Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Wheels on the Bus!

WARNING! This is not your typical book review!

This semester I have been in Dr. C. Madsen's class on the Modification of Behavior. The textbook for the class is:

Teaching/Discipline: A Positive Approach for Educational Development

I could choose any book to review by taking ideas we learned in class and explaining how they applied to the book. I chose, The Wheels on the Bus, because I thought if I could apply the theories of behavior modification to a children's book, then I should have a good grasp of the concepts! (I also happen to love this book!) If you get lost with some of the behavior "mod" jargon, then go read Teaching/Discipline. That book is the basis for every successful behavior management program out there. Every therapist should have a thorough understanding of the ideas Dr. Madsen presents.

Zelinsky has created a wonderful book that I frequently use in therapy and with my own daughter, Darby. The book is colorful and has pop-ups and moving parts that are visually appealing to young children. Zelinsky has remained faithful to the song for his inspiration and kept the traditional lyrics as text for the book. On the surface, Zelinsky’s book tells a simple story, but it also contains many examples regarding the principles of behavior modification.

The story centers around a city bus opening its doors to a myriad of townspeople on their way to various destinations. Any city bus system is part of an overall strategy of government to promote mass transit as a preferred mode of transportation. In essence, the city is running a government sponsored behavior modification program. The pinpoint is that there are too many cars on the roads causing traffic and congestion. A city usually has several parts of a highly developed consequent in order to increase bus ridership. Taxes are levied on automobiles, gas and parking. Parking restrictions are enforced so that there are fewer spaces for cars and more room for bus stops. Positive reinforcement includes the city subsidizing payment for bus fare and creating special bus lanes to allow buses freedom of movement. Public awareness advertising emphasizes the value of using the bus system. Evaluation of these programs indicated that bus ridership increased, but only for people who did not also have a car.

The people on the bus often must contend with noisy distractions like the windows going up and down and the window wipers swishing back and forth. Another nuisance is the crying babies. In the story, the mamas on the bus just tell the babies, “Shush, shush, shush!” The babies do not necessarily respond to this plea because it is not a sufficiently powerful disapproval and there are not contingent consequences. One possible solution to the crying babies could be a program that includes rewards for quiet behavior. Pacifiers, food and toys would be good motivators. The mothers may also want to approach bus riding in steps of successive approximation by taking their babies on the bus for short rides at first and increasing the time on the bus as the babies increase their tolerance and time of quiet behavior. In extreme cases, some mothers may have to practice systematic desensitization by exposing their babies to progressively louder noises as they are relaxed and happy until they are able to be on the bus without crying. Evaluation of these strategies has indicated that babies on the bus were able to sleep, sleep, sleep.

Zelinsky tells the story of the bus as it makes several stops throughout the city. The bus maintains a schedule on a variable interval, so some people miss the bus and others have to wait. Each time the bus picks up a rider, the bus driver provides verbal reinforcement by saying, “Move on back!” Some of the riders accept this as verbal approval, while others feel that it is disapproval, but they all respond to the reinforcement by following through on the directions. The narrative also relates that there is sometimes traffic and bad weather. The driver on the bus frequently hits the horn, “Honk, honk, honk!” This behavior usually does not solve the traffic problem since the bus driver is unable to follow through with contingent rewards or punishments and must continue to drive the bus to the next stop.
Overall, Zelinsky offers a colorful tale of life in the city. The characters in the story lead a life of repetition and generally allow their environment to dictate their actions. In reality, who decides what kind of bus system a city will have and who decides who will decide? Children love to read this book over and over until they have developed conditioned responses to many different phrases such as, “The wheels on the bus,” go, “round and round!” This has been a favorite book in my house and for road trips as we travel all through the town.


  1. Transfer, transfer, transfer. I love Dr. Madsen's classes! Nice review here on Wheels. I'll have to check it out...


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