- Get to know the child as an individual. Find out what the child is interested about and what motivates him or her; also, find out what the child dislikes. Directly ask the child what is reinforcing to him or her. You and the child should discuss the reinforcement.
- After discussing what is rewarding to the child, set goals with him, and help the child translate the goal into an action plan that clearly lists the sub-steps that he will need to follow to reach the goal. Link the reward system with the action plan, aiming at reinforcing the action plan.
- To set goals and develop an action plan, engage the student in a discussion about “the ways he wants to be (goal),” and how he can make that happen (action plan).
- Do not assume that the student knows how to listen, how to cooperate with other students, or how to solve social problems. Teachers need to teach those behaviors explicitly. Explain to the student, model, and then review the behavior that you expect from the child. Give the student examples of alternative behaviors that the child can use to replace the habitually disruptive behaviors. The extra time you spend earlier in the year teaching socially appropriate behaviors to habitually disruptive students will save you time and frustration in the future.
- Explicitly state what the student needs to do to earn the reward. For example, just saying, “Be nice to each other” or “Pay attention to the lesson” is not enough. You need to state what the child is going to do in behavioral terms, for example, “15 minutes seated and doing your class work will earn you a token.” The link between the child’s behavior and the reinforcement must be apparent to the child.
- Vary the reinforcement, so that the child does not get used to it, and does not feel bored by the same reward. With the student, you can develop a reinforcement menu (10-15 rewards), and to make it more appealing, include a mystery reward. When the child meets her behavior expectation, she selects one reward from the reinforcement menu.
- For bigger rewards, you can use a token system, so that each day, the child earns tokens, points, or checks that she exchanges at the end of the week or month.
- Emphasize social and privilege reinforcement (e.g. breakfast with the teacher or extra computer time) over material reinforcement (toy and prizes). Reinforcement that involves spending time with adults and doing tasks together are generally more rewarding to children than toys. Remember, when you spend time with the child, resist the temptation to discipline the child during that time. In other words, keep reinforcement time and discipline time clearly separated.
- Always keep in mind that, particularly for students with recurrent behavior problems, for behavior to be good does not need to be perfect. Reward effort and improvement; that is, notice and appreciate that the child is trying hard and is doing a little better each time.
- Teach the student self-rewards and self-reinforcement; for example, the child compliments herself for raising her hand, for waiting her turn, for using a learning strategy, or for thinking of a better approach to solve a situation. Gradually transition the student from an externally manipulated reward system to self-reward and self-reinforcement.
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