Positive reinforcement techniques and ideas

Positive reinforcement techniques, when done well and with the right balance, can be transformational for student behaviours and outcomes. John Dabell gives us 12 positive reinforcement ideas in SecEd.

Our positive reinforcement techniques motivate students to do what they are capable of doing and when given frequently and consistently, they can have considerable impact. I would argue that positive reinforcement is often transformational and can have long-standing effects. Positive reinforcement can:

  • Encourage repetition of good deeds committed by the student.
  • Make students aware of where their strengths lie – and help them to capitalise on them.
  • Help students to understand the dos and don’ts much more effectively than if listening to a teacher “lecture” them.

However, the problem is we either don’t give positive reinforcement, or we give too much of it. Getting the balance right is a huge challenge.

Teachers have always had to employ a fair chunk of psychology in their work, especially in relation to behaviour management and modification – it’s a very underrated part of the job. To maintain motivation and interest, we need to vary the types of positive reinforcements we use rather than stick to the same old tried and trusted ones. If students hear the same message over and over again then it soon loses its value and impact.

Twelve ideas for positive reinforcement in the classroom

Every class has its own identity and culture and what works for one may not work for another. Some students and groups of students love public praise because their peers get to hear it, but others see this as a negative and prefer positive messages done discreetly and without a fuss. Here are 12 ideas that you can use and/or adapt in your classroom. 

1, Slam dunk the praise

Some students get praise but this often has a sting in the tail. For example: “You’ve set that out brilliantly but why didn’t you do that when I first asked you to?” Students get wise to this and so when they hear a positive, they know a negative is not far behind. To avoid this situation and recalibrate their expectations, walk by them and slamdunk a positive comment and leave them with it. Dropping the praise like this shows them that a positive doesn’t always come with a “but”.

6, Awesome cards

Give everyone a laminated piece of paper with the word “awesome” written on it (you could use any word you want: sublime, Kryptonian, astounding, indomitable, Funkadelic, virtuosic etc). Whenever someone does something that deserves recognition, stand next to them call out “Awesome” and everyone holds up their cards and repeats “Awesome” back to you. 

12, Hot Chocolate Friday (HCF)

Another Paul Dix gem is to reward students with some hot chocolate at the end of the week. Lots of schools devote a quarter of an hour to HCF where students meet with the headteacher every week for a get together and a drink of hot chocolate to celebrate their achievements. For more information about this idea, go to https://pivotaleducation.com/hot-choc-friday/

A mnemonic

To help guide your use of positive reinforcement then the I-FEED-V mnemonic is a useful one to have in mind: 

  • Immediate

  • Frequent

  • Enthusiastic

  • Eye contact

  • Describe the behaviour

  • Variety

Read the full article Positive reinforcement techniques and ideas

Do you have any other ideas? What works well in your classroom? What doesn’t? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. What they never realise is that whereas in the past, ‘expected behaviour’ was the norm whilst bad behaviour was punished, now it is vice versa with bad behaviour being the norm and ‘expected behaviour’ being rewarded. No wonder excellence is well-nigh non-existent. Let’s all just spiral down to the lowest common denominator whilst the teachers have to put more and more effort into trying to maintain ‘expected behaviour’. Do yourself and your pupils a favour, get off the utopian hobby horse and actually look back and see what worked in days gone by!

  2. Just because a teacher thinks something is awesome, it doesn’t follow that the rest of the children think so. I think teachers need to wake up and realise how teenagers are parodying all of these buzz phrases and words. It is very hard to teach your children to respect their teachers when they quite justifiably mimic all the jargon and nonsense that is spouted on a daily basis – to listen to my sons and their friends is absolutely hilarious, and once I have laughed, I cannot take sides with the teachers.

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