Developing Reinforcement Control

Soon after completing a task, students find out how well they did by receiving academic feedback, such as a grade on a homework assignment, or social feedback, such as seeing how a statement or behavior impacted another person. The feedback that students receive helps them decide whether or not a particular strategy, statement, or behavior might be useful at a later time.

This process is a function of reinforcement control; students must be reinforced by, or learn from, prior experience. Feedback from prior experiences (high or low grades, positive or negative social interactions) will guide students’ future or current actions or strategies by helping them select a strategy that will lead to success or a positive outcome, or avoid or modify a strategy or statement that may have negative outcomes.

Here are some strategies for enhancing a student’s reinforcement controls.

Helpful Hints

  • Create a consistent feedback system so students understand which behaviors, actions, or work products will elicit positive reinforcement and which will elicit negative responses.  
  • Require students to keep a diary or log of the outcomes of class projects and activities, and also social interactions, including a rich description of the consequences (positive or negative) in each situation. Require students to reflect on the plan they used for a task in relation to the outcomes. Provide sample questions for self-reflection, e.g., Would I do the same thing again? What parts of the plan would I change?” “What went well today... Where or when I went astray... ”. Let this writing be non-graded to encourage risk free self-expression and self-evaluation.  
  • Recognize and praise specific instances of good work, good behavior, etc. For example, “I like the way you raised your hand to be called on,” “Good job using your strategy sheet for solving the math word problem,” etc.  
  • Provide ample opportunities for students to be rewarded for a task well done. When drawing up reinforcement plans for good work or good behavior, keep in mind the potential for non-tangible reinforcers such as time with an adult, free reading time, bringing a special object to class, etc. The most effective and appropriate reinforcers, or rewards, may not necessarily be tangible items.  
  • Form an alliance with students so that they feel comfortable talking freely about how their actions have led to success or failure, and look to you as a mentor to offer helpful guidance. Help students dissect the day, learn from experience, brainstorm alternative strategies, and recognize their own progress.