined to start a car. Teachers must understand how to strengthen various types of behaviors. For instance, to reinforce a student for hanging up his backpack (a simple behavior) the reinforcer must occur within a second or two following the behavior. A reinforcer will strengthen behavior that occurred immediately before the reinforcing stimulus. To increase the frequency of any behavior, teachers must immediately reinforce the response. Little, if any benefit, will be realized if a student is reinforced for behaviors that occurred several minutes earlier. An obvious goal of teachers is to increase the number of correct responses to academic material. For example, a student could answer a verbal question from the teacher; this would be a simple behavior and if he is correct the answer must be reinforced immediately following the response. Because other students can hear the answer, the reinforcer serves a dual purpose. Not only does the particular student need the feedback, but other students also need confirmation on whether the answer is correct. Teachers do not want to fail to reinforce correct answers, because to do so would leave several students confused. Acknowledging verbal answers as correct is necessary for academic development. More often a problem arises when students give incorrect answers that other students see or hear. Some care must be taken to diminish the negative effect on the student who gave the incorrect answer or students will start dreading these situations. For an incorrect answer, the teacher should avoid saying the answer was wrong. We advise teachers immediately to ask the same question to another student. If necessary, we would advise teachers to ask the question to two or three students in succession. When the question is answered correctly, the teacher should acknowledge the correct answer. Following the acknowledgment of the correct answer, the teacher wants every student who answered incorrectly to answer correctly. Every student, who participated, needs to answer the question correctly and get the teacher=s recognition for the correct answer. Sometimes teachers will need to give the correct answer to a student and immediately have the student repeat the correct answer. Learning is a result of correct answers being reinforced. Teachers can get students to relish the opportunities to show what they know. The situation is a little different when a student has written an incorrect answer on the board and other students are watching to see if it is correct. In these instances, we would suggest the teacher respond in one of two ways. First, the teacher can help the student answer correctly. When the answer is correct she then gives her verbal recognition of the correct answer. As a second alternative, a teacher could have the first student step aside and invite another student to show the correct answer. However, she must also get the first student to get the correct answer so it can be reinforced. If the question were to identify the subject of a sentence, this will work. If however, the question was to work a long division problem, the other students might get bored. In instances where a teacher wants a student to show a complex solution, she would be well advised to pick a student who cannot only get the correct answer but also explain the process. This is not a preferred situation for a student who is expected to have difficulty. *** Chapter Six Developing Effective Learners Finally we have come to perhaps the most important chapter in the book. All of the good conduct in the world does not make students smart. To build effective learners, teachers, at any grade level, must develop the behaviors necessary for learning. Many of those behaviors are the same for students from preschool through the college years. Many years ago Dr. Willans was visiting several public school classes in a university community. He visited schools in the poorest area of town and the best areas. On a day in April he was in a middle income area. Nearly all the students had scored between the 40thand 60thpercentile on achievement tests. His appointment was to visit Mrs. Daniels= sixth grade class; when he arrived, they were working on a writing assignment. He sat in the back of the room and watched as the students worked independently. The teacher was moving around the room and stopping to read what some students had written. She seldom said anything to a student. After a few minutes she asked Dr. Willans if he would like to move around the room and look at some papers. He said yes. She made an announcement to the class that he would also be coming around to see their work. Most of the students never looked up. The quality of the writing impressed him and he asked her opinion of the students= work. She said that she expected all of her students to score above the 90thpercentile in all academic areas. He asked what their scores were at the beginning of the year. Mrs. Daniels responded, "The average was just over the 50th percentile.@ On subsequent visits he learned more about how she taught and some points in this chapter are similar to the methods she use many years ago. Dr. Willans followed up at the end of the year and found the students had validated her prediction. The methods he had seen were worth remembering. Mrs. Daniels constantly kept a primary issue in mind; students had to learn how to learn. Every student needs to: develop a confidence to learn, gain the basic skills of learning, and learn to work independently. The conduct behavior of students is only part of the equation. They must also develop the academic behavior necessary for excelling in school. We describe the process for developing learners in this chapter. Students needing the confidence to learn reminds us of a conversation Dr. Willans recently had with a physician. The physician held that people, at any given moment, are either in a state of hunting or hiding. He continued, humans much prefer the physiological feelings associated with hunting and do not like the feelings that drive them into hiding. This idea is easy to understand when considering a caveman who was hunting for food or hiding from larger animals. However, the idea applies equally to a student who is in pursuit of knowledge or conversely hiding from the possibility of being identified as a failure. Teachers must first get students to come out of hiding, because they cannot learn if they are trying to avoid failure. Unfortunately for teachers, a student who is in danger of being identified as a failure, has other alternatives that are not available to a captive primate. He may try to sink into his chair hoping to hide, or he can make it clear that he does not care. This strategy is frequently effective in getting a teacher to give up on the student. If a student does not care about what is taught, why would she care? Fortunately, teachers have access to methods to get students to care. Creating success and reinforcing that success always gets students to want to succeed. Excerpted from Freedom to Learn: Creating a Classroom Where Every Child Thrives by Art Willans, Cari Williams All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 Students Reaching Their Potentialp. 1
A Small Beginning for New Methodsp. 5
Summaryp. 13
Chapter 2 Understanding Human Behaviorp. 15
Question and Answerp. 31
Summaryp. 31
Chapter 3 Teaching Is a Group Activityp. 33
First Fundamental: A Common Purposep. 34
Second Fundamental: Teachers as Leadersp. 38
Third Fundamental: Anything That Affects One Student, Affects Everyonep. 45
Fourth Fundamental: Use an Interactive Process That Develops Cooperationp. 46
Fifth Fundamental: Events May Have Different Effects When They Occur in a Group of Peersp. 48
Question and Answerp. 51
Summaryp. 51
Chapter 4 Methods for Creating Successful Classroomsp. 55
The Motivational Processp. 56
Using Positive Motivationp. 58
Distributing Praisep. 66
Differential Social Attention: The Most Important Processp. 67
Students Soliciting Praisep. 72
Problem Behaviorp. 74
Competing Reinforcersp. 75
The Teacher-Student Relationshipp. 78
Application in Upper Gradesp. 81
Reading to Studentsp. 82
Developing Attributesp. 83
Chapter Reviewp. 84
Question and Answerp. 85
Chapter 5 Building Successful Groupsp. 89
Differences in Upper Gradesp. 107
Question and Answerp. 116
Chapter 6 Developing Effective Learnersp. 121
Developing Higher Academic Functionsp. 136
The Academic Gap Between Studentsp. 138
Question and Answerp. 141
Summaryp. 142
Chapter 7 Coercion and Positive Alternatives in Classroomsp. 145
Systems of Warnings and Consequencesp. 147
Group Punishmentp. 151
The Happy/Sad Face Chartp. 152
The Home Notep. 153
The Purple Card Systemp. 155
Positive Alternativesp. 158
Creative Solutions for Problem Behaviorp. 161
Creating a Positive Culturep. 165
Question and Answerp. 169
Chapter 8 Dealing with Extreme Behaviorp. 173
Emotion First, Behavior Secondp. 173
De-escalation of Emotional Responsesp. 176
Logical Consequencesp. 180
Using Timeoutsp. 182
Using Reprimands Properlyp. 185
Classrooms for Students with Extreme Behavior Disordersp. 188
Question and Answerp. 192
Summaryp. 193
Chapter 9 Implementation and Trainingp. 195
Review of Methodsp. 206
Annotated Bibliographyp. 217
Indexp. 221
About the Authorsp. 227
A Note about the Publisherp. 228