What is the Significance of Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom?

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is an alternative to physical punishment that offers a fresh perspective on operant training. In the old times, when individuals acquired knowledge by traditional and less advanced methods, educators believed that inflicting mental or bodily harm onto students was an effective means of facilitating learning. Moreover, they employed fear as a means of exerting control and influencing the behavior of individual students or groups. Besides, during that period, not all teachers employed corporal punishment or public humiliation as disciplinary measures, although some did. Certain parents even endorsed it due to their belief in its positive impact on the children.

However, today, corporal punishment is illegal in most countries and widely acknowledged as abuse. Teachers who physically or psychologically abuse students are more likely to trigger issues such as emotional trauma, depression, delinquency, and social isolation. Nevertheless, this situation does not mean students can do whatever they want without consequences. In addition, since the teacher’s actions will have major implications, it is crucial to make doing good more appealing than doing bad; thus, positive reinforcement comes into play.

What is Positive Reinforcement in Education?

In the context of the classroom, “positive reinforcement” is the practice of providing rewards or incentives to students to encourage and reinforce desired behaviors or academic achievements. In the field of psychology, reinforcement is a stimulus that occurs subsequent to a person’s positive behavior, hence increasing the likelihood of its repetition. Positive feedback can be conceptualized as rewarding someone for their virtuous actions.

Skinner, the American Scientist, established the concept of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning. Skinner discovered that rats exhibited a higher frequency of bar-pressing behavior when they received continuous rewards for their actions. Similarly, if an individual perceives that a particular activity yields favorable outcomes, they are likely to repeat it frequently.

Why Positive Reinforcement is Important in the Classroom

Within the realm of education, positive reinforcement was not intended to serve as a deterrent or a remedy for punishment. However, its purpose was to provide students with an incentive to engage in desired actions repeatedly. In essence, providing children with unconditional positive reinforcement for their desirable actions or behaviors is an effective strategy to encourage them to repeat such actions or behaviors. Through positive reinforcement, children realize that positive behaviors bring about rewarding consequences such as recognition, verbal praise, loving touch, and prizes. As a result, they learn and develop desirable behavioral skills.

There is no necessity to employ an alternative approach that all individuals in the classroom are anticipated to acquire, as it is a ubiquitous notion that occurs organically in any educational setting. In addition, prioritizing the establishment of positive feedback in advance not only provides teachers with the opportunity to enhance the frequency of desirable behaviors but also prevents them from inadvertently reinforcing undesirable ones. Mere observation of negative conduct can provide challenges in preventing its escalation.

Types of Positive Reinforcement Applicable in the Classroom

Direct reinforcement occurs when acceptable conduct is rewarded. For instance, if a teenager engages in acceptable social interactions with their peers during a group activity, it is highly probable that they will receive more invitations and develop a greater interest in participating in such activities in the future.

Social reinforcers are stimuli or incentives that are provided by individuals such as instructors, parents, peers, and other adults. They encompass an articulation of endorsement and commendation for appropriate conduct.

Activity reinforcers refer to the practice of granting students the opportunity to engage in activities they personally find enjoyable and rewarding, contingent upon their demonstration of desired behavior. In addition, such reinforcers are particularly efficient if they can select a classmate with whom they may engage in activities such as playing a game or spending time on the computer. 

Tangible reinforcers are physical items that can be used to reward students, such as toys, balloons, stickers, and awards. However, such type of reinforcement must be suitable for the target children. For instance, if a student is struggling with a weight issue, it is justifiable to employ fast food as a kind of reinforcement. 

Lastly, token reinforcement refers to the practice of rewarding individuals with tokens for exhibiting appropriate conduct. For instance, a potential system could involve rewarding students with tickets at the end of each week for displaying specific desirable behaviors, which can then be swapped for prizes.

In sum, positive reinforcement is among the topics explored by people pursuing early childhood education. This article provides more details about other common topics in education research. As an instructional approach, positive reinforcement builds pleasant and rewarding experiences that enable children to learn and practice desirable behaviors and routines. Teachers should use this strategy to build students’ self-confidence and encourage desired habits.  

Recommended Resources

Positive reinforcement. University of Kansas. https://specialconnections.ku.edu/behavior_plans/classroom_and_group_support/teacher_tools/positive_reinforcement

Hancock, C. L., & Carter, D. R. (2016). Building environments that encourage positive behavior. Young Children, 71(1), 68-73. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/building-environments-encourage-positive-behavior-preschool 

Hardy, J. K., & McLeod, R. H. (2020). Using positive reinforcement with young children. Beyond Behavior29(2), 95-107. https://doi.org/10.1177/1074295620915724 

10 effective DAP teaching strategies. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/dap/10-effective-dap-teaching-strategies