Positive Reinforcement

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Self-discipline through engagement and rewards

Finding positive reinforcement in a school that worked well took me a long time, so I will describe this school's system in detail as one possible example of good practice. It communicated the kind of positive messages about school expectations of learning and academic progress in the same way as the discipline system communicated the school's expectations of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

As is common practice in most schools, each child is given a school planner or diary, in which they record their homework. The planner can also be used to communicate with parents via notes. In some schools, the planners are not only used for positive reinforcement but also to enforce discipline by writing in detentions and negative comments. The drawback with this use of planners is that children can come to see this planner as something containing only bad news and in some schools they go missing on a regular basis.

This particular school used planners for only positive reinforcement of a pupil's work. If a pupil did a good piece of work or answered a question correctly, their teacher would award them a 'positive comment', known as a 'positive' amongst the students. The pupil would find their 'positives page' in their planner and fill in the date and the lesson and ask the teacher to sign it.

The school then did something very interesting. They take their registers electronically and there is room on their system for all kinds of student data to be compiled. A pupil with 10 positives earns a credit. Their form tutor then enters their credits onto the school system. Any pupils with 35 credits in a school year is invited, along with their family to a very swish awards ceremony, paid for by the school and held at a local university's main hall. This ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the school's musical success and the achievements in attendance, subject specific progress and general academic credit on the part of their pupils.

The point is that this school had invented a currency, which had weight amongst the student body, particularly the younger children, that reinforced participation, motivation and good behavior in class. Good behavior itself could be awarded a 'positive'. It took very little effort on the part of the staff but the effect was tremendous as pupils could compete with each other for positives. Some teachers would encourage students in their form to vote for one student each week who deserved a credit for effort.

Variations on this rule include stickers, used in pupils exercise books to reward good work. Wall charts with stickers for good behavior and work. The list is endless.

Does your school use positive reinforcement? If not, could you devise a system for your own classes to increase motivation?

Lesson Pace: let the task manage your class

Some pupils feel disaffected from school in general for a variety of reasons; one of which is boredom. I will deal with the content of your lessons on the section on 'Learning Styles'. However, I have found that one aspect of teaching that will often do more to encourage good behavior than most classroom management techniques is a fast-paced an engaging lesson. If the pupils arrive at your door and are literally given a starter activity as they walk in, then they will feel engaged straight away. If you set time limits, use countdowns and beat the clock style activities; if you give them a certain number of minutes in which to complete a task and count down time as you go along, you create a sense of urgency. A teacher's greatest sin, in my opinion, is to bore their students. If you do, you are asking for trouble.

Of course if trouble occurs, you also need to understand the most effective use of sanctions.

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To see how positive reinforcement relates to school discipline, click here. To return home, click here.

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