6a: Practical Implementation of Positive Reinforcement (with recording sheet)

In a training today (a little while ago now), my supervisor made a point:

Skill development is the best way to get rid of problem behaviors.

That really gets to the heart of what I want to say. Build new skills and reinforce them. Then those will happen more frequently, and problem behaviors will go away on their own (in the general case, excluding kids with specific needs).

For this post, we’re going to do a class-wide behavior, which could be an issue for many teachers: lining up to transition to other classes. This is appropriate more for elementary teachers (probably up through grade 5, though older groups line up too).

Often students fool around, don’t stand in a straight line, change places, etc.

Here, we’re looking for (1) a straight line, (2) in line order, and (3) kids are quiet. Also, it shouldn’t take more than (4) 1 minute (this will definitely change over time)

This represents only one possible way to work with a general classroom of kids. Tweak/adapt for your group!

Step 1: Baseline (where the kids are right now)

One common mistake when doing a baseline for a group behavior is to tell students what you’re looking for, and to do it at a not-quite-natural time. Maybe during morning meeting, you tell them you want to see what they can do, and you have them line up. The problem is that it’s not a real transition: it’s practice lining up. They know what to do. What you’re checking is where they are: what do they actually do.

Now, we need to track it in some way. Get out your stopwatch and clipboard! I would use the sheet here (google docs) – it’s short, to the point, and will work for a week’s worth of lines.

Step 2: Tell the students what you’re looking for!

Now that you’ve seen what they do, check in with the students! We’ve mentioned this a few times. Here’s a sample script for a morning meeting check-in:

T: Good morning!

Ss: Good morning!

T: You may have noticed my clipboard yesterday afternoon when you were lining up…any ideas why I had it out?

S: We’re bad at lining up…you want to get us in trouble!

T: Well, not exactly. But close. We’ve had a lot of trouble transitioning, so I wanted to see how we do. We’re going to look at it, and see how to get better. (take out data sheet – projected, or copied onto a large paper for the class)

S: There’s no way it took us 5 minutes to line up! We were in line fast!

T: You got in the area in a minute, but it took 5 minutes to get into the line we’re supposed to be in. We’ve gone over the expectations, so that’s what I was looking for.

S: So you’re saying that we’re bad at lining up!

T: Not quite. I’m saying I want us to work together on lining up how we’re expected to. I’m going to use this data sheet when we line up. If we meet 2 out of the 3 goals (in the allowed time), we’ll earn a star on this chart. Once we have 20 stars, we’ll earn a reward!

Step 3: Follow Through!

Now that you track data, give them stars! Try to make it as easy as possible for them…you can give reminders, have them practice during the day if a lesson finishes early (tell them it’s practice, so that now is the time to make mistakes). That way, they get it. The more practice they have, the better it is.

When students go to specials (gym, art, music, etc) you can pass the sheet along for those teachers. Not only is it consistent (which will help the kids), but I’m sure the teacher who only sees students once a week will appreciate it too!

Step 4: Shape it Up!

Once they get 2/3 consistently and earn the first reward, make them work harder! Either decrease the time to 45 seconds, or add a fourth behavior requirement (and they have to earn 3/4). Or track how much help they need – if they do it independently, they earn 2 stars. If a teacher has to remind them (but they do it), they earn 1 star.

Adjust according to the class’ needs, and slowly but surely they will do awesome! And they’ll love you too, because you are so nice to them too.


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