This unit provides the definitions of discipline and its necessity in the classroom for learning to take place. It defines various models of discipline so that you can as a teacher apply this knowledge to successfully carry out your profession fully


Meaning of Discipline

Many people often get confused when trying to explain the meaning of discipline. This confusion is not out of place because the word is used in many different ways in different contents. Entomologically (its origin) the word “discipline is derived from the Latin “discere” which means “to learn”.

There is thus a close connection between “discere” and discipulus” (meaning disciples), that is “one who learns from a master”. Discipline also means “training”, learning” or “living under the rule of compulsion”. (Souper, 1976). The word may therefore be regarded (in the context of Souper’s definition) as a willing submission to an authority for the purpose of learning something worthwhile.

As an extension of this meaning, subject areas are regarded as disciplines because learners subject themselves to the structural processes in the chosen field. It is therefore not uncommon to find that experts in certain fields have their personalities moudled so that they think and act in ways which instantly suggest their disciplines.

Frequently, many people (especially lay people) use the term to mean use of force to ensure that commands are carried out. Hence, this meaning equates discipline with punishment.

Akinboye et al (1981) defined discipline as a “strategy of training the child in the art of self management”.

In this case discipline can be regarded as a process involving external persons or agents.

 Externally Imposed Discipline versus Self-discipline

There are two broad types of discipline. External discipline consists of the influence that comes upon us from our parents, teachers and peer group. They require us to be obedient, to be punctual and to attend to our lessons regularly.

They can punish us and compel us to behave properly when we misbehave. Internal discipline or self-discipline is the control we exercise over ourselves. It comes from within. We exercise self-discipline when we control our temper and when we can do right things without being told.

By means of external discipline, the teacher should encourage self-discipline in his students. Order is external while good discipline is always self-control.

In the classroom, discipline may be measured by the extent to which the pupils are self controlled and willingly apply themselves to task assignment by the teacher. According to Burton (1963) five forms of disciplines can be considered. They include

1. Laissez-Faire or permissive

2. Authoritarian

3. Democratic

4. Behaviour Modification and

5. Socio Emotional climate.

Laissez-faire or Permissive

This type of discipline refers to absence of any degree of imposition or external standard or control on individual conduct. The learner is left to develop on his own. A teacher who chooses this type of discipline may lack confidence in himself.

He or she cannot take decisions and may be generally weak. This type of discipline should be avoided as much as possible. In a permissive class, misbehaviour should not be tolerated any more than it would be in a traditional class.


This is the opposite of the permissive. The discipline of this nature is rigid, excessive, arbitrary and autocratic. The teacher who employs this kind of discipline may not want criticism. He wants unquestioning obedience to order. Where this method is adopted, the learner’s initiative is killed.

Learning under this situation is deficient because the necessary conducive atmosphere for learning is being hampered. The learners may develop hatred for the school and this may lead to truancy. It is suggested that this pattern of discipline is avoided.


The democratic approach is one that employs explanation, discussion and reasoning to help the students understand how to develop control over their behaviours so that they will do the right thing at the right time without any threat or punishment.

While they are expected to behave in certain ways, the emphasis here is the educational aspect instead of punitive aspect of discipline. Punishment can be used but reward is stressed more than punishment. The key to a democratic approach is the regular and frank group discussions.

Teachers utilizing this approach acting the role of leaders, guide the class in group discussions that focus on problems of concern.

Three products of that process have been identified.

1. The teacher and the students have opportunity to express themselves in a way on the issues to be heard

2. The teacher and the students have an opportunity to know and understand one another better and

3. The teacher and the students are provided with an opportunity to help one another.

The essential by-product of such group discussion is the opportunity that teachers have to influence those values of their students that may differ from those considered more productive. The democratic strategy encourages students.

Behaviour Modification

Discipline is always concerned with regulating or changing behaviour. That is to say that the change can be brought about through the use of external stimuli or it can result from the individual’s own purposive behaviour. Behaviour modification depends on external stimuli to effect the desired changes in behaviour. Thus it depends on the students to change their behaviour in order to receive definite reward.

This model does not require students to think through their behaviour at a very high level, instead the students are conditioned to behave as the teacher wishes them to behave. Of all the approaches, this approach to classroom discipline has the strongest base in theory and research.

Its basis comes from the work of B.F. Skinner which views classroom discipline as the process of modifying student’s behaviour. The teacher’s role is to foster desirable student behaviour and to eliminate undesirable behaviour. This is accomplished primarily by consistently and systematically rewarding (reinforcing) appropriate student behaviour and removing rewards or punishing inappropriate student behaviour.

For this reason, the teacher should master and apply the four basic principle of learning, that behaviours have identified as influencing human behaviour. These are positive reinforcement, punishment, extinction and negative reinforcement.

The introduction of a reward is called positive reinforcement and introduction of punishment is simply called punishment. The removal of a reward is called either extinction or time out, depending upon the situation. The removal of punishment is called negative reinforcement.

Behaviourists assumes that the frequency of a particular behaviour is contingent (depends) upon the nature of the consequence that follows the behaviour. Positive reinforcement, the introduction of a reward after a behaviour, causes the reinforced behaviour to increase in frequency. Rewarded behaviour is thus strengthened and is repeated again in future.

For example, Iyabo prepares a neatly written paper, which she submits to the teacher (student behaviour). The teacher praises

Iyabo’s work and comments that neatly written papers are more easily read than those which are sloppy (positive reinforcement). In subsequent papers, Iyabo takes care to write neatly (the frequency of the reinforced behaviour is increased)

Punishment is the introduction of an undesirable stimulus (punishment) after a behaviour and causes the behaviour to decrease in frequency. Punished behaviour tends to be discontinued. For instance, Remi prepares a rather sloppy written paper, which he submits to the teacher (student behaviour).

The teacher rebukes Remi for failing to be neat, informs him that sloppily written papers are difficult to read, and tells him to rewrite and resubmit the paper (punishment). In subsequent papers, Remi writes less sloppily (the frequency of the punished behaviour is decreased).

Extinction is the withholding of an anticipated reward (the withholding of positive reinforcement) in an instance where that behavior was previously rewarded. Extinction results in the decreased frequency of the previously rewarded behaviour.

For example, Ngozi whose neat work has always been praised by the teacher, prepares a neatly written paper, which she submits to the teacher (student behaviour previously reinforced by teacher). The teacher accepts the paper without comment (withholding of positive reinforcement). Ngozi becomes less neat in subsequent papers (the frequency of the previously reinforced behaviour decreased).

Time out is the removal of the student from the reward. It reduces the frequency of reinforcement and causes the behaviour to become less frequent. For example, the students in Mr. Bode’s class have come to expect that he will give them an opportunity to play a number game if their work is satisfactory.

This is an activity they all enjoy. Mr. Bode notes that all their papers were neatly done except Sanmi’s paper. He tells Sanmi that he will not be allowed to participate in the class game and must, instead, sit apart from the other members (removal of the student from the reward). Subsequently, Sanmi writes less sloppily (the frequency of the behaviour decreases).

Negative reinforcement is the removal of an undesirable or obsessive stimulus (punishment) after a behaviour, and it, causes the frequency of the behaviour to be increased. The removal of the punishment serves to strengthen the behaviour and increases its tendency to be repeated. For example, Ojo is the student in the class who consistently presents the teacher with sloppy papers.

Despite the teacher’s constant nagging of Ojo, his work becomes no neater. For no apparent reason Ojo submits a rather neat paper, Mr. Bode accepts it without comment and without the usual nagging (the removal of punishment). Subsequently, Sanni’s work becomes neater (the frequency of the behaviour is increased).

1. The behaviour modification approach strengthens the idea that rewarded appropriate behaviour and withholding the reward of inappropriate behaviour are very effective in achieving classroom control.

2. Punishing inappropriate student behaviour may eliminate that behaviour, but it may have serious negative side effects and

3. Rewarding appropriate behaviour is a more effective technique.

Social-Emotional Climate

The roots of this approach stem from counselling and from clinical psychology which places great importance on interpersonal relationships. Advocates of this model believe that effective classroom control is largely a function of teacher-student relationships.

The teacher’s task, then is to build positive interpersonal relationships and a positive socio-emotional climate. Theorists who could be classified as proponents of this approach include Carl Rogers who posits that attributes such as realness, accepting and empathic understanding must be present if the teacher is going to be able to facilitate learning and promote classroom discipline.

Haim Ginott emphasized the importance of effective communication in enhancing good teacher-student relationship. William “Glass also opined that good teachers must help students develop a sense of identity, worthiness and success (see Ryan and Coopper 1984)


Discipline is necessary for any form of training or learning to take place. Education is about teaching and training citizens to become productive well behaved members of a society. In order for this to be achieved teachers must get to know the latest and most efficient and effective ways to maintain discipline in the classroom. The teacher should combine different approaches for teaching to be effective.

Source: School of Education, national Open University of Nigeria


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