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Filtering by Tag: reinforcers

Become The Cookie

Kerri Milyko

Recently, I have had the fortunate opportunity to observe teachers and parents interact with their students/children in multiple settings.  I either walk away eager to offer some corrective feedback or exhilarated that I just witnessed a master at his/her craft!  While many variables influence my general perspective following an observation, the essential one is with respect to praise.  Praise, loosely defined, is a positive statement.  Some examples of general praise statements include the following: well done, good job, I like how you ____.  While the field of Behavior Analysis stresses the importance of behavior-specific praise to shape behavior, I’m going to just talk about general praise.  When I’m in a classroom or a house that is void of praise, any praise would be better than no praise at all.

At our learning center, and in classrooms and centers across the world utilizing Behavior Analysis, often external reinforcement (e.g., tokens, cookies, stickers) are required to increase motivation for work completion, accuracy, and/or fluency.  The term “become the cookie” indicates that spending time with the teacher or therapist is so reinforcing that an external reinforcer is no longer required.  Instead of giving cookies, the teacher is the cookie.  Just the mere presence of the teacher is good enough - and motivating.

Many parents and teachers are really good at identifying/noticing the undesirable behavior: talking out of turn, getting out of the chair, fighting during homework time.  When so much focus is placed on eliminating those behaviors, it becomes easy to overlook the good behaviors when they occur.  Some people even assume that the student “should” be engaging in those appropriate behaviors anyway, eliminating the “need” to attend to them.  This creates an environment that is built upon suppression and working to just avoid reprimand instead of one that facilitates creativity, problem solving, and self-worth. 

Conversely, an environment that is rich in praise is uplifting.  Even as an observer, one can walk away feeling good even though he/she was not specifically praised.  The one delivering the praise not only attends to the appropriate behaviors as a form of classroom/household management, but also models the behavior of a good, caring citizen of the world.   My 3.5-year-old daughter walks around the playground praising her peers for their slide, swing, and climbing techniques., even when she doesn't know their names.

At Precision TLC, we keep data on our instructors’ praise during training and employee audits.  We aim for one authentic, behavior-specific praise statement every 1-2 min during a session.  We require so much from our students and we should, therefore, require a lot from ourselves.  Only when we provide an environment of empowerment, encouragement and support are we able to efficiently improve academic behaviors.  We see it daily in the data we religiously collect.

As a teacher or a parent, I challenge you to count the number of praise statements you say in a period of 10 minutes.  Keep a tally on an event counter or a sticky note.  How does your frequency compare to our criterion at the center?  Further, be aware of what you are requiring from your student(s).  Are you asking first graders to sit silently for 20 min and write a paragraph?  Are you asking a third grader to independently complete a 6-step long division problem?  These are difficult tasks for these students and as such, deserve even more praise!  Walk around the room and commend the students on their handwriting, added details, and focus on the task at hand.  Collectively exalt the fact that the children were working for 2 min in absolute silence! 

When a parent/teacher thinks more about what he/she can praise versus what he/she can reprimand, the behavior of the teacher/parent instantly changes.  As a result, the students' behavior also changes.  If you do not have the desire or time to read the research on praise and reinforcement, the beaming smiles of pride and accomplishment on your student’s face will be proof enough that using ample amounts of praise is an effective classroom/household management system.     

It Takes a Village: Motivation at Home

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

At Precision TLC, we are able to make significant gains with a learner’s ability to read, write, compute, reason, and learn in a short period of time.  Through our use of customized Independent Learning Plans, individualized curriculum, and practice of behavior analytic techniques including reinforcement, these gains are possible.  Sometimes, however, these gains may not be evident in all settings.  In other words, after we fixed the “can’t do problem,” parents may encounter a “won’t-do problem.” 

Over the summer, we will write about why the “won’t do problem” will creep up when there is no longer a “can’t do problem.”  This month, we will target the first and most important reason: motivation.

The largest reason why students may engage in sloppy performance or even work refusal in the presence of their parents and not in our presence is the lack of motivation at home.  At Precision TLC, each student has a performance goal (a combination of accuracy and speed goals).  Once that goal is achieved, the student accesses a reinforcer.  This reinforcer is something that is powerful.  Examples of reinforcers we use at the center include points that can be exchanged for playtime, gift cards, candy, and snacks.   See our blog about reinforcement for a reminder about the difference between rewards and reinforcers.

I can already hear half of you sigh and say, “but I don’t want to bribe my student to do something that she should do independently.”  I can sympathize with this notion.  However, if motivation is lacking, and the punishment, time-outs, taking things away, bargaining, and other stressful resolutions are not working, maybe it is time to bring in some external motivators.  By pairing the external motivators with the academic skill, you are building the internal motivation so that these external motivators, or reinforcers, can slowly be removed.

Further, if I withheld your paycheck for your job, would you still go?  We live in a world where our performance is reinforced.  Money is a huge generalized reinforcer for our work performance.  Each student’s job is going to school and completing assignments.  However, we are expecting them to work for free because it is their “duty” with the reinforcer being getting a good job or going to college.  I can guarantee that a job and college are not motivators for 99% of students under the 8th grade.

Another concern I hear from parents not wanting to incorporate a reinforcement system at home is “he is just manipulating me to get what he wants.”  Actually, you are controlling the situation.  If handing a little skittle over to a student will result tear-free, negotiating-free, yelling-free, threatening-free 10 min of focused homework time, do you not think it is worth it?  Once your student is successful at that first 10 min and subsequent 10 min intervals of focused, accurate work, then you can increase the exchange.  Now 12, 15, and 20 min are required for that one skittle.  This system can be faded to the point that the skittle is no longer involved in the process.  Sometimes you have to loose a battle to win the war.

Further, effective and powerful teachers employ reinforcement systems in their classrooms.  With the new Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) that Tampa schools now employ, a class-wide reinforcement system is considered a Tier 1 intervention that all students, struggling or not, will encounter.  It is an evidence-based procedure that has phenomenal outcomes.  See our August 2013 Blog about MTSS.