BIG Tip #1

Posted on 13 Mar 2009 in BIG Tip, Intervention, Student Behavior | Comments Off on BIG Tip #1

Behavior Intervention Guru (BIG) Tip: Reinforcement



If you want to increase the probability that a student will perform a task or behavior again, the behavior must be reinforced. By definition, something is reinforcing only if the student is willing to repeat a behavior in order to get the reinforment again. Hense, giving a student an 8-track tape will probably not be reinforcing or cause them to work for another 8-track tape.

How To Use Reinforcement

Reinforcement works best when:

  1. presented immediately
  2. presented frequently at first, and later on a random schedule
  3. is desired by the student
  4. naturally occurring in the environment


Reinforcement can come in many forms:

  • food – treats, snacks, M&Ms, etc. Very desirable by many students, but not healthy, natural, or cheap.
  • tangible – a toy, favorite item, sticker, prize, etc. Desirable by students, but not natural or cheap.
  • activity – computer time, book time, recess time, puzzle time.
  • helper – line leader, collect homework, take attendance to office, pass out books, peer tutor.
  • praise – “thanks for turning in your homework”, award, note/call home, student of the day, acknowledgment.
  • token – a tally mark, ticket, or checkmark that can be traded for another type of reinforement at a later time. You decide on the value (ie. 10 tokens = 5 min. computer time, 50 tokens = snack, 100 token = field trip).


Reinforcement can:

  1. become saturated, or no longer desired because the student has too much (for example M&Ms).
  2. backfire, especially when a student who talks out is reinforced with teacher attention every time the teacher stops the class to say, “I’m not answering your question until you stop interrupting me” (in this case, responding to the student is reinforcing the disruptive behavior).
  3. be ineffective, if the student doesn’t desire whatever you are offering. The solution is to try something else.
  4. be getting something or escaping something. For example: getting attention or an item or avoiding work or an assignment. The squeaky wheel often get the grease – this means that even when a student is being yelled at for misbehaving, this could be reinforcing because they get the undivided attention of a teacher, principal, or parent. And, when a student gets kicked out of class for being disruptive they could be reinforced especially if their goal was to avoid classwork or an assignment.

Don’t believe the rumors that too much reinforcement harms kids or destroys their internal motivation. There is no scientific proof that telling kids what they are doing well is coddling or being too soft. However, there is plenty of research that shows that reinforcement and praise increase positive behaviors and decreases unwanted behaviors.

Focus on the positive and you will notice more positive in the future – guaranteed!

Feel free to share this BIG Tip from Mr.ChuckChuck with others.