Friday, June 27, 2008

How Positive is Positive Reinforcement?

How Positive is Positive Reinforcement?

Teaching children is arguably one of the hardest vocations around, mostly because you have to be a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of one at least in order to enjoy a reasonable amount of success. A classroom full of young, boisterous kids is not the most conducive atmosphere to learning, but that’s what a teacher’s job entails – to make sure the children become not just better students but also better human beings.

Very often, the behavioral patterns of children creep into and affect the way they gather, assess and use knowledge – a broken or abusive home may make dull the brightest mind and cause rebellion at school, a fight with a friend may induce disinterest and depression in a normally chirpy youngster, and stress about an upcoming exam may cause the most brilliant student to collapse and fail. It’s the teacher’s job to take all factors into consideration and do what’s best, both for the child as an individual and the class as a whole.

One theory which has received its share of both bouquets and brickbats is that of positive reinforcement, the strategy which attempts to build on existing positive aspects in children by offering them some form of incentive, physical or supportive. Offering small gifts and treats or showing appreciation by encouraging words for adhering to the rules or performing well in class has been proven to have an uplifting effect on children and their morale. When morale is high, it automatically follows that performance improves.

While positive reinforcement seems like a pretty easy theory, putting it into practice involves a whole lot more:

· It’s important to be positive without being patronizing. Children can tell the difference. Negative behavior should not be praised or rewarded at any cost.
· Teachers should take care not to motivate one at the cost of others; comparisons should be avoided.
· Similarly, the teacher should be impartial and follow the same principles in meting out reinforcement.
· Finding out what constitutes positive reinforcement in each set of students, according to age or culture, plays an important role in the process. What’s reward for one group may not be as enticing to another.
· It’s not wise to choose reinforcements that are costly or time-consuming.
· Being too generous with positive reinforcement can nullify its positive effects and diminish its value.
· Teachers should know how to monitor performance after and before reinforcement and act accordingly.
· Positive reinforcement works best when the teacher is familiar with the children as individuals and knows what makes them tick.
· Children must be able to connect the reinforcement to the behavior that elicited it, which means that the time between positive behavior and positive reinforcement must be as short as possible. In short, they should know what they are being rewarded for.
· Reinforcement must not have the opposite effect – if, for whatever reason, the teacher does not reward the child, it should not be a reason for the latter to stop the good behavior or performance altogether.

On the other side of the coin, much has been said about the negative effects of positive reinforcement. The incentives have been termed “bribes” and have been accused of fostering dependence and a sense of false well-being and satisfaction. But research has proved that positive support works wonders for children who have never heard words of praise or been rewarded for good behavior. Punishments, while effective in the short term, are not the solutions to control regular mischief mongers. Teachers who are against this practice must realize that they themselves are prone to work harder when the offer of a bonus is in sight.

Good or bad, the debate still rages on, as seen in this news story!

This article is contributed by Heather Johnson, a freelance writer as well as a regular commentator on fast online degrees. Heather invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

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