Reinforcement is defined as the act of strengthening one individual by the reinforcer. The general principle of positive reinforcing is to get the student to obey or to do something new and then to provide the desired stimulus as quickly as possible. For example, when the student spells the word correctly, he must be complimented, or the teacher could write a note of enthusiasm for him to bring to his parents.
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Positive reinforcement is the most powerful teaching tool if used effectively. Unfortunately, teacher training does not usually equip them with the skill of using positive reinforcement efficiently. Unlike positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement applies aversive stimulus, such as glare or verbal reprimand, and when the student obeys, this stimulus is removed—this way, the student does not misbehave in order to avoid such aversive stimuli. The concept of negative reinforcement is misunderstood by many as being synonymous with punishment; however, the technical definition of punishment is somewhat different.
There are two types of punishment – positive and negative. Positive is associated with aversive stimulus presentation (extra work, detention); contrariwise, negative punishment is a result of positive reinforcing stimulus withdrawal (suspending privileges, etc.…). Both types of punishment are directed at lowering the probability of undesired behavior. These types of measures often cause an emotional reaction from the side of the punished and may or may not cause aggressive evocation.
Ideally, it is preferred to avoid punishment. Behavior modification therapy is focused on eliminating self-defeating behaviors through elements of negative punishment. For example, the teacher is asked to complete a behavior report card for a certain misbehaving student. After each school day, that student takes the report card home to his parents, and depending on the teacher’s comments about behavior; the student is given privileges. This may also be used as a motivation signal in order to motivate students to complete their home assignments or improve academic performance in general. Such rewards or privileges may include being allowed to watch television, go out with friends, play video games, or whatever else the child enjoys doing. Nevertheless, such a strategy of behavior modification may in some cases be considered a negative punishment, as when the student does poorly or misbehaves, his parents deprive him of the privilege, which corresponds to the concept of negative punishment. The purpose of this teaching strategy is to apply previous events and consequences in order to modify behavior. Slavin identifies six steps used by behavior modification programs. First, it is necessary to identify the reinforcer and what target behavior should be used. After this, the baseline for the target behavior is established. Then the reinforcer and his reinforcement criteria, or if necessary, the punisher, must be chosen. These are the third and fourth stages. The fifth stage encloses behavior observation after the implementation and comparison to the behavior at the baseline. Once the behavioral modification program starts working, it is necessary to reduce the reinforcement frequency. In terms of behavior modification therapy, Rebecca (the teacher) might effectively implement its principles in the classroom. Her simple strategy can include appointing the problematic children’s parents as the potential punishers and use the behavioral report card in order to modify behavior. This report card would be an efficient stimulus preventing the children from misbehaving, as they would be fearful of receiving negative punishment from their parents by means of losing the prerogative to do what they enjoy the most. Such a strategy can bring quick results for most children, and their improved behavior after the fact can be compared to the initial.
Birney, R. C. & Teevan, R. C. (Eds.). (1961). Reinforcement: An Enduring Problem in Psychology Selected Readings. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.
Wallen, N. E., & Fraenkel, J. R. (2001). Educational Research: A Guide to the Process (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.