10 Approaches to Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom

It’s Friday afternoon and the weekend is coming, but you’re overcome with feelings of dread. You can hear your nightmare class going nuts as make your way down the hallway.

With no tests, no homework, and no grades, it can be a difficult task to encourage your students to behave and participate. On top of that, you only see them once a week.

To help narrow down a list of causes for poor behavior and take back control of the class, I’ve created a list of positive reinforcement techniques and approaches.

What is the idea behind positive reinforcement? 

Positive reinforcement can be used very effectively in the classroom to create or enhance a desired behavior. The idea is basically to not focus on the negative aspects of a person’s behavior, but instead to focus on the positive aspects. The more focus that is placed on the positive behavior, the more the behavior will be enhanced.

#1
Be Happy

The first step to creating a positive learning environment, is for yourself to be positive. If you are happy to be there, the more likely you’re students will be, too. If you aren’t excited for your class, why should your students be?

If you can’t get yourself to be genuinely positive and happy around this nightmare class or student…well then just fake it til’ you make it… or atleast until the semester is over.

Be aware of your body language and tone of voice.

#2
Use Humor

Being goofy is an excellent way to keep students entertained while learning. If you can make students laugh and learn simultaneously, they’ll be hooked.

You can use funny pictures in your powerpoint, make drawings on the board, or just make silly gestures! Just make sure to balance between being fun and strict.

This may be the toughest one to follow through with if your class is already difficult to manage.

For me, my obvious lack of drawing skill was enough to make the students laugh (at me).

#3
Focus on the Positives

Focusing on a student’s effort and what you see as desired behavior, rather than focusing on the negatives, is crucial for creating a positive learning environment.

If a student doesn’t give you the exact answer you’re looking for, praise their efforts and move on.

If a student or group is behaving well, notice it and give them praise!

#4
Save Face

A lot of Chinese students are especially shy. Saying that, even most Western students wouldn’t be comfortable getting called out by their teacher in front of 49 of their peers for giving a wrong answer.

Find a way to correct the student in a way that will save face for the student. I usually let a few students respond to a question before I gave the correct answer. For students that got it wrong the first time, I went back to them for a chance at redemption. After they redeemed themselves, I would always give praise.

Be aware of how the student may feel before jumping all over their mistakes.

#5
Positive Gestures

Body language plays a significant role in how others see us. Using simple gestures such as giving a thumbs up, plays a huge part in how students feel about their learning in your class.

I give out so many high-fives in a class, my hands will be red by the end of a lesson. But it doesn’t always have you be you giving all the positive gestures! Encourage students to give an applause after a student stands in front of the class or does particularly well. Surprisingly, Chinese students enjoy the cheesiness of it all.

#6
Stickers and Rewards

For young students, stickers are as good as gold. If I even looked at the sticker sheet, students would immediately shift their posture with hands folded across the desk. This has been a reliable management technique, but I try not to use it too much.

After they get a certain amount of stickers (5 for my class) they would be able to trade them in for a small toy or piece of candy.

This didn’t work as well for middle school students…

#7
Create a Team Environment

Everyone enjoys competition. Splitting a class into teams and using a point system will help to encourage desirable behavior. After using the point system for quite some time, I found it more effective to add points for good behavior rather than to take away for poor behavior.

I would like to note that having too much a point disparity between teams may discourage a whole team from participating. With the way Chinese classroom are set up, you will have 4 rows of seats. So that may mean 4 teams!

#8
End of Class Rewards

Having something to look forward to is necessary for learners. That is why I always made it clear  from start of each class, that if they behave, we will play our favorite game or watch a short video at the end of the class.

I had my own system of writing the word “video” on the board with 4 empty boxes below it that I would fill in with a smiley-face. When all 4 boxes were filled, we would play a game or watch a video of their choosing for the last part of the class. My students liked Mr. Bean.

#9
Special Roles

It wasn’t until later I discovered a student was a lot of receptive to my lesson when I gave them a job or responsibility just for them. This was especially true for a misbehaving student.

Here are some examples (bear with me for my lack of creativity for names):

  • Computer keeper: Set up the computer before the class
  • Class board eraser: Erased the board before and after class
  • Point keeper: Kept track of points during review/end of class games. This was a highly sought after position among my students.
  • Sticker keeper: In charge of handing out stickers to students during a practice activity where needed everybody’s full-attention and participation

#10
Tell Others
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If a student or class behaved unusually well, I immediately let the local Chinese teachers know about it, especially their homeroom and English teacher. When my students were recognized and rewarded  for their good behavior beyond in my own class, I noticed a huge improvement in the weeks following. 

 

 

What positive reinforcements do you use in your classroom? Leave a comment!

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