The power of positive reinforcement!

Positive reinforcement has been shown to be the most effective strategy to use when trying to evoke behavior change. Essentially, positive reinforcement means adding something to a situation to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again in the future. Here’s an example: Mrs. Smith gives Katie a gold star for turning in her math homework on time. In this scenario, Mrs. Smith positively reinforced Katie’s behavior of turning in her homework on time by giving her a gold star in the hopes that by doing so, it will increase the chances of her turning in her homework on time again in the future.


Positive reinforcement doesn’t always have to be given through tangibles, though. One of the most effective positive reinforcement tools to use is verbal praise, and it is also one of the easiest to employ. Here’s an example: Professor Johnson says, “Excellent!” after William answers a question correctly in chemistry class. An additional benefit of verbal praise is that you can deliver it almost immediately after the behavior occurs, which is important since the effectiveness of positive reinforcement increases the faster you can deliver it after the behavior. This helps greater instill the connection between the behavior and the positive good feelings the student receives afterwards!


The positive reinforcement way of thinking aims to increase a good behavior, rather than placing the focus on decreasing a bad one. For instance, rather than yelling at Billy to make him stop whining to watch TV shows, positively reinforce when he asks for TV time appropriately. The notion is that when the positive behavior increases, the alternate negative behavior naturally decreases when the student learns that he/she is more successful when using the appropriate behavioral response.


One thing to note, though, is that behavior change rarely happens overnight–repeated positive reinforcement is crucial! When first using this strategy, provide positive reinforcement frequently at the beginning to strengthen the connection between the behavior and what happens immediately after the behavior, otherwise known as the consequence. (*Note: the word “consequence” does not always have to be viewed in a negative light! In the behavior analysis world, “consequence” simply means the stimulus the learner experiences right after his/her behavior). Once the connection between the behavior and the positive consequence strengthens for the learner, you can fade the frequency of reinforcement delivery gradually over time.


Disclaimer! As with any learner, each case is different! The teacher should assess each learner’s needs and history before implementing any behavior change strategy.


Written by Catherine F., Novastar Prep Coach.


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