In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on the use of “positive behavioral reinforcement” as a way to improve standards of behavior among young learners. In the past, punishing misbehavior may have been the standard teacher response to classroom disorder. There is now a growing consensus that positive reinforcement is the most effective method of improving children’s behavior in the long term. But what exactly is positive reinforcement and how could it be integrated into the daily work of teaching?
Positive reinforcement as a concept was introduced by the behaviorist BF Skinner, in his acclaimed text Operant behavior and operant conditioning. Skinner’s idea was that if a person was rewarded for acting in a positive way, he would come to see that behavior as the most natural and advantageous way to act. As such, positive reinforcement can help encourage good behavior in young learners from a young age. Positive reinforcement can be a reward for good behavior or simply positive communication in the form of praise or encouragement.
This type of reinforcement is generally considered more effective than punishing a child for misbehavior, as it has the additional effect of improving confidence and self-esteem. Punishments tend to have good results in the moment, but poor results in the long run, as the child begins to see misbehavior as the best way to get the teacher’s attention. Positive reinforcement should not be seen as a form of bribery, with incentives promised for good behavior. This approach can make the child see the behavior as a means to an end, while reinforcement techniques encourage good behavior as the most natural course of action.
So how can positive reinforcement be actively incorporated in the classroom, where class sizes make individual attention problematic? One popular method is to introduce ‘Golden Time’, a period of time each week when children can engage in fun activities as a reward for good behaviour. Usually taking up the last half hour on Friday, Golden Time is awarded to children who adhere to a set of ‘Golden Rules’, which outline the standards of good behavior in the classroom. Those who break the Golden Rules will receive a verbal warning, followed by a visual warning, and then have their 3-5 minute Golden Time removed. The child then has the opportunity to win back his Golden Time through good behavior. The system is therefore a good way to set an expected standard of behavior, while helping to improve behavior through focused positive reinforcement of naughty children.
The activities that make up Golden Time need to change regularly to keep kids interested and engaged. It is also a good idea to ask the children what they would like to do in Golden Time, so that they participate in their own behavior. There are many websites that offer free Golden Time resources as well as some ideas to use for inspiration. E-Learning software could also be a good option as it includes many fun games and activities that children can play while continuing to learn.