This lesson describes the process of developing and using a continuum of strategies for encouraging expected behavior. The consistent delivery of teacher praise or specific positive feedback and the use of related reinforcement serve as an important first step to firmly establish predictable and positive classrooms. In Chapter 5 we learned how to deliver specific positive feedback, the ratio of positive to negative adult attention necessary to create an optimal learning environment, and how to develop a variety of meaningful reinforcers specific to the student and the setting. Examples were provided in Chapter 5 and an example of how a teacher developed a menu of positive consequences or reinforcers for one classroom procedure can be found on the next page. Research and common sense tell us when teachers increase their rates of specific positive feedback and reinforcement of desired classroom behavior, student behavior improves and teacher-student relationships are enhanced.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the importance of both non-contingent and contingent attention.
  • Demonstrate effective Specific Positive Feedback that concretely describes behavior.
  • Engage staff in connecting the schoolwide system with the classroom system to encourage expected behavior.

Reflective Questions

List ways that your school reinforces students for academic performance. Now list ways your school reinforces students for social behavioral performance. How can you tie these together?

Defining Terms

Reinforcement overarching term for a contingently delivered consequence associated with an increased likelihood of future behavior; reinforcement can take many forms, most commonly praise or specific positive feedback (social reinforcement), but also tangible reinforcement (tickets, tokens, coupons, etc.), and activity reinforcers. The consequence is only a reinforcer when it serves to strengthen or increase the use of the desired behavior; it is always based on the perspective of the learner, not the intentions of the adult delivering the reinforcement.

 Reward – something that reinforces a desired behavior, most often a preferred tangible/object or activity; often used interchangeably with “reinforcement,” but has acquired a controversial tone and misconstrued as bribery.

 Specific positive feedback – verbal reinforcement; a form of social reinforcement that provides information on successful behavior while reinforcing or increasing the likelihood that behavior will be repeated; combines social attention, instruction, and reinforcement.

 Praise – often used interchangeably with specific positive feedback; an expression of admiration for performance that serves to reinforce the behavior; verbal recognition.

 Teacher approval – used in research to assess the relationship of teacher behavior to student learning; generally verbal praise and encouragement, but may also include non-verbal attention (e.g., smiles, facial attention, touch, etc.).