Using Reinforcement Effectively


Why do we use reinforcement? The idea behind reinforcement is that if you reinforce a behavior it is more likely to occur again. I know I use reinforcement with all of my students every single day and I bet you do too! I wanted to talk a little bit about some important things to remember when you are using reinforcement so you can make it effective in your Special Education classroom. Of course reinforcement varies for each of my students. Some students have a larger reinforcer they work for throughout the day with smaller reinforcers sprinkled throughout the day while other students have more frequent large reinforcers throughout their day. You'll know these students when you meet them.

Here are a few things can think about as you use reinforcement with your students.  Make sure you check out these Do's and Don'ts of reinforcement!


Setting a deal with your students is probably the most important part of reinforcement. I keep bins of small reinforcers all over my classroom for just this reason. When my students get to a work center I have them choose an item that they want to work for and I place that item on their token board (or an icon of that item for students have difficulty controlling their impulses). Doing this serves two purposes; it allows students to visually represent the amount of work that needs to be completed in order to gain access to their reinforcer as well as providing students with a visual reminder of what they will gain access to.  You can see in the image below that my student knows exactly what they are working for and exactly how much more work needs to be done to access computer time.

When you think about setting a deal with students, keep these things in mind:


I always make sure I review expectations with students.  I have done this differently with different students in the past.  For some students I can review rules and reinforce appropriate behavior.  For other students, I have had to add visuals of expected behaviors to their token boards.  I love providing these extra visual supports for students!  You can see in the image above that my student knows she needs to complete two more tasks in order to access the play dough.

When you're talking about expectations with your students, keep these things in mind:


I know this sounds a little silly, but following through is probably the most important part of reinforcement.  When a student works for something they expect to receive it.  Right away.  And they should.  You have created a contract with your student and they have done their part.  You need to fulfill your part of the contract to ensure that reinforcement is effective in the future.  My pal above has clearly completed his end of the contract we set up (work expectation) and is engaging in a reinforcement break.

Here are some things to keep in mind when allowing access to reinforcement:

Reinforcement can be super tricky.  We don't want to send the wrong message to our students.  I hope these tips keep your reinforcement on track in your classroom!

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