Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators

An Educational Aside

I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Recently their governing body started to loosen the reins on the therapeutic application of aversive stimuli and intervention plans have since started including everything from “exaggerating sadness to correct misbehavior,” “misting the face with water,” to “basket holds.”

To compound this, many school districts are allowing ABA therapists working with autistic students into the classroom. They follow the plan approved by parents – which often does include “applications of aversives” (positive punishment) or “removing preferred/motivating items from the environment” (negative punishment) contingent to student behavior.

Many times, these “interventions” (punishments) include things that would not be allowable for a teacher in a classroom setting.



Being trained as a behaviorist, I feel an intense desire to jump in on the topic of reinforcement and punishment and explain, so they are clear.

For those of you who do not know me, I am formally trained as an Experimental Behavioral Analyst  (the field Thorndike and Skinner separately envisioned) and have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, wherein I focused on understanding how and why differences in brain structure and chemistry due to developmental disorders result in different behaviors. I have direct research and work experience in mice, rats, monkeys, sea lions, and individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (including autism, bipolar, Down syndrome, 22q11.2DS, 46XXYY, and fragile X syndrome). I also have extensive experience in operant and classical conditioning methods and interpretations

DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM I AM SEEKING TO SOLVE WITH THIS POST

Typically, at the district level, we give teachers a few days of training in behavioral management-usually limited to the Tough Kids Toolbox – and expect them to be experts with some of our most difficult to manage students.

qYXpEnJ.gif
Most teachers would agree these training sessions make them feel this way.

I spend a lot of time re-teaching teachers on the topics of punishment, reward, reinforcement, motivation, management, etc. I thought I would save some time and give my shpeal here rather than repeatedly to different audiences.


I am going to discuss the following topics in this post:

  1. Useful definitions for types of reinforcement and punishment.
  2. Punishment is resurgent in the US educational system.
  3. Positive reinforcement is the only contingent consequence that is useful for teaching.
  4. How can we as teachers properly apply positive reinforcement as a classwide management system to effect lasting change?

1. USEFUL DEFINITIONS FOR REINFORCEMENT AND PUNISHMENT

ABA DEFINITIONS

I will start with an “ABA Made Easy” video

(Note, it is 13 minutes long. I do not endorse ABA or his opinions, but I will say he does give a very clear description of the ABA definitions, which are the ones used by school districts)


39ba35a142e18921d2fb8f1444f62f03
This figure shows the relationship among different forms of reinforcement and punishment.

Here are some definitions from a scholarly ABA book that will remain nameless. I have lightly edited the definitions, so they maintain common formatting.

Reinforcement :

Reinforcement is a principle of Applied Behavior Analysis that is used in nearly all behavior change procedures within the 3 term contingency (Antecedent  & Behavior – Consequence).

When using reinforcement, we see an actual increase in the future probability of that behavior occurring again. This could mean immediately in the future (3 seconds) or later in the future (in 10 minutes, in 2 hours, in 10 days, etc.)

There are two types of reinforcement: Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement. Although “negative” usually has a “bad” connotation, you will see that it actually doesn’t in ABA. Below, the two are defined.

  • Positive Reinforcement:

A behavior occurs. A stimulus is presented immediately following the behavior. The probability of that behavior occurring again in the future increases.

  • Negative Reinforcement:

A behavior occurs. A stimulus is removed immediately following the behavior. The probability of that behavior occurring again in the future increases.

Punishment:

Punishment is one of those words that has a negative connotation in the real world, but in the world of ABA, it merely has 1 meaning: decreasing behavior.

When using punishment, we see an actual decrease in the future probability of that behavior occurring again. In the three-term contingency (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) the consequence delivered would decrease the future probability of the behavior occurring. Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement. However, just like reinforcement, there are two types: Positive Punishment and Negative Punishment.

  • Positive Punishment:

A behavior occurs. A stimulus is presented immediately following the behavior. The probability of that behavior occurring again in the future decreases.

  • Negative Punishment:

This type of punishment occurs when a stimulus is removed immediately following the behavior. The probability of that behavior occurring again in the future decreases.

What Reinforcement and Punishment Actually Mean

My definitions-organized based on if the student gets or loses something they like or something they don’t:

  • The student likes the item you use as a reinforcement:
    • Positive Reinforcement: When a student does something, they receive something they like. They are more likely to do that something again.
    • Negative Punishment: When a student does something, something they like is taken away. They are less likely to do that something again
  • The student does not like the item you use as a punishment:
    • Negative Reinforcement: When a student does something, something they do not like is taken away. They are more likely to do that something again.
    • Positive Punishment: When a student does something, they receive something they do not likeThey are less likely to do that something again

Limitations:

  • What a student likes and doesn’t like can change all the time, sometimes minute to minute. Many kids can turn on and off their desire for items we use to motivate them.
  • What we think is an aversive stimulus used as a positive punishment may actually be reinforcing to the child and vice versa.
  • Basically, if we think we have control of another person by punishment and reinforcement, we are soon to be proven fantastically wrong!

I found a website (Fed up Fred) for horse training that actually had the clearest definitions I have seen for reinforcement and punishment. They also align with my definitions rather well.

These definitions are presented in the figure below.

Emotional-Quadrants-Big-Remastered

2. POSITIVE PUNISHMENT IS RESURGENT IN THE US SCHOOL SYSTEM

In March 2018, the Government Accountability Office submitted the following document to Congress: K-12 EDUCATION: Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities (pdf link: writeup from vox.com here). One of the significant findings of this accountability report was that nearly 100,000 K-12 students are still spanked or paddled at school, and disproportionately these are a race/ethnic minority, poor, and/or disabled kids.

Furthermore, The Atlantic wrote a piece: Why Schools Over-Discipline Children With Disabilities: Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago, students with disabilities are still punished at disproportionate rates. (link)

Basically, I can sum these up as positive punishment is still rampant in schools.

As a final point in this section, here is the Government Accountability Office’s most recent report of restraint and seclusion in schools (link). The take-home of this report is that we do not actually know how much punishment is doled out in schools. There is no federal or state agency that takes these data. So we basically have to guess.

What GAO Found

GAO found no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools and widely divergent laws at the state level. Although GAO could not determine whether allegations were widespread, GAO did find hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades. Examples of these cases include a 7 year old purportedly dying after being held face down for hours by school staff, 5 year olds allegedly being tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape by their teacher and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13 year old reportedly hanging himself in a seclusion room after prolonged confinement. Although GAO continues to receive new allegations from parents and advocacy groups, GAO could not find a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects information on the use of these methods or the extent of their alleged abuse.

GAO also examined the details of 10 restraint and seclusion cases in which there was a criminal conviction, a finding of civil or administrative liability, or a large financial settlement. The cases share the following common themes: they involved children with disabilities who were restrained and secluded, often in cases where they were not physically aggressive and their parents did not give consent; restraints that block air to the lungs can be deadly; teachers and staff in the cases were often not trained on the use of seclusions and restraints; and teachers and staff from at least 5 of the 10 cases continue to be employed as educators.

The one other piece of information I can give on positive punishment application is the surge in Class Dojo and tendency to “zap” students into compliance (link).

Imagine: Ben is sitting at his desk, working on writing.  His neighbor pokes him and does an arm pit fart, and both kids laugh.  Then the teacher moves both of their points down.  ZAP!  Kayla is frustrated with her reading, and puts her head down on her desk, and her points go down.  ZAP!  A whole group of kids are playing at the sink and making soap castles, so the teacher moves the class points down.  ZAP, ZAP, ZAP. No doubt some kids straighten up with the zaps.  If someone were tasing me, I sure would.  But I wouldn’t like that person very much.  And I wouldn’t want to go back.  And I would spend a whole lot of time thinking about how not to get zapped, rather than my reading, writing, science, and math work.  Just don’t zap me again. This is an excerpt from one of the testimonials on the Class Dojo website: “If the class is getting a little noisy, or if a group of students are getting off task, I just start handing out some positive and negative points, and sure enough students refocus and get right back to work.”  Basically, I just start zapping the kids, and they get back to work.

Punishment indeed. If we replaced the phrase “zapping the kids” with “rapping their knuckles,” we have the stories of abusive nuns at Catholic schools. No thank you.

To strip things down to brass tacks, we need to stop using punishment in schools. Full stop. My examples above tend to lie on the most extreme side of punishment (restraint, seclusion, and exclusion from the school setting) because those are the only data available. Sadly, data on day to day classroom applications of positive and negative punishment are not collected.


 

Based on my experience, I will list examples of day to day positive and negative punishments I see in classrooms. Many will see these and not consider items on this list as being appropriate. However, kids consider them punishers. And all of these examples I list below were from PBIS schools that were following their approved plans.

  • Positive Punishments
    • Students being yelled at or publicly dressed down for noncompliance and incomplete work
    • Public shame and ridicule from adults
    • Basket-holds/enforced relaxation (see here)
    • Red tickets/Red Dojo points
    • Extra homework/Write lines
    • Fill out Think Sheet
    • Detention
    • Office Referral (sent for positive punishment application)
  • Negative Punishments
    • Lose recess for behavior or incomplete work
    • Lose privileges/access to fun activities
    • “Fines” in the classroom economy
    • Preferred items were taken away
    • Seat moved away from peers
    • Teacher/Paraeducators call parents to have student access to technology removed
    • Office Referral (removed from peers)
    • Response cost systems
      • clip moving down a color
      • behavior charts
      • taking tokens away in a token economy system

Whenever I am told by a school team that there was no other alternative than punishment I get a bit testy and remind them that they are the adults in the situation and actively chose punishment as an option. They made it happen, and they need to own it.

There is never a reason for a positive punishment if the classroom is managed in the first place, and negative punishment is extremely coercive and unethical

I will also take a moment here to point out why negative reinforcement is also not helpful in the classroom.

  • Negative Reinforcement means something aversive is omnipresent and that the teacher can remove it whenever they want, but refuse to do so until their expectations are met
    • often this aversive is placed there by a teacher to be removed
    • sounds an awful lot like manipulation to me – to control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.
  • Often we misunderstand the difference between “reinforcement” and a temporary reprieve from a stressor. They are not the same thing.

These points were masterfully addressed by Fed up Fred. The educational implications are clear. Mistaking relief for reward/reinforcement is something teachers do all the time. Sometimes they are even told by district trainers that this behavior is best practices for providing negative reward/reinforcement in a classroom. It gets written into behavior plans linked to the IEP. Teachers put pressure and stress on a student until the student behaves the way the teacher wants. Then the teacher eases up.

In other words…When the student shows the desired behavior, the teacher lets up on their badgering and gives the student space — assuming this is negative reinforcement.

In reality, students interpret this letting up as the teacher just not being a pushy jerk for a moment. The child feels a sense of relief to not be in trouble, but they do not feel rewarded by the space – the same way the horse in the comic does not feel rewarded by lighter reins. Probably 10-15 students had told me this when I was debriefing them after a meltdown, and we were working on a strategy for moving forward.

you-keep-using-that-word1

In fact, both the student and the horse often spend the time they have less stress to fret over when the pressure is re-applied. So…letting up on a kid is not actually negative reinforcement.


3. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS THE ONLY CONTINGENT CONSEQUENCE USEFUL FOR TEACHING

Despite the troubling trend toward increased punitive measures being used in schools, there is literally ZERO support in the literature for using positive or negative punishment in general ed or special education setting.  Positive and negative punishment continue to be used because it is easy for the teacher to try to stop an undesired behavior immediately by punishing it. This continues because the behavior does, most of the time, go away fairly rapidly. However, the behavior will always come back, and usually in force and more intensely.

Here is the official What Works Clearinghouse report on how to reduce behavioral problems in the classroom. Punishment is conspicuously absent because it is not an evidence-based strategy (no studies to date have supported punishment as an effective intervention in an educational setting: Link)

RESEARCH SUPPORTS REINFORCEMENT WITHOUT PUNISHMENT – EVEN BF SKINNER AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES SAID SO…

Perhaps the most relevant point I can make here is that B.F. Skinner himself argued in Walden Two (1948) that positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in shaping behavior. He even went so far as saying positive reinforcement results in lasting behavioral modification (long-term) whereas punishment changes behavior only temporarily (short-term) and has many detrimental side-effects.

In his writings on education, teaching, and learning, Skinner stated quite explicitly that effective teaching must be based on positive reinforcement which is, he argued, more effective at changing and establishing behaviors than punishment.

Skinner described further that reinforcement and punishment differ immensely. In other words, unlike as is always stated, punishment is not the inverse or opposite of reinforcement. It is entirely different.

He suggested that the main thing people learn from being punished is how to avoid punishment. For example, if a child is forced to practice playing an instrument, the child comes to associate practicing with punishment and thus learns to hate and avoid practicing the instrument. It is easy to see how this applies to a school setting.

Severe punishment unquestionably has an immediate effect in reducing a tendency to act in a given way. This result is no doubt responsible for its widespread use. We ‘instinctively’ attack anyone whose behavior displeases us – perhaps not in physical assault, but with criticism, disapproval, blame, or ridicule. Whether or not there is an inherited tendency to do this, the immediate effect of the practice is reinforcing enough to explain its currency. In the long run, however, punishment does not actually eliminate behavior from a repertoire, and its temporary achievement is obtained at tremendous cost in reducing the over-all efficiency and happiness of the group. 

from B.F. Skinner: Science and Human Behavior p. 190 [Emphasis mine]

A contemporary of Skinner described how punishment works (hint, it is not by reducing the probability of a behavior, but by a negative association with the antecedent).

ABSTRACT

The first question to be investigated in the present study will be the effects of punishment upon the dynamic properties of the punished response. In the second portion of the investigation we shall be concerned with the clarification of the mechanism of action of punishment by means of an experimental analysis of the functional interrelationships of the variables operating in situations involving punishment. After the derivation of the empirical principles governing the action of punishment upon a single response, an attempt was made to determine whether additional principles will be required to account for the effects of punishment in more complex situations. The subjects in all of the experiments to be reported were albino rats from the Minnesota laboratory stock. The results of the present investigation tend, in general, to confirm Thorndike’s most recent formulation of the law of effect. It appears that the effects of punishment upon the punished response are due to competing reactions aroused by the noxious stimulus. No evidence has been forthcoming to indicate that punishment exerts a direct weakening effect upon a response comparable to the strengthening produced by a reward. Thus, the present study has shown that it is not the correlation of the punishment with the response per se that is important, but the contiguity of the punishment with the stimuli which formerly aroused the response.

from: Estes, W. K. (1944). An experimental study of punishment. Psychological Monographs, 57(3), i-40.  (Link[Emphasis mine]

4. HOW TO PROPERLY APPLY POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT TO EFFECT LASTING CHANGE

WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG? FOOD REWARD – NOT WORTH IT!

Problem is, research shows that using food to reward (and punish) has the power to change a child’s relationship with food, and not for the better. In the feeding literature, this type of feeding is called “instrumental feeding.” Basically, it’s using food as a means to control a child’s behavior.

One common way parents instrumentally feed is to give a child a treat in turn for eating acceptably at dinner (This is called the Premack Principle). Unfortunately, this has been shown to increase value for the reward food instead of the target food. In other words, kids come to value the dessert or reward item more than the healthy food they ate to access it. In one study, children who were instrumentally fed, compared to those who weren’t, were less likely to try a vegetable repeatedly offered when there was no reward.

Repeatedly using food to reward and punish teaches kids the wrong things. It teaches kids that food is tied to emotions both good and bad. It teaches kids that treats are the best thing ever. It teaches kids that food helps solve problems. It teaches kids to eat when they are not hungry. This leaves them ill-prepared for the food-plenty world in which we live. So let’s stop using food as a reward and punishment at home, in the classroom, and anywhere else. Twenty years later, kids will thank us for having a healthy, carefree relationship with food.

Other studies show instrumental feeding increases the risk of emotional eating and preferences for high fat, high sugar foods while decreasing the ability to regulate food intake. When you think about it, these three go together. When a child eats in response to difficult emotions, they are more likely to choose high, fat, high sugar foods (foods rewarded and punished with) and because they are eating in the absence of hunger, their eating becomes dysregulated. Also, see the health encyclopedia from the University of Rochester for more information (link).

But the real question is what does this do for kids’ relationship with food in the long run? This is not a trivial point if the student is autistic and has a difficult relationship with food int he first place.

Maryann Jacobsen, a dietitian who studies these things, explains the long-term consequences of using food reward with small children (link):

[…]

I found two studies look at the long-term effect of instrumental feeding. In a 2003 study in Eating Behavior 122 adults were asked about their current eating habits along with their memories about food as kids. The adults who recall parents using food to control behavior through reward and punishment were more likely to use dietary restraint (restricting food practices such as dieting) and binge eat.

A second study in 2014 with 165 undergraduate students showed that instrumental feeding in childhood mediated the relationship between binge eating in response to negative affect. In other words, those who were instrumentally fed as kids were more likely to binge eat in response to negative emotions (AKA emotionally eat).While these studies can’t prove cause and effect, it makes you think about the learned association kids make when it comes to food. And how they carry this with them into their adult lives.

[…]

A study done with twins suggests that emotional eating is primarily a learned behavior. In fact, 91 percent of the time it’s traced down to shared environments. It’s not written into a child’s genes being passed down from generation to generation. No, it’s something they learn, which can start very early in life.

Repeatedly using food to reward and punish teaches kids the wrong things. It teaches kids that food is tied to emotions both good and bad. It teaches kids that treats are the best thing ever. It teaches kids that food helps solve problems. It teaches kids to eat when they are not hungry. This leaves them ill-prepared for the food-plenty world in which we live.

So let’s stop using food as a reward and punishment at home, in the classroom, and anywhere else. Twenty years later, kids will thank us by having a healthy, carefree relationship with food.

WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG? – PRAISE IS CHEAP; HENCE IT DOESN’T BUY US VERY MUCH

I addressed the paradoxically punishing effect of praise here. I refer to that post to explain my reasoning.

Here are Joe Bower’s 2 cents on the topic.

I talk about abolishing rewards and punishments all the time with parents, teachers and friends, and it is amazing how we can come to some agreement over abandoning tangible rewards like medals, bribes like cash, verbal threats and punishments like spanking or even grounding, but if there is a topic we can’t agree on it’s the use of praise.

There are some great people like Alfie Kohn and Carol Dweck who write about this stuff all the time. I wrote a bit of a summary on the topic called Pondering Praise.

In my experience, praise is less for the kids and more for the adults.

Praise is cheap; hence why it doesn’t buy us very much.

But the less time a parent spends with their child the more likely they might try and buy back that lost presence with something like praise.

Our children need us to work with them. Play with them. Notice them. Be with them.

What the kids need is our presence not our praise.

Briefly, I have no problem with praise if it is given liberally and honestly for good behavior and hard work. I differ from Joe Bower and Alfie Kohn to that extent. I am not nearly as extreme as they are. We need to praise effort. Praise work. Praise perseverance.

Never praise the child by saying something like, “Oh you are so smart”. An easy rule of thumb is to never reward the child with praise that takes the form of an adjective describing the child. Instead, give praise by describing in detail the behavior, effort, etc. that you want to see repeated.

Importantly, if you ignore a student’s hard work and effort only to give them a contingent praise when it suits your purpose, the kids know. They see it. They keep score. They resent you for it. With time they will see praise as a weapon you wield against them, rather than a tool you apply for their benefit. They feel that if they were to start behaving well now, they would not receive praise because you just gave some. Depressing, huh?

Improper use of praise/tangible rewards causes the issues expressed in this poster, take particular note of number 7 (source link):

dangers-of-using-rewards-one-time-through-blog

HOW TO USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT CORRECTLY IN THE CLASSROOM?

When I type the above question into Google, I get this and innumerable variations thereupon:

How do you use positive reinforcement in the classroom?
  1. Pinpoint behaviors to be changed: Define and teach the desired behaviors.
  2. Select tokens: Tokens, marbles in a jar, play money, points, etc.
  3. Select reinforcers: Create a bank for students to choose from.
  4. Set token values: Set the number of tokens that can be earned for the desired behavior.

No. Don’t do this ⇑ It is unnatural. The contrivance is the problem – the child will learn that this is how the world works.

This is great if we are trying to use positive reinforcement manipulatively or we are trying to change the culture of a classroom from very punishment-focused to reinforcement-focused for the first time ever. But this is a plan designed to change the behavior of a student using positive reinforcement, not a plan to build self-confidence or ability.



 

I assert we need to make positive reinforcement an essential part of every moment in our classroom.

This is how I do it and how I recommend anyone to proceed. I will also use a lot of the term “verbal acknowledgment”. What I use is synonymous with praise with one small difference, most of the time it is as simple as a thank you or responding to a query. Just like we do with our peers at work. It is never contrived.

Once these steps are mastered, then each teacher can put their own flavor on the methods. What you will quickly notice is that I prefer to have a reinforcing environment that acts as a setting factor or motivating operation toward good behavior and hard work – which opens the door to me giving feedback the students value.

  • When students show up, we meet them at the door if at all possible. We let them know we are waiting for them and are looking forward to the day. Some teachers shake hands, others just greet the students verbally at the door and give them 2-5 seconds of direct, focused attention. (more info here)
  • When the students enter the classroom, they see a clean, neat, organized space that is inviting. Most students will perceive a classroom like this as a calm and inviting place. A lot of teachers will have a meticulous system of binders and organization for student work, but they forget to make sure the desks are straight, chairs are pushed in, and everything in the classroom looks professional and ready to go. Believe me, kids notice. And based on what they tell me, they appreciate the effort. They interpret a clean classroom as having a teacher that cares for them enough to come early and set everything up.
  • Use verbal acknowledgment of student effort and honest praise for hard work liberally. Good bosses and leaders know how to do this in the workplace. They always tend to leave an employee with a sense that they are appreciated, and their work is not for naught.
    • This means we are never stingy with our praise. We do not hold back praise or verbal acknowledgment because a student is testing our nerves that day.
    • We also never give praise that is insincere or contrived.
    • It is this latter category that Alfie Kohn and Joe Bower criticized as punishing praise (link)
  • We treat all students fairly. This one goes back to this post.
  • We have extremely well-established classroom procedures. This prevents us having to waste our time correcting students, but rather we have the opportunity to spend our time acknowledging their successes and accomplishments when they do things right (link).
  • We do not use food as an instrumental reward. Snacks are fine. Class parties are fine. However, giving a piece of food contingent on behavior or task completion is not a good thing. We are spoiling food and eating for the child forever. This is not fair.
    • This is a post I will link to instead of embed because he uses some mild cursing. It is a personal trainer/bodybuilder discussing why we should not use food as a reward. I agree with everything he says regarding how it spoils our relationship with food and turns on us (link).
  • If we have any classwide contingencies (class parties, activities, etc.), they are designed so the student that has the hardest time earning points can meaningfully contribute to the class goal. I did this by setting my bar for access to electronics during a class during a party to a level that this student did not need to contribute. But his contribution made it possible for the class to get extra time-so he was able to meaningfully contribute but a bad week would not punish the class.
  • When you need to address a student’s behavioral or academic weaknesses with them, make yourself immediately available to help them improve. Send home the re-teach packet. Let them come in 10 min early before school or stay 10 min late to get help.  This will build the student up rather than make them feel worthless and unable.
  • Work to make the environment and culture of the classroom such that students are able to develop and nurture a positive outlook. This will help with their studies, their behavior, and their self-esteem.

If you are in a Pre-K or early childhood, I recommend the following progression for teaching children (disabled or not) how to work in a classroom setting.

  1. Begin by using explicit contingent reinforcement/reward for behaviors or effort. This is easily done with a big smile, raised pitch on voice, and a bit louder speaking. Depending on the child’s temperament,  hair tosses or tickles work really well.
    1. I avoid food reward because it is very hard to fade back
      1. Also for the reasons mentioned a few sections back
    2. The praise has to be honest, sincere, happy, and relevant to the child. Some may only want a subdues high 5. Well, that is what they get. When in doubt, ask them.
    3. Remember, we do not give verbal praise comprised of adjectives (e.g., “you are so smart”, or “well aren’t you cute”; we say instead, “You are working so hard!” )
  2. Gradually thin positive reinforcement to  2-3 learning trials before giving the above reinforcement.
    1. Again, always for effort and work.
    2. As you thin this contingent reinforcement during lessons, begin offering verbal acknowledgment/praise every time the child does something worthy of praise-regardless if they are in your lesson.
    3. Remember, we do not give verbal praise comprised of adjectives (e.g., “you are so smart,” or “well aren’t you cute”; we say instead, “You are working so hard!” )
  3. Thin out the reinforcement more and more.
    1. Keep going until the child is just working for you in your group and they are enjoying getting to work with you
    2. As you thin this contingent reinforcement during lessons, begin offering verbal acknowledgment/praise every time the child does something worthy of praise-regardless if they are in your lesson.
    3. Remember, we do not give verbal praise comprised of adjectives (e.g., “you are so smart,” or “well aren’t you cute”; we say instead, “You are working so hard!” )
  4. Keep going. It is truly amazing how young kids can be when they learn to self-reinforce and be self-motivated. We just often forget to nurture these skills when they are young enough to integrate it. We wait until 3rd grade or so when it is much harder on the poor kid. (self-management in preschool students)

CONCLUSIONS

Kids have a hard enough time in school, let’s not make it any more complicated than it needs to be by giving mixed signals.

 

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5 thoughts on “Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators

  1. Pingback: rnbn
  2. Here’s a crazy idea- how about we stop using reinforcement altogether?! How bout we respect the child and they respect us? How bout when a child does something we say thank you , we show appreciation for their act and just leave it at that. Why are we praising? Why are we training kids to behave? How about we let go of our obsession for controlling children?

    What’s wrong with just trusting children? Aren’t we all innately good?

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