Monday, January 16, 2012

Teaching: Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

We have a guest post from our friends at Core Essentials about effective teaching strategies!

Reinforcement has been used to help strengthen and increase the probability of a specific response for decades. The use of reinforcement procedures can be used with both typical and atypical developing children as well as students with different psychological disorders. There are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative. However, many teachers find it difficult to distinguish between the two. When it comes to teaching a class full of students, you will find that a combination between positive and negative reinforcement will work best. 

 Positive Reinforcement

 Positive reinforcement is a very powerful and effective tool to help mold and change behavior. It works by praising and rewarding desired behavior, which then makes the behavior more likely to happen in the future. The following are some ways to make positive reinforcement work best in a teaching environment.

  • Targeted praise: Students and children in general respond more positively to praise, more specifically targeted praise. For example, saying “April, you did a great job on your essay” will be more effective than saying “good job class.”
  • Specific timing: In addition to making the positive reinforcement more specific, timing is also important. For instance, if a student only answers a question partially then total positive reinforcement isn’t necessary. Only after the student has done the desired behavior should heaping praise be given.
  • Reward irregularly: Rewards are much more effective when they are used sparingly. This will also help improve overall student behavior, because rewards could be given at any moment and not just on certain days at a certain time.
 Negative Reinforcement

For most people, the term “negative reinforcement” gets easily mistaken for punishment, which is not the case. With negative reinforcement, you are increasing a behavior, whereas with punishment, you are decreasing a behavior. Negative reinforcement can also be thought of as when a negative or unwanted behavior is stopped or avoided due to removal of a certain stimulus/item after the behavior is exhibited. That way the likelihood of the positive behavior occurring again will be increased and coupled with a positive direction.

 For example, if you have a student that forgets to turn in homework, then they will receive negative reinforcement by getting a bad grade; therefore that behavior turns into an unwanted behavior for the student. If the student turns homework in and is met with a positive reaction, then that is negative reinforcement and the student will be likely to turn homework in because of the positive response.

 The use of positive and negative reinforcement is a continual balancing act that is never quite perfect. However, as a teacher, it is your responsibility to continue working towards achieving a balanced discipline and reward plan that works best for you and your students.

 This article was written by Core Essentials, a values education program, designed for grades K-5, that provides affordable, simple, and downloadable tools allowing schools to quickly incorporate values education into their curriculum. Our program encourages individual classrooms, the entire school, and every family to emphasize the values they learn each month.

38 comments:

  1. I think you have confused negative reinforcement with punishment. Negative reinforcement removes something that is unpleasant. This doesn't seem to be what you have articulated.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry to correct you, but negative punishment is removing something that is unpleasant. Negative reinforcement is ignoring behaviours which are seen to be unacceptable through not punishing the child or acknowledging they have done wrong.

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    2. No anonymous is right. I'm a preservice teacher right now and we just learned about this stuff. Positive and Negative simply refer to whether the student gets something or gets something taken away.

      In your example you use bad grades for not turning in homework. In the case the student is receiving something that they don't want: positive punishment.

      Delete
    3. No anonymous is right. I'm a preservice teacher right now and we just learned about this stuff. Positive and Negative simply refer to whether the student gets something or gets something taken away.

      In your example you use bad grades for not turning in homework. In the case the student is receiving something that they don't want: positive punishment.

      Delete
  2. The occurrence of a desired behavior is improved through the use of positive reinforcement. In positive reinforcement examples include oral positive encouraging words, like good, well done, very well etc. While negative reinforcement is the removal of a stimulus that has the preferred consequence of raising a particular behavior. Escaping from unpleasant or dangerous situation is classified as negative reinforcement.

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  3. Can someone tell me if having a kind/unkind chart on the wall in a class is negative reinforcement or punishment - ie when a child is unkind/kind their name is put in the respective column on the chart so all the class can see.

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    Replies
    1. That would be considered punishment. I would also have to say that having a kind/unkind chart on the wall is unkind in itself. Yeah, it is great for the kids who are in the kind area all the time, but for the "unkind" students, they get labeled as unkind by their fellow classmates. That student will also view themselves as unkind...what else are they supposed to think...their name is plastered for all to see in the unkind area. These "unkind" kids will be viewed negatively by others, possibly teased, and develop lower self esteem. Something that can destroy a students spirit should never be used as a behavior modification. Punishment should be between you and the student...the rest of the class does not need to know what is going on. Hope this helps.

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    2. Having an unkind/kind chart is the same as calling out a student and embarresing them in front of the class. Maybe you can try a wall of positives that every student will eventually earn multiple spots on. For example, like a star student, you can choose bucket fillers of the week and continue to add to it. Listing positive choices the student's are making. For the students displaying negative behavior, they will either redirect their choices to become noticed as a bucket filler or you can help them by pulling them on the side to make a plan together as a team to come up with a solution to make better choices on how they are acting.

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  4. The teacher had my daughter and 6 other students turn their desks so they were facing the back of the wall because they didn't earn enough points for the month. They had to do homework while the other kids in the class facing the front of the room were rewarded with ice cream, popcorn, chips which they ate while watching a movie. The kids facing the back of the classroom had to do work. Is this an example of negative reinforcement or punishment?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an example of punishment. Negative Reinforcement is when something negative is taken away/removed in order to increase a desired behavior. What happened to your child was something positive was taken away because the teacher felt that your daughter's behavior was not acceptable (not enough points). She and the other 6 are experiencing punishment - very similar to a "time out." Now...punishment is not always a bad thing, but in this case, I believe it was excessive. Hope this helps.

      Delete
    2. This is an example of revenge or payback from the teacher. Punishment is not defined by the amount of pain provided to the recipient, but by how much the event reduces future behavior. Punishment should be very close to the time of the behavior for which is a consequence, it should be proportional to the behavior and as small as possible. This is not even the kind of consequence for which punishment could even theoretically work. It doesn't follow a behavior, even distantly in time. "Failing to earn enough points" isn't a behavior, so it can't be reduced in frequency. Punishment can only reduce the likelihood of a behavior. It cannot make a behavior happen, for instance, "earning more points," which is itself not much of a behavior.

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  8. Getting a bad grade on missing homework is presenting an adverse condition to try to decrease the frequency of missing homework - that is positive punishment. An example of negative reinforcement, in this situation, would be that when a student turns in homework, they don't have to do their morning work, increasing the amount of days they bring in their homework.

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