Both as educators and parents, we frequently associate reinforcement with smiley stickers, candies and pizza parties. We tend to overlook that even in adulthood, reinforcement plays a significant role. In the workplace, it can look like verbal praise or recognition for an individual accomplishment being posted on a company-wide forum or email OR receiving a promotion or raise based on exceptional performance. When we experience reinforcement in either of these ways, we are motivated and are more likely to keep engaging in these behaviors!
In the words of B.F Skinner, “Reinforcement is the key to unlocking the potential within every learner; it’s not just a technique but the cornerstone of shaping behavior and fostering meaningful education.” Reinforcement in the classroom can support academic progress, contribute to social and emotional development and behavior management.
While exploring the benefits of reinforcement toward academic progress, when students know that their efforts will be acknowledged, students will be more likely to participate actively within the classroom. This recognition acts as a powerful motivator, prompting students to not only participate in classroom activities but also diligently complete assignments driving the students to academic progress. When considering students with attention challenges, establishing a strong motivator can help redirect student’s attention back to the activity at hand, enhancing their ability to maintain new skills and engage in rich learning experiences.
Within social and emotional development, reinforcement can increase confidence levels, acts of kindness and promote goal setting. Reinforcement celebrates small victories. This celebration of successes can lead to a positive self-image and confidence in their abilities. Classrooms are a place where students can learn crucial life skills. Reinforcement promotes prosocial behaviors such as kindness, cooperation and empathy. Reinforcement strengthens a student’s commitment to their goals. When progress is acknowledged students feel a sense of accomplishment.
By using a combination of reinforcement for desired behaviors and corrective measures for negative behaviors. When students begin to understand the consequences to their actions, and recognize that positive behaviors are met with praise, they are more likely to respect classroom rules and interact more appropriately with peers. Effective reinforcement strategies are not a one-size fits all; they require knowledge of individual students’ motivators. Some students may respond to verbal praise while others may require a tangible reward. When considering students with significant behavioral challenges, the implementation of a token economy system can offer significant benefits:
A preference assessment is a tool that can be used to identify and understand a student’s likes, dislikes, interests and preferred activities. Additionally, gathering input from parents or guardians about a child’s home preferences can assist teachers in identifying motivators that can be used in the classroom.
By nurturing a culture of encouragement, recognition and mutual respect and trust, teachers can create an environment where students thrive academically, socially and emotionally. As teachers, it falls upon us to unlock the power of reinforcement and establish learning environments where students can blossom into their fullest potential.
Lorena Hernandez, M.Ed., is a Solutions Engineer at TeachTown. She previously served as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), delivering support to students with moderate to severe disabilities across various environments such as homes, schools, and clinics. Being fluent in Spanish, Lorena nurtured a strong aspiration to aid students with disabilities in their native language, which motivated her to pursue certification in Bilingual Education (K-6th Grade) and Special Education (EC-12th Grade) in 2019. Lorena has a profound dedication to education and to attending to the individual needs of students. She obtained a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from The University of Texas at Austin in 2020. In her free time, Lorena finds enjoyment in practicing yoga, reading, and taking long walks with her husky, Goli.