Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reinforcers Come in Unexpected Places

Often, we forget the TRUE meaning of reinforcement.  We assume that praise should be reinforcing and yelling should be punishing...but that is not correct.  Reinforcement is defined as something that occurs after a behavior which increases the likelihood of the behavior in the future.

Even if you and I find yelling aversive (and it REDUCES our behavior in the future), that doesn't mean it will have that same effect on everyone's behavior.  I have had several students who find "being yelled at" reinforcing, because it is another form of attention to them.  So, when we yell at them for engaging in inappropriate attention seeking behavior, we are actually increasing the likelihood that they will engage in those behaviors in the future.  

Reinforcing items and activities can also change for people depending on the day or time of the day.  Just because your student loved gummy bears yesterday, doesn't mean they will want them today.  Giving your students visual choices to see what they are motivated by on a daily basis, can help in determining which items/activities may be reinforcing.  My main reason for writing this post isn't about getting into all the definitions associated with reinforcement, but just to remind ourselves to look at what happens right after a behavior and actually pay attention to how that effects the future changes in  your students' behaviors.  

I also wanted to write this post, because I have started to notice how "strange" a lot of the preferred items are for students in my classroom...so I wanted to remind us all to not discount the small things and be creative.

I have students who choose to work for:
*Straws          *Plastic Giraffes (yes...ONLY giraffes!)         *Plastic Bottle Tornados         *Theraputty          *Lotion       *Strips of Paper          *Pieces of String          *Looking out the window                     

I also have students who choose to work for more common items/activities such as:
*Edibles (candy, chips, granola bars, crackers)         *iPad or Computer         *Drawing Pictures

Like I said earlier, these preferred items/activities may not always function as reinforcers, but they are a good place to start when trying to increase targeted behaviors with our students.  So, pay attention to what your kiddos like, and find a way to use it in your classroom as a reward! Do you have anything interesting in your class that the kids choose to work for?


  1. Aside from the usual edibles and computer incentives, I have a student that likes to draw, one that works for sitting and spinning in the rolling teacher chair, for turning on our ceiling fans (just discovered this, thank you Spring), closing our blinds, using the faculty restroom, taking his shoes and socks off, and knocking down all the gym mats in PE. These last 4 were negative behaviors until I made them incentives. Now he isn't as interested in doing them since he can choose to do them, but still chooses them once n awhile. I love my job because there is never a dull moment.

  2. I have a student who took a tornado tube home and slept with it :)

  3. Amazing that you post this at a time where I'm trying to figure out this sort of thing.

  4. I love it! I often say things like this to my paraprofessionals that if only someone that doesn't know our students walked in and saw the things they use for motivation! I have a student who works for giving me high-fives that make me blow on my hands because he has hit me so hard that my hands are on fire (not really but he thinks so). I also have students that work for magnets, exercise balls, and taking pictures. Some of the silliest things are the best reinforcers! I love this post!

  5. My favorite is my student who works for watching videos of Gus Gus the mouse from Cinderella on our iPod touch :) Love our kiddos and their creative little brains!

  6. Love this post!! I have a student who works for "eyelashes".. not actual eyelashes, but to be able to sit and look at a member of staff's eyelashes (only staff who agree of course) he is just mesmerised by them. Another of my students works for pieces of velcro and sellotape, and another for plastic milk or drinks bottle caps!! We also have the standard sensory toys/fidgets, ipad, listen to music, and the computer of course. One video that THREE of my kiddos work for, is that of a BBC video malfunction, whereby the opening screen freezes... bizarre eh!

    1. Love it! It's always awesome when our kids love things that are cheap/free!