Positive reinforcement is a powerful technique when used while teaching others. Through it, chances of educational success increase and learners can become more internally motivated.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive Reinforcement is when you give things away to motivate someone else. These things can range from giving away intangible items (such as words of encouragement) to giving away tangible items (such as toys and prizes). While giving away toys and prizes can be extremely effective, this article will provide tips on using intangibles.
Why Focus on Intangibles?
Intangibles are readily available to everyone. You don’t need to have prizes on hand or charts made up. Also, intangibles are easy to use in any setting. They work well in large groups (such as classrooms), small groups (such as in tutoring groups), and one-on-one (such as at home with parents).
Tip 1. Concentrate on Social Reinforcement
- “Social reinforcement can play a vital role in a variety of areas” – Kendra Cherry, Author and Educational Consultant
- “A positive [interaction] like verbal praise, smile, touch, or a sign of approval” – Psychology Dictionary
Social reinforcement is a natural occurrence in our daily lives. It occurs when you receive a smile, a thumbs up, or even a congratulations on a recent success.
Social Reinforcement is also very powerful. In one study conducted in 1968, researchers looked at school-age students who spent very little time studying. These students were then provided praise and attention in regards to their studying. It was found that these students studied up to twice as much when praise and attention were used.
Tip 2. Convey Belief
- “Children need to … feel like they can do it.” – Maureen Healy, Leader in the Field of Children’s Emotional Health
- “Research … show[s] that small everyday actions … help promote self-efficacy.” – Marilyn Price Mitchell, Developmental Psychologist
The messages we receive from others have a significant impact on each one of us. When we receive a message that encourages us, we are more likely to attempt those difficult tasks that we have been afraid to do. The opposite is also true. When we receive messages that tell us we are unable to do something, we are more likely to avoid these challenges.
Tip 3. Provide a Higher Positive to Negative Ratio
- ” It is about forming positive relationships” – University of Washington
- “Increases in teacher praise have positive effects on … math achievement (Luiselli & Downing, 1980).” – Safe and Civil Schools
Unfortunately, growth can’t be achieved if we only focused on the positive. For example, when a person makes a mistake in mathematics they need to be informed of the mistake. This helps the person avoid this same mistake in the future. However, when a person receives too many negative comments they are more likely to become less productive.
One way to prevent this from happening is through a higher positive to negative ratio. Many studies have found that when a person receives more positive comments than negative comments they become much more willing to cooperate. A good rule of thumb is to give five positive comments to every one negative.
Tip 4. Provide Choices
- “Research has shown that choice‐making opportunities are effective in … increasing task engagement.” – Grand Valley State University
- “All human beings need to feel as if they have control over themselves and their lives.” – Sue Grossman, PHD., of Eastern Michigan University
Choices during instruction are another great way to provide positive reinforcement. When choices are given, the person can feel as if they have more control in their life.
This is especially useful when working with those who have a conditioned fear response. This is because a fear response is often caused by a previous situation that caused pain in the past. Providing choices allow these individuals to have some control, which will decrease their fear and increase their willingness.