Using reinforcers in learning
Classroom management is one of the major challenges teachers faced by teachers in their careers. One way that teachers can manage classroom behaviour is through using reinforcement in learning. Reinforces can be used for teaching new skills, to replace any negative behaviour and to increase an appropriate behaviour. Using reinforced learning is a simple strategy that all teachers can refer to, but often teachers are unable to use it as effectively as it could be. This article will describe how reinforced learning can be used effectively to increase classroom engagement.
Before we discuss what techniques can be used in reinforced learning, it is important to discuss the types of reinforcement. There are positive and negative reinforcements that can be used by teachers. If teachers go for using positive reinforcement in the classroom then it is the delivery of reinforcers to increase appropriate behaviour. On the other hand, if teachers opt to go for negative reinforcement then it is the removal of any unwanted event or condition, which also helps increase appropriate behaviour. Teachers can make use of positive reinforcement by clapping for the student once they’ve completed an assignment and a negative reinforcement is allowing the student to leave circle time for a five-minute break after they use a break card. As you can see, the goal of both positive and negative reinforcement is to increase desired behaviours.
How to select reinforcers?
A true reinforcer would be that follows the appropriate behaviour. However, using reinforcer often fails to get the desired outcome. This happens when the reinforcer selected by the teacher is not motivating for the student. To prevent this from happening, teachers should include students input in the process of identifying the reinforcers. Teachers can gather students input through surveys conducted. These surveys will help the teacher identify the appropriate reinforcer for students. The surveys used by the teacher should individualise to include the student’s interests and classroom limitations.
Another way of identifying reinforcers is to use samples. Some students have limited communication skills, thus making it difficult for the teacher to identify the reinforcer. The solution to this is reinforcement sampling. Before identifying the reinforcer, the teacher should observe the student, conduct meeting with student’s parents and other staff who work with the student to decide reinforcers.
Types of reinforcers
Teachers can choose from the two types of reinforcers. Primary reinforcers are those that are naturally reinforcing. Whereas, secondary reinforcers include tangible items, for example, appreciation by the teacher. After the teacher has selected the appropriate reinforcers for the students, the teacher will then try to test these reinforcers to see which one students choose.
Getting started with reinforced learning
The delivery of the reinforcement will only begin once the reinforcers are selected based on data collection consisting of the frequency or duration of the target behaviour. When starting to use reinforcers for learning, they must be provided every single time the student has used the desired skill or behaviour. This will help build the minds of the students that they will be awarded when they used desired behaviour.
To create strong connection between reinforcers and behaviour, reinforcement must be provided immediately following the target skill. The longer gap is between the behaviour and the delivery of the reinforcer, the connection will be weaker effecting the reinforcement process. Another important thing is to pair the reinforcer with behaviour specific praise (“Great job” or “Super work”). This will do two things:
(1) it allows the student to know exactly what they are being reinforced for
(2) it will helps the student to be motivated by social reinforcers.
Depravation and Satiation
Using reinforcers is not always effective. After some time, the reinforcers used can stop being effective. For such cases, teachers need to use depravation and satiation to manage learning and behaviour in classroom.
Depravation is the process in which reinforcer is kept away from the student till they have expressed the desired behaviour. If the reinforcer is a soft toy, the teacher needs to make sure that the soft toy is taken away from the free time area and the student isn’t given soft toy at home. This will help ensure that when they receive the soft toy contingent on their appropriate behaviour, it will be highly reinforcing.
Whereas, satiation is applied when the reinforcer is no longer a motivator. To reduce satiation, teachers must have a variety of reinforcers to use. The teacher may also want to teach the skill in several short periods. For instance, a teacher wishing to teach students to follow a one-step direction might provide three opportunities to access the reinforcer and after that wait an hour to do it again. Teachers might choose to use edibles as reinforcers believing that they are very rewarding, however, using edibles should be avoided as it is easy for students to satiate on food and such reinforcers are not always the most age-appropriate one. If there are no other reinforcers identified for the student, then the edible should be broken up into small bites
Some teachers are reluctant to use reinforcement due to the possibility that the student might become dependent on the reinforcer. This could result in creation of the need in student to be provided with high rates of reinforcement. This concern of teachers can be avoided by planning for how the reinforcement will be thinned. To decrease the overall rate of reinforcement provided is called reinforcement thinning.
There are 3 different ways in which reinforcement can be decreased. These are:
- Delay schedules
- Chained schedules
- Multiple schedules.
Delay schedules is when the wait time is increased between appropriate behaviour and when the student receives receive their reinforcer. To use this teacher can provide different verbal responses such as “wait” or provide a picture card that indicates wait after student emits the behaviour.
Chained schedules are more commonly used for behaviours that are kept by escape. In such cases, the teacher will keep increasing the number of steps, amount of time or the number of demands before the student can access the escape or reinforcement. Before starting with a chained schedule the teacher should tell the student about the set criterion or provide a visual of the number of steps to prepare them.
The last type of thinning of reinforcers is multiple schedules. this helps to bring down the use of reinforcement component while the extinction component (when reinforcers are not provided) is increased. Teachers can achieve this by using cue cards. Students who can read can be presented with cards that read “Reinforcement Available” or “Reinforcement Not Available” while others may be shown cards based on colour signalling the availability of reinforcers, for example, red or white cards. When shown the “Reinforcement Available” card, the student will receive reinforcement each time they produce the appropriate behaviour and during the “Not Available” or coloured card, they do not receive reinforcement. The goal is to progressively increase the use of the “not available” while still having appropriate behaviour.
After the system of reinforced learning has been individualised for the students, others interacting with the student should also be aware of the system. Individuals who work with the student should be aware of the possible reinforcers and how to avoid satiation of those reinforcers. By having a variety of school personnel, and in different settings across the school day using the reinforcement system, the student will be more likely to generalise their appropriate behaviour to other areas.