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

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

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group dynamics classroom discipline the pioneering work of fritz redl william wattenberg

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

Justin Ingram

  • 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 Teacher’s 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
Contributions to Discipline
  • Prior to Redl and Wattenberg’s 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
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
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
Principle Teachings continued…
  • Supporting student self-control

is a low-key influence


  • 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 wattenberg s views on discipline student roles and behavior
Analysis of Redl and Wattenberg’s 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
  • Group dynamics is when groups create their own psychological forces that bring strong pressure to bear on individuals.
  • The effects of group dynamics are…
    • 1) Contagious behavior
    • 2) Scapegoating
    • 3) Teachers’ pets
    • 4) Reactions to strangers
    • 5) Group disintegration
psychological roles of teachers
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
Control Techniques for Misbehavior: Diagnostic Thinking
  • Diagnostic Thinking
    • 1) Forming a hunch
    • 2) Gathering facts
    • 3) Exploring hidden factors
    • 4) Taking action
    • 5) Remaining flexible
applying influence techniques
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
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


    • 3) Appraising reality
    • 4) Invoking the pleasure-

pain principle

corrective techniques supporting self control
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
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
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


    • Show encouragement
    • Set clear, enforceable limits
corrective techniques invoking the pleasure pain principle
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.
  • Punishment should consist of planned, unpleasant consequences the purpose of which is to change behavior in positive directions. These punishments should not be physical or vengeful toward the student.
  • Teachers should communicate that they are not angry but wish to help the student. If the student feels good intentions from the teacher, he or she will be upset with themselves for losing control.
corrective techniques invoking the pleasure pain principle continued
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 vs. Promises
    • Threats: emotional, empty statements that make students anxious and fearful
    • Promises: unpleasant consequences that will be invoked when rules are broken.
classroom scenario

Classroom Scenario


We would like your input after hearing about Redl and Wattenberg’s theories

additional reminders
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
Additional Reminders continued…
  • 5) Don’t 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 Wattenberg’s 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