Marie's World

of advanced educational psych

Extrinsic Positive Reinforcement

on February 14, 2013

I have always been interested in reinforcement and punishment because it seems so contradicting in itself. It’s complex to think about how we can increase desirable behaviors or decrease undesirable behaviors, but sometimes you attain one when trying for the other.

Adding desirable stimuli may produce negative behavior? Why does this happen? So, do we then take away the desirable stimuli to reduce the negative behavior? Or will that, in turn, also produce more behavior that is negative?

Using stickers (extrinsic/concrete reinforcers) to reinforce good behavior is what comes to mind when thinking of these questions. Are they good or bad? It is an approach many teachers use “for academic achievement and appropriate classroom behavior” (Ormrod, 2012, p. 59). However, we (future teachers) are being told that using stickers is not a good thing. One professor commented that students should not be rewarded, or reinforced, for things they should be doing such as walking down the hall, sitting quietly, doing homework, etc. I agree with this in part, but I feel that in order to initially accomplish our goals of “increasing the frequency of a particular behavior” (p. 59) we should offer an appealing consequence. It would be great if students naturally rewarded themselves intrinsically, and we wouldn’t need to figure out extrinsic strategies that worked effectively.

I’ve never witnessed stickers (or any other concrete reinforcer) to lead to undesirable behaviors unless it brings a student to expect the reward each and every time. We may have caused the desirable behavior to increase, but the money in our pocket will quickly decrease. Perhaps a better strategy for stickers would be to put them on some sort of behavior management chart rather than directly giving the sticker to the student. On the other hand, could you use stickers as a punishment for undesirable behavior? Is it acceptable to take away an earned reward as a form of removal punishment? I, personally, don’t like the idea. I feel it is very disheartening to a child to have taken away what has been earned, as if what they did to earn it has been cancelled or disregarded.

I have many mixed feelings between positive reinforcement and removal punishment, and I’ve noticed that my internal conflicts have greatly increased since I’ve had a child of my own. What is a parent/teacher to do in order to succeed in developing well-behaved little people?

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4 responses to “Extrinsic Positive Reinforcement

  1. Brenning says:

    I couldn’t agree more with how conflicting and confusing the use of punishment and reward can be in school. There are so many different schools of thought on the subject and a legitimate argument can be made for each. The reading presented a particularly difficult concept for me to grasp considering what I have been told by other teachers and in what I’ve learned in other classes.

    To paraphrase it went like this, “The nonoccurrence of expected reinforcement is a form of punishment and the nonoccurrence of expected punishment is a form of reinforcement.”
    This is saying that when a child expects a sticker for a behavior and is not given one it is seen as a punishment (no reward = punishment), and when a child behaves badly and expects silent lunch but receives no punishment their bad behavior is reinforced (no punishment = reward).
    It would seem like the author is saying that every time a student expects a reward they should be given one or the good behavior they demonstrated may decrease. It would also seem like they are saying don’t ever let a student who behaves badly off without punishment because the bad behavior will increase.

    Like you said, the problem comes from the expectation of the reward (stickers). I would have to say to students to not expect an award from something they are expected to be doing, but to expect a consequence if they are not doing what is expected, and a reward will only be given when they behave beyond expectations. Though the problems would continue to arise when teacher’s and student’s views of expectations are different; another reason for teachers to have clearly defined and understood expectations. Also like you, I don’t think I would take away an earned reward. To me, that seems like it could be extremely detrimental to the motivation and attitudes of the students.

    I found an interesting article/interview with classroom management specialist Alfie Kohn. He wrote a book called Punished by Rewards where he explains that teachers shouldn’t use either punishment or rewards. **READ IT FOR SOME AWESOME INSIGHT** According to Kohn, who backs up his opinions with ample research, punishments and rewards are just means of manipulating student behavior which wipe out learning potential. They are ways in which we attempt to control and dominate. Instead of punishment and reward he proposes the following “Three C” model – found in article.

    The first C is content. Far less interesting to me than whether a student has learned what he was supposed to is the question, “Has the child been given something to do worth learning?” If you ask me what to do about a kid being “off task”—one of our favorite buzzwords—my first response is going to be, “What’s the task?” If you’re giving them garbage to do, yes, you may have to bribe them to do it. If the kids have to endlessly fill in the blanks on dittos, you’re not going to get rid of rewards or threats anytime soon.

    The second C is community: not only cooperative learning but helping kids feel part of a safe environment in which they feel free to ask for help, in which they come to care about one another as opposed to having to be manipulated to share or not be mean.

    The third C is choice: making sure that kids are asked to think about what they’re doing and how and with whom and why. You know, kids learn to make good choices not by following directions but by making choices.

    You show me a school that really has those three Cs in place—where students are working with one another in a caring environment to engage with interesting tasks that they have some say in choosing—and I’ll show you a place where you don’t need to use punishments or rewards.

    Brandt, R. (n.d.). Punished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn. Alfie Kohn Homepage. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/pbracwa

    • Ah, Alfie. I remember learning of him in our Classroom Management course; it would be good to refresh my memory. I think I’ve chosen to read his book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, for EDUS 673. I’ll let you know how it is.

  2. When I first read this chapter, this particular topic struck me as very interesting. I also recall a professor stating how she does not think using positive reinforces for something students should be doing anyways is necessary. I think that this topic can be looked at differently by current and future teachers. I personally agree that student’s should be doing things they are supposed to do; however, I also think that there are certain behaviors and actions that deserve a sticker (for example). When I look at my experience with younger grades especially, they thrive off of positive reinforcement and extrinsic/intrinsic reinforces. Younger children are constantly looking to please their teacher, and when they receive something positive in return, they want to continue that behavior. I don’t see anything wrong with giving students a sticker for good work, being a team leader, and following the rules. I have seen stickers used often, but there are also other ideas that I have seen teachers use that work just as well. For example, in my kindergarten practicum class, the students sat in groups. While they were doing classwork, the teacher would grant a table who was working quietly and effectively a point, and mark it on the board. As soon as a group was granted a point, all of the other groups immediately noticed and quickly changed their behavior from bad to good. They wanted to be acknowledged by their teacher and also wanted to have the opportunity to pick from the treasure box at the end of the week. Each student in the group that had the most points by the end of the week was able to pick from the treasure box. I personally don’t see anything wrong with this, except that it may become expensive. However, this treasure box does not need to be filled with fancy things! Children love simplicity!

    Another form of extrinsic reinforcers that I have witnessed was in a second grade classroom. This class was a very difficult one. I can see why the teacher used extrinsic reinforcers; she needed ways to keep them interested and motivated. One system she used was simply a jar and marbles. When the class as a whole was on task, she would place one marble in the jar. If at the end of the week all of the marbles were placed in the jar, the class received lunch in the classroom on Friday with the teacher. This was something that did not involve money, and the students strived to get all the marbles in the jar! Something else this teacher did was a chart she created herself. This chart had about five spots on it, where the top spot was where you wanted to be. If I recall correctly, this spot was “ready to learn” and the very bottom was “phone call home”. Each student had a clothes pin with their name on it, and when they were caught being good or bad, the teacher would ask them to move their pin to the appropriate spot.. up one or down one. The students would get very excited to move their pin up, and bummed out to move their pin down. This to me was more of a form of intrinsic reinforcers because either the positive or negative feeling was provided by the student themselves. They were either proud of themselves or disappointed and wanted to try harder.

    If I had to sum up my feelings towards extrinsic/intrinsic reinforcers, I would say that I don’t see an issue. Now this is just my personal opinion, and it may change once I start teaching. The only time I could see this going the wrong way is when students expect something at all times. I don’t want to create monsters! I want students to strive to be their best and in return have some sort of positive reinforcement. It doesn’t have to be something from a treasure box or lunch at the end of the week. Those are just examples of what I personally witnessed. It could simply be a smile, or a “great job!”

    • Hey Stacey,

      I also like the marble idea– it poses a reward to a team of learners, rather than the individual. It makes it much less competitive. And don’t we all like feeling as though we are rewarded “fairly” (not equally, since there is a difference) for our efforts?

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