Ready Set Grow Nassau County believes in positive reinforcement with preschool children to help them learn!
Positive reinforcement has not always been a tool teachers have used. There was a time that teachers convinced students to pay attention, learn their lessons etc. by making them sit in the corner with a dunce cap on or whacking their hands with a ruler. I imagine there are schools who still condone these practices.
As time went on teachers tried various methods to get the desired results. Some of these methods included their own brand of positive reinforcement. They tried letting marbles accumulate in a jar each time the children were “good” and giving a reward when the jar was full.
They tried checks on the blackboard by a student’s name punishable by missing a favored activity (not so positive). They tried stickers and other types of rewards for doing homework, getting good grades, good behavior, returning signed report cards and so forth.
Yes, you might think of marbles in a jar, stickers and toys as positive reinforcement. (I guess they are positive) These types of things can work but usually for very short periods of time. If you have a child who is highly motivated by these rewards we would hope that the rewards will continue to do their duty until the child has accomplished his task. (I have never had much luck with this sort of thing myself.)
I remember very clearly when I first learned about extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards. I was sitting in a college class. It was one of those days when you can almost feel the light bulb go on over your head. Extrinsic rewards are those rewards provided by someone else. Intrinsic rewards are the rewards a person gets from within.
Most of us operate on a system of both kinds of rewards. Right away I thought of my own feelings of self worth. Whenever I do a task intrinsic rewards are my strongest motivator. I like the feeling I get inside for a job well done. I get very excited when I have accomplished something beyond my own expectations.
A child who tries and tries to cross the hand over hand bars and makes it across to the other side one day does not need a sticker for his accomplishment. He feels a great sense of pride. Once he has had success as a reward for most of his endeavors he has learned that intrinsic rewards are great.
He likes that excited or warm feeling he gets from his accomplishments and continues to try his best to succeed at new things. I suppose that is why mountain climbers are constantly looking for higher mountains to climb.
Teachers must be careful not to ruin a child’s feelings of self worth by giving too many rewards. I remember when I was a child I cleaned the “back room” (no one asked me to). This was the junk room in our house. I was only eight or ten years old. I did a great job, if I do say so myself. My dad was so pleased that he gave me two bucks. I was taken aback. I did appreciate the money but somehow I sort of lost that warm feeling I had earned by doing a good job just because I wanted to.
The Program Quality Assessment (PQA) created by the High Scope curriculum has a rating scale of one to five. Five being the best a preschool program can be. One of the questions on the assessment deals with praise in the preschool classroom. The more praise you offer your students the lower your score would be in that area of the assessment. SURPRISE! (Isn’t praise positive reinforcement?)
When I first used this assessment tool I was stunned that a teacher who gives praise to children continuously would receive a much lower score than someone who does not. Eventually I realized that teacher input is fine and dandy. We, as early childhood professionals, however, are expected to avoid phrases such as “Nice work” or “Good job”.
When we use too much praise we often turn children into praise junkies. You may have met one of these poor souls. Instead of taking satisfaction in their own accomplishments they are constantly looking for approval from others.
What we say to children about their work should offer them some useful information. “Look at those straight lines you made,” “Thank you for setting the table, that was a lot of help.”
After you teach children conflict resolution you might see them using it to solve a problem. That would be a good time to reinforce desired behavior by telling them that you noticed that they solved that problem all by themselves. Maybe you would want to point out something about the resolution to the problem. “I see you went and got the timer and you are taking turns. That looks like a good solution.” These phrases are all appropriate positive reinforcement.
Because it is so difficult for me to come up with constructive input instead of empty praise I often thought about possible situations I might experience and what I might say to the children when those situations arose.
Having some specific phrases in mind made it easier for me to avoid meaningless comments. Offering children appropriate positive reinforcement instead of empty praise takes practice. I still sometimes blurt out the phrase, “Good job”. If I catch myself I try to add something constructive as well.
Other effective methods of offering children positive reinforcement would include facial expressions, body language and physical contact. A smile or wink is sometimes all a child needs to keep him on the right track and offer motivation that he can eventually internalize.
When offering physical contact as positive reinforcement be sure to know your school policies and know the child. Some children do not like physical contact. Some children will tolerate a high five but not a hug. Some children don’t mind a pat on the head but for some children you might be pressing the panic button.
Offering children the same kind of respect and admiration you would offer a friend is certainly positive reinforcement. If you had a friend that showed you a fancy hand made quilt she had created would you take a quick look and say, “Good job”?
If a friend does a favor for you it is likely that you would let him know how much you appreciate it. You might even let him know how his efforts were helpful to you. So, if you want to motivate children by using positive reinforcement just remember to keep it friendly, helpful, encouraging and genuine.
Article Source: www.the-preschool-professor.com/