As a teacher or parent, it can be challenging to determine how to get the best out of your student or child. However, in recent years there has been a tendency towards positive reinforcement and it has yielded fantastic results.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, list some benefits of this practice, and give examples of positive reinforcement in the classroom.
The Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement
In order to understand the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, you need to understand the concepts of reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is described as an action that is taken to increase the probability of someone repeating an action. On the other hand, punishment is a harmful or unpleasant consequence of someone’s action.
Why is this distinction important? Well, negative reinforcement is often confused with punishment. In reality, negative reinforcement is not necessarily a bad reinforcement technique.
Negative reinforcement is defined as removing a stimulus or item to increase the chances of someone performing a task or having a certain reaction.
For example, if a parent constantly asks a child to practise their times tables, and the child consistently refuses to do so, negative reinforcement would be the parent stopping or reducing the number of times they make this request. In theory, this should prompt the child to practise their times tables in order to avoid the parent asking them or increasing the number of requests in the future.
Positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding someone after completing a task or performing an action. This reward will then encourage the person to continue to repeat that action.
If we revisit the previous example of asking a child to practise their times tables, then positive reinforcement would be allowing the child to have a little more tv time or play ten minutes longer in the garden after practising their times tables.
The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement for Students
While positive reinforcement can be applied at home, it can also be applied in the learning environment to encourage a student. This practice has been shown to yield a wide variety of beneficial results when applied correctly and oftentimes can even be the factor that determines whether a student is successful in their schooling career.
Creates a Positive Learning Environment
When making use of positive reinforcement, the entire learning environment becomes a positive one. As students are praised for their efforts and accomplishment, they automatically continue on that path and strive toward success. This is because they will feel valued and motivated.
Improves a Students Self-Esteem
As a student receives praise, they will become more confident in their abilities. This will increase their self-esteem and provide them with the courage they need to progress and tackle new learning material.
Increases Student Engagement
When children feel valued and confident, they are more likely to engage and participate in class. Therefore, they will be more likely to ask questions, listen intently, and focus on their schoolwork. This will, in turn, improve their learning experience.
Promotes Learning and Growth
Motivation, confidence, and engagement will allow a child to push themselves towards exploration and growth. Therefore they will explore their curiosities and start to enjoy learning, which will allow them to grow and flourish.
Encourages Academic Success
When a child starts to enjoy learning and experiences all of the benefits associated with positive reinforcement, their grades will automatically improve. This is because they will be self-driven to succeed and enjoy the validation that comes from this success.
Can Reduce Disruptive Behaviour
As positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding good behaviour, students will start to be less disruptive as they would rather seek reward. This makes teaching much easier and allows teachers to focus on the learning material.
Positive Reinforcement Examples in the Classroom
Whether in a traditional classroom environment or in an online homeschooling environment, there are certain things that teachers, parents, and tutors can do to make use of positive reinforcement.
The use of verbal praise can be extremely effective and should not be underestimated. It is important to keep an eye out for even the smallest accomplishments and improvements. As these occur, it is important to bring attention to them and let the student know that they have done well.
For example, if a student has been struggling with a certain maths concept, and they get a sum right it should be praised. This can be something along the lines of:
“Well done Peter! You got that right. I am really impressed with your hard work and progress”.
If a student is struggling with a certain concept, there is a way to implement positive reinforcement by means of positive feedback. While they are struggling, one can show support and confidence in their ability to grasp a concept by providing them with some encouraging words.
For example; “You are definitely moving in the right direction and making progress! Keep it up and I know you will succeed”.
Positive Notes or Certificates
It can be useful to make use of positive notes and/or certificates. If you are a teacher in a conventional classroom, you can send congratulatory notes back with the children to their parents once they have achieved a goal or done something well.
If you are a parent that is homeschooling your child, you can still make use of notes and certificates that can be pinned to a board or on the fridge. This will still give them a feeling of satisfaction and praise.
Rewards can be utilised as more elaborate forms of positive reinforcement. Depending on whether you are a teacher or a parent these rewards can change and be utilised differently.
If you are a teacher, rewards can be given in the form of extra break time when a class has finished all their work in time.
As a parent, you could potentially offer your child a fun activity such as a trip to a fun park, or let them pick a movie and the snacks for family movie night when they have done something exceptional.
Ultimately, positive reinforcement focuses on creating a loving, positive, and accepting environment that motivates children to perform certain actions because they want to do so. Once this positive attitude has been fostered within a child they are more likely to enjoy learning and succeed throughout their educational career.