Whether you are a special education teacher, general education teacher, or parent, I think we can all agree that positive reinforcement is the very best way to encourage desired behaviors. There are so many books, blogs and articles written about implementation strategies, but the bottom line for the effectiveness of the strategy is that you need a very strong motivator.
When getting ready to put a positive reinforcement program in place, the first thing you need to determine is…what will motivate this child. Besides your own observations, enlist ideas from parents and other teachers. It is critical to determine exactly what reward you will use for reinforcing your student. A weak reward will not change behaviors that in themselves are already very rewarding. For example, avoidance behaviors such as refusing to work or transitioning from a preferred activity to a less preferred one is highly rewarding in and of itself. Therefore, offering a sticker (which the student likes) as a reward is probably not sufficiently reinforcing to change an already highly reinforcing behavior (not complying, which the student loves).
So how can you find the perfect reward? Let the student tell you! I’ve attached an excellent reinforcement assessment grid from Intervention Central that helps you systematically determine the most powerful reinforcer. (Click here to download the pdf.) It is important to remember that what is highly motivating one day, may have zero appeal a week later. Be ready to use a different motivator should the original loose its strength and the targeted behavior still needs to be modified.
Once you know what reinforcer will be most powerful, consider the following:
1) What exact behavior will be reinforced (be very specific)?
2) How often will you reinforce the desired behavior? If you need help with a reinforcement schedule, you can get detailed information from the first link at the end of this blog. Remember, consistency of delivery is extremely important, so make sure that everyone who works with the student understands and follows through with the plan.
3) Ease of transitioning the student to (do you have to get out headphones and bring up a program on the computer) and from (will he leave the computer without a struggle after 2 minutes of use?) the reward.
4) At what point of success will you pull back on the frequency and/or duration of reinforcement?
So, there you have a brief overview on developing a positive reinforcement plan. I hope you find it useful, and good luck!