On the Use of Reinforcement in Schools

From: Pent
Sent: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 1:47 PM
Subject: On the Use of Reinforcement in Schools

Greetings PENT Cadre, SELPA Directors, and PENT supporters,

This month’s message concerns the use of reinforcement to increase positive behaviors in schools.

As this very busy year begins, I would like to remind us that one of the primary belief barriers to implementing positive supports for students with behavioral challenges is staff beliefs about reinforcement. Staff who believe extrinsic reinforcement harms intrinsic motivation are stating a hypothesis. This hypothesis needs challenging in our schools. What has research told us about this?

Please review the article by Dr. Maag, Rewarded by Punishment: Reflections on the Disuse of Positive Reinforcement in Schools. This article may be helpful in your efforts to establish and maintain a solid Tier One environment inclusive of PBIS as well as enhance fidelity on components in Tier 2 (default behavior interventions) and Tier 3 (behavior plans) related to reinforcement. Extrinsic reinforcement does NOT harm intrinsic motivation.

Classrooms that run smoothly and result in high rates of rule following behavior have teachers who:

a. Systematically reach out and personally get to know each student, one on one.

b. Engage in efforts to maintain relationships by continuous moving around the room using PROXIMITY to maintain the relationship as well as GREETING AT THE DOOR to remind students to “code shift” to the behavioral expectations in the class. This greeting  reminds the students of their personal relationship with the teacher and increases on task behavior by approximately 14% for the entire hour following the greeting, controlling for other variables.

c. Use the Magic Ratio of “5 positives to every 1 correction.” The original research actually began with Dr. John Gottman, University of Washington, who researched how to maintain marital relationships. This ratio is now used in business and education. There are many segments on YouTube that explain Dr. Gottman’s research. One very short one worth watching is, “John Gottman: The Magic Relationship Ratio.”

This short video, Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets by Trevor Ragan (4 min, 22 sec), illustrates what works and what doesn’t work when we praise children, summarizing Carol Zwieck’s research at Stanford University. Groups I work with in initiatives to develop Behavior RTI have found this useful to increase reinforcement and to use it more skillfully.

Best wishes on your work to enhance outcomes for our students with behavioral challenges!

I hope these resources are helpful. Remember, if you have resources on this topic, share them with us as well!

“None of us is as skilled as all of us!”

Diana Browning Wright
PENT Director


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