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Using Positive Reinforcement to Shape Behaviors in the Classroom

With large class sizes and unruly students, teachers can be prone to leverage motivation through punishments. For instance, eliminating recess or after school detentions can serve as a negative consequence. However, this outcome often only creates anger and frustration. So, instead of employing penalties, try utilizing an approach in which privileges are earned through positive reinforcement.

Many students are not internally motivated to complete homework, sit at their desks for hours at a time, and listen to lectures. While integrating multisensory methods may help, issues of avoidance and complaints often indicate that there is an overwhelming agenda. Students can tire, and when organization, time management and planning are not helping as they should, external motivation, or an incentives program may prove to be an effective remedy to increase productivity and improve students’ attitudes.

With an incentives program, students can earn points for completing activities, tasks or exhibiting appropriate behaviors. Points are recorded which can then be “cashed in” for rewards. Small rewards can be earned in a day, whereas larger rewards may take weeks or even months.

Many teachers feel that it is inappropriate to reward a child for completing schoolwork. However, as adults, we are paid for work and would not complete the tasks without such compensation. Therefore, earning rewards can be a practical learning tool for students that will help prepare them for the workforce. Moreover, students often develop a sound work ethic.

What are the Steps?
1) Identify the problems and define goals.
2) Reveal motivating rewards and assign each with a point value.
3) Select a number of tasks for which points can be earned. Try to limit it to 5 tasks. As success is reached, new tasks can be substituted into the program.
4) Decide the number of points that each of the tasks will earn.
5) Record daily points.
6) Once every few weeks, review the tasks and rewards and revise as needed.

To learn more about helping young learners develop executive functioning skills and acquiring other helpful handouts and advice, consider purchasing Planning Time Management and Organization for Success. This publication offers methods and materials that guide and support students in the areas of time management, learning strategies, planning, and organization. It includes questionnaires, agendas, checklists, as well as graphic organizers. You will also find materials that focus reading, math, memory, motivation, setting priorities and incentives programs. What’s more, the materials accommodate learners of all ages from elementary to college. Finally, I offer a free sample assessment from the publication too, as well as a free video on executive functioning. To Access this Click Here

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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