Thursday, September 11, 2008

Baby Chicks

I thought I had blogged about this before, but couldn't find it among my posts, so I hope I'm not repeating myself

When I was a student at B.Y.U, I took a very interesting parenting class. It was one of those classes that literally changes your life because of what it teaches. The things I learned have really shaped my view of parenting and the world in general. I thought I would share some of that with you.

We were given an assignment to train some baby chicks. We were split up in to groups of 3 or 4, and each group was given a baby chick. We were also given a list of 15 things that we were to teach the chick. I know that might sound impossible, but we finished our assignment in less than an hour.

We were given a box that had openings at the bottom so that we could slide food trays in and out of the box. On the wall of the box were painted a red spot and a green spot. Our first assignment was to teach the chick to peck the green spot. The teacher told us that the best way to do this was to reinforce the chick's behavior with food. He told us that if the chick even LOOKED at the spot, we should reinforce it so that it would get the idea that the spot meant food. He cautioned us not to feed the chick if he were scratching at the same time that he looked at the spot. By reinforcing his behavior then, he would learn that to get food he needed to scratch, and that wasn't what we wanted him to learn. We did as the teacher instructed, and sure enough, the chick soon was pecking the green spot repeatedly to get food.

Our next assignment was to teach the chick to peck the green spot a certain number of times. I can't remember, it seems like it was 7 times. Believe it or not, the chick learned very quickly.

The next assignment was to teach the chick to peck the red spot instead of the green one. This took a little more careful observation because we had to determine if he was actually looking at the red spot. But in no time at all, our little chick was pecking the red spot instead of the green. I can't remember all of the 15 tasks, but one of them was to teach the chick to stop pecking at all. As I said, he learned all of the tricks, and we finished our assignment.

Probably the most poignant lesson we learned from this assignment was that children are much smarter than chicks. If a baby chick with a brain the size of a small pea can learn and be molded through reinforcement, then children can too. The important factor is to reinforce the behavior you want.

I'm not sure why I thought of this today, but it could be because of teaching seminary. I think the most important thing is to remember to be positive and patient. I don't think those are traits that most of us come by naturally, but I hope that I can remember their importance as I work with these youth.

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