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Encourage Good Classroom Behavior Using Positive Reinforcement

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

Using positive reinforcement in your classroom is the best way to teach children to make good choices. Give your students the boost they need to make the right choices in their lives inside and outside of the classroom.

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    Focus on the Positive

    Positive reinforcement can be used very effectively in the classroom to create or enhance a desired behavior. The idea is basically to not focus on the negative aspects of a person's behavior, but instead to focus on the positive aspects. The more focus that is placed on the positive behavior, the more the behavior will be enhanced. As a result of this type of behavior modification program, the negative behaviors will naturally become less important and thus less active for the individual. This is especially important for students who have behavioral or emotional issues that cause them to act out.

    Whether your students in your special education classroom have behavioral issues, learning disorders or emotional issues, they are already facing challenges in their behavior patterns. Many times they have difficulty learning positive behaviors. This may be due to the disorder itself or due to the response that the children receive based on having the disorder. That's why rewarding good choices in a special education classroom is especially important.

    We must not forget that children can be cruel. Some of the children in the special education classroom get made fun of or are encouraged by other students to do negative things. This entertains the students. Those in the special education classroom may think they are making new friends and that they are liked because the other children are laughing and paying attention to them. Your job is to make sure that the student is able to differentiate between negative behavior and positive behavior.

    Positive reinforcement for classroom behavior means that an individual is rewarded when they make a good choice. All too often good choices go unnoticed while bad choices are flagrantly obvious and draw lots of attention. This may in fact be the only form of attention that some children get. It's up to you to make that change and show students that they can not only get attention from good behavior, but also be rewarded for it.

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    Rewarding Good Choices

    Though this method may sound simple, there are details to be worked out to make this plan effective. Use the tips below to guide you in developing a plan to reward students for making good choices.

    • Progressive rewards- One way to create a reward system is by using the progressive method. This means that students receive some type of marker, such as tongue depressors to keep a tally of their "points". Once the student reaches a specific amount of points, they receive a reward. You can either have specific small rewards or allow the student to "save up" for a larger one.
    • Verbal- Who doesn't like to be told that they have done something right? Make sure to acknowledge a good choice when you see one.
    • Individual plans- Some things may come easily to students while other things are more difficult to incorporate into every day behavior. Make sure to recognize that each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses.
    • Charts- These can be helpful visual aids for students. They can see their progress as it is marked on a chart using stars or some other form of marker to display progress.
    • Levels- Creating s level system is a great way to acknowledge the progress of a student as they learn to make good choices. The higher the level, the more good choices have been made and the more privileges that are rewarded.

    Rewards can vary by age group and economic availability. Use the suggestions below to develop your reward system.

    • Never use food as a reward. This can create eating disorders and problems with diet and self esteem.
    • Stickers can be used to mark progress or as actual rewards.
    • Notebooks are a good choice for rewards if the student has specific areas of interest that are depicted by the notebook.
    • Coupons for free time or other select activities are a great way to work with individualized plans.
    • Group trips are a wonderful way to reward the entire class for the group effort.
    • Various school supplies such as pens, pencils and erasers are a unique way to make sure that the student is rewarded while also ensuring that they have adequate school supplies!

    Students are more likely to make good choices when they receive some type of reward or acknowledgment for doing so.

    Source: author's teaching experience