Positive reinforcement was first introduced into the psychological realm as a part of B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. Skinner devised his theory after laboratory experiments made him aware of the association between particular types of behaviour and the consequences of these actions.
Skinner concluded that when behaviour is followed by a reward that is pleasant, it often leads to said behaviour being repeated. A part of the behaviourist movement, Skinner noticed parallels between his laboratory experiments and the way people react to a stimulus in the form of a reward, and ultimately devised a new theory about how the same techniques could be used in conditioning people to respond to this rewards-based way of doing things.
Skinner’s simple experiment gave rise to an array of new ideas about how learning takes place, and also gave us the concept of positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement has been used as an effective classroom management strategy since the old approach to managing a classroom – stern punishments and harsh reprimands – became a thing of the past.
By consistently and timeously rewarding good behaviour in a way that is age-appropriate and genuine, educators are able to essentially “train” students to recognise certain types of behaviour as appropriate, and to work hard in order to achieve the desired outcomes in the classroom.
Positive reinforcement may be included in classroom management in a number of different ways.
Educators may reward good behaviour or success in achieving outcomes by using activity reinforcers (like allowing students to take part in special or preferred activities when they behave in a certain way or meet certain outcomes), tangible reinforcers (like stickers, balloons, sweets or other awards), token reinforcers (like using a points or tokens system to reward learners) and social reinforcers (like expressing praise for appropriate behaviour).
The type of positive reinforcement an educator incorporates in their classroom will depend on the teacher, the learners and the general teaching environment.
Positive reinforcement goes a long way in creating a happy classroom environment for educators and learners alike, and the advantages of adopting positive reinforcement are vast:
• Positive reinforcement allows learners to use the social cues of their teachers as indicators of what type of behaviour is appropriate. When an educator, for example, rewards a specific learner for good behaviour or the achievement of outcomes, their peers also learn to mimic this behaviour in order to receive the same rewards.
• Positive reinforcement motivates learners to strive toward academic goals.
• Positive reinforcement leads to a greater sense of community in the classroom, and allows accomplishments to be celebrated as a class.
• Positive reinforcement leads to greater enthusiasm among learners in the classroom.
• Positive reinforcement encourages students to actively enjoy being present and learning in the classroom environment.
Sparrow Schools believes in the value that positive reinforcement adds to the learning experience, and we actively try to incorporate it as a part of not only efficient classroom management, but also as a way to keep our students happy, involved and learning to the best of their abilities.