Much early learning is through observation and trial and error. While this can be an effective way to learn, the most efficient process for initial learning is through direct instruction. Direction instruction includes systematic demonstrations, practice followed by reinforcement when the targeted skill is demonstrated, and correction of non-desired behaviors (i.e., external regulation).
It is typical for schools to have a variety of ways to encourage students to improve academic, artistic or athletic performance such as daily grades, quarterly and semester grades, honor roll, awards assemblies, math bowl trophies, music certificates, drama medals, athletic “letters”, etc. This form of recognition communicates to the student, and to others, that the student has been successful in meeting or exceeding expectations in a skill or performance.
In the classroom, it is important to communicate to students when they are meeting and exceeding expectations academically and behaviorally. Grades, stickers, stamps, positive comments, and displaying or sharing student work are among some of the common practices for recognizing students when they meet or exceed expectations for academic performance. You will develop and use a continuum of strategies for recognizing students when they meet or exceed behavior expectations as well.
There are many terms associated with encouraging student behavior: “acknowledgement,” “teacher approval,” “recognition,” “encouragement,” “reinforcement,” “praise,” “reward,” and “specific positive feedback.” While there are nuances in the meaning of these terms, the most commonly used terms are reinforcement and specific positive feedback. Reinforcement can take many forms (e.g. social attention, tangible items, activities). Specific positive feedback is perhaps the most common term for verbal reinforcement, which provides students with social attention along with specific information on their performance.
Before beginning to develop practices for encouraging expected behavior in the classroom, it is important to revisit the A-B-Cs of behavior. The consequences associated with a specific behavior affect future performance of that behavior. When the consequence increases the likelihood of the behavior in the future it is a reinforcing consequence. When the consequence decreases the likelihood of the behavior in the future it is a punishing consequence. The consequence is only determined to be reinforcement or punishment based on the impact it has on the behavior, not the opinion of the person administering the consequence.