Teaching Opinion

Reinforce More, Redirect Less

By David Ginsburg — November 17, 2013 1 min read
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Just as effective teaching involves making the most of teachable moments, effective behavior management involves making the most of “reinforce-able” moments--those moments where students are doing what you want them to do. That’s what the phrase “caught being good” is all about. Unfortunately, in many classrooms--including mine early on--teachers catch students being bad far more often than they catch them being good. Here are two keys to reversing this tendency so that you reinforce behavior you want to see more than you redirect behavior you don’t want to see.

Target specific behaviors. Decide what behaviors you want to reinforce, then actively look for them and acknowledge them. In my classroom, those behaviors were reflected in my Success Comes from the H.E.A.R.T. formula. When students demonstrated H.E.A.R.T. (hope, effort, attitude, resourcefulness, teamwork), I was there to reinforce it. Not with candy or stickers or general praise like “great job,” but with the most powerful reinforcement for children: direct, specific, timely acknowledgement from an adult they respect. When, for example, a student demonstrated persistence, I said, “You’re a tiger.” When a student looked something up in a book rather than ask me for help, I said, “Way to be resourceful.”

Circulate. Avoid spending disproportionate amounts of time interacting with one or a few students at the expense of noticing how all students are doing. This means assessing all students before assisting any students. During a think-pair-share, for example, avoid the common trap of listening to (and/or inserting yourself into) just one or two pairs of students’ conversations. Listening to all pairs for just a few seconds each will give you an idea how all students are doing, and allow you to quickly reinforce (or, if necessary, redirect) their behavior.

All students need and deserve attention. But they also need to learn that the way to get your attention is through constructive behavior. Teach them this by noticing and acknowledging what you want students to do. Also revisit these previous posts for behavior management strategies that alleviate the need to respond to undesirable behavior at the expense of reinforce-able behavior:

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