Positive Reinforcement


Positive Reinforcement

Relationships are important to a positive classroom environment and creating good communication between you and your students.  Take the time to get to know your students and let them know you value them.  Spend more time praising and encouraging good behavior than dealing with behavior challenges (a 3-1 ratio, ideally).  Use positive reinforcement–verbal or nonverbal (interactive, token, or activity)–to acknowledge and strengthen already existing behaviors.  Avoid attempting to use reinforcement before the desired behavior has occurred.

We’re not attempting to “fix” students.  They are not broken!  Do your best to identify the underlying cause of behaviors.  It could be that your student didn’t eat breakfast that day and isn’t properly nourished or that were reprimanded by their classroom teacher or upset about something that happened over the weekend.  Try to talk to your students individually to find out what’s going on.  Acknowledge their feelings first, then teach them how to fulfill their needs in appropriate ways.  Start with a clean slate every day.  Expect positive behavior!

Some helpful strategies for reinforcing positive behavior:

  • Watch for a tendency to use praise to help a student solve a problem or feel good about herself.  Flattery can appear manipulative even to a young or needy student.  Such messages will not contribute to the student’s genuine sense of self-worth.
  • Watch for a tendency to praise the same well-behaved student every single class in an effort to entice the others to behave.  More often, praise the student who usually has a harder time following the rules when you see her doing what she is supposed to do, especially if she did it without any reminder from you.
  • Phrase reinforcements as an affirmation or acknowledgement of a specific behavior the student has demonstrated and the positive consequences now available (“Because you did ___, now you can ___”).  Statements like “When you do __, we will __” are more useful for behaviors that have not yet been demonstrated.  Reinforcements may be effectively communicate in either oral or written form.
  • To reinforce a desirable behavior, first describe the behavior that took place.  Be specific and concrete and avoid making judgements about the behavior or the worth of the student.
  • Whenever possible, attach a comment that connects the immediate benefits of the student’s behavior to the student.  (Occasionally, it may be appropriate to state the positive outcomes in terms of their benefits to the group.)  Focus on the payoff for the student, making sure the outcome is positive and meaningful.  Avoid projecting your own feelings and values, which may or may not be relevant to those of the student, or suggesting how the student should feel.  For example:  “Alexandra, I saw that you put all of your crayons away carefully in the crayon box.  Thank you for helping us clean up quickly so that we can have time for another fun activity”.
  • Take advantage of opportunities outside the classroom to praise good behavior
  • Use the agenda board as a celebration of cooperation and/or as an opportunity to acknowledge students who are cooperating that don’t always
  • Give students special roles (line leader, clean-up captain, etc.) as a reward for good behavior; award special titles (artist of the day, etc.) at the close of class
  • Use stars, stickers, or tickets with potential scaffolding of rewards (activities and privileges).
  • Use a jar of marbles or pompoms or a picture display with component pieces that must be assembled with daily goals and long-term rewards
  • Use colorful and fun visual reminders of goals and/or rewards
  • Whenever possible, make rewards experiential not material!

Creative Action’s Top 15 Experiential Rewards:

  1. Students get to choose and/or lead a game.
  2. Teacher looks silly in some way (something they must do or wear, a character they must become).
  3. Students get extra outside or recess time.
  4. Waterballoon or snowball fight!
  5. Students get to do a special project of their choosing (origami, scavenger hunt, etc.).
  6. Students get to take their shoes off.
  7. Students get special time with a teaching puppet.
  8. Students get to listen to music during homework time.
  9. Students get to wear special hats and/or costumes.
  10. Special art materials!
  11. Students get to have a show-and-tell!
  12. Students get to work on an extracurricular project (Halloween costume, etc.)
  13. Class will have a special guest!
  14. Students get to scaffold to greater levels of challenge within a game or project.
  15. Field trip or themed party!

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