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Positive Reinforcement: A Look at Schooling Methods
Pia Guyman
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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The affects teachers have on a child can determine how that child performs in an academic and social environment. Teaching methods and classroom environment can mold a child’s latter characteristics which affect how they deal with issues. This is why it is important to practice positive reinforcement where the child learns at a healthy psychological state. Scholars have researched how a child learns and develops mentally and many have contradicting theories that would institute completely different teaching methods. Programs whose focus is directed toward emotionally unstable children have developed teaching systems that incorporate positive reinforcement. The importance to having a healthy environment for children is immeasurable especially when one considers that not every child comes home to a positive environment. In this paper several scholarly journals will be tied together to help look at the affects of certain teaching methods on children.

Ideologies on certain teaching techniques can alter the outcomes of a child’s success in the classroom. If a teacher takes on the methods of Jean Piaget, a world renowned psychologist, they would create an environment where the child is not expected to understand the world around them. Additionally if a teacher were to take on methods by David Estes, a child development instructor, the classroom would be more likely to engage in activities where growth of imagination is encouraged. Estes disagrees with Piaget’s theory that implies: “Because young children do not make a sharp distinction between themselves and the external world, they are not aware of their own thoughts as being subjunctive and internal” (531). Moreover the learning method a teacher decides to employ in a classroom affects the child’s development.

Positive Reinforcement in a classroom can improve a child’s behavioral outcome. Stephan Flora states: “A child whose instruction following is positively reinforced will be less likely to suffer problems of chronic anxiety because there is no constant threat” (112). Furthermore teachers who are demanding and forceful become intimidating to the child. The attitude that an instructor brings to the classroom can interfere with the child’s learning process. A negative environment would only further complicate children who are already showing signs of emotional disorders. Additionally teachers must approach each classroom as if all their pupils are in special need of a positive education. Fescer wrote over the Positive Education Program (PEP) and observed another method of teaching that improves a child’s overall outcome. Fescer states that “Group work within the classroom sets the stage for learning to give and receive feedback and to appreciate the insights of one’s peers” (110). Group activities give the child a chance to interact with their peers without the stress of direct contact and criticism from an adult. If a negative environment is present in a child’s life the last place they should feel unsafe is in their classroom.

Language is another important factor one must consider when applying certain teaching methods to the classroom. A teacher is not presenting useful material to a classroom when he or she communicates and instructs in an incomprehensible manner. Valore and Siemen discuss the purpose of the alternative program Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI). They put it simply that “When the student does not share in the joy of our insight, often it is because they don’t understand what we just said, or, in other words, they just ‘don’t get it’” (93). Through this program an instructor must use language the student will understand and only then will constructive learning continue. Moreover Harrison states: “Students may experience failure during classroom activities when they are given verbal directions that they do not fully comprehend” (Harrison et al., 2004). A teacher may become frustrated when a child does not pay attention but many times these behaviors can be corrected in the way the instructor opts to communicate. The misuse of language can increase a students misunderstanding of classroom assignments which can lead to complications such as class disturbance.

A child who feels like an outcast between his peers will sometimes seek for attention and ultimately become a disturbance for the class. Roeser reports of a finding by Roeser, Eccles, and Strobel that states: “…adolescents’ motivation to learn, conceptualized in terms of a sense of academic efficacy and valuing of the subject matter, was associated positively with their cognitive engagement and negatively with their misbehavior or withdrawal in the classroom” (103). Additionally, Adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems can easily become unmotivated in situations of misunderstanding. Furthermore increasing the positive reinforcement in a classroom can increase the value and worth each child puts on him or her self because accomplishments will be more frequent and acknowledged. Similarly Harrison states: “…that students with EBD and language disorders may react to misunderstood instructions as aversive stimuli” (2). In other words, not understanding in the classroom becomes an unpleasant situation that the child tries to escape by creating other forms of distractions.

Exposing adolescents to positive interaction with adults can help build strong emotional relationships. When a child experiences stable relationships between adults they will become more confident and build on to characteristics that will only help them in the future. Catalano et al. states: “Positive bonding with an adult is crucial to the development of the child’s capacity for adaptive responses to change and for growth into a healthy and functional adult” (102). He goes on to comment that “Very poor bonding establishes a fundamental sense of mistrust in self and in others, creating and emotional emptiness…” (102). Creating that bond between child and teacher is critical and also lessens the chances of that child will look for acceptance in other sources such as drugs or other emotionally disturbed peers. Moreover a way to increase emotionally healthy bonds is to increase teacher praise. Sutherland mentions that, “…one way to increase the frequency of positive interactions between teachers and students is to increase the rate of teacher praise” (4). Additionally Frank Fescser states: “A kind word, encouraging pat on the back, or time spent supporting a child through an emotional crisis creates a bond of trust” (111). Constructing a classroom that encourages positive interaction between the child and instructor will psychologically encourage a confidence to the child which they can carry on into adulthood.

Educational programs that are created to help adolescents with emotional disorders all require teams of leaders that fully comprehend the purpose and importance of each project. Valore and Seimen state: “Knowledge of the stages of LSCI and the Reclaiming Interventions sets the course and direction for the intervention” (97). Furthermore a teacher can be of greater use when they are able to recognize a child’s stage of development and whether that child shows any sign of stress or confusion. Frank Fecser expressed that “Although each staff position in PEP day treatment has its own designation, all are considered teacher/counselors” (109). Moreover this concept of bonding coincides with the idea that building a positive bond with an adult will break down any previous misconception that all adults lie or can not be trusted. In addition when an adult fully understands the intentions of specific programs aimed to improve emotionally disturbed children only then can the child benefit and begin the healing process.

One determining factor to child development is how a child responds to the learning method or reinforcement being imposed on them. An instructor should never eliminate the idea that some children may have experienced ineffective reinforcement and for this reason become unresponsive to their methods. In his book The Power of Reinforcement, Stephan Flora states: “Breaking rules and not following instructions are a product of the rule breaker’s past history of reinforcement (or lack of reinforcement) and current environmental circumstances” (112). Furthermore when a child is placed in an environment where they are being criticized they are more likely to fall back on previously learned habits and become disobedient. Additionally Richard Catalano, Lisa Berglund, Jean Ryan, Heather Lonczak and J. David Hawkins all state: “According to social learning theory, behavior is in large part a consequence of the reinforcement or lack of reinforcement that follow action” (107). Reinforcement can then become a motivator for an individual to continue disruptive behavior in the future.

Creating a positive environment at an early age becomes critical in the advancement of a child’s development. Moreover the importance of early positive learning becomes critical when the child goes into adolescence. Catalano et al., states: “Developmental theorists assert that successful identity achievement during adolescence depends on the child’s successful resolution of earlier stages” (106). How a child is encouraged carries over to their emotional state. Glavin and Quay explain: “…learning can increase self confidence, resulting in better self image and resolution of some emotional conflicts, which may in turn result in better learning adjustment” (qtd. In Dil 463). Additionally class room material made interesting and easy to comprehend builds the child’s confidence in turn giving them the feeling of accomplishment.

Together the articles mentioned bring greater clarity on the importance to developing a positive learning environment for young children. When a child learns and develops in a healthy psychological state they can interact with peers freely and will develop better social habits. Certain teaching methods taken on by an instructor will also affect the outcomes of a classroom. Many scholars agree that language and the level at which a teacher communicates to his or her class can significantly change the reaction a child has toward an assignment. Furthermore when a child does not comprehend an assignment because the teacher is use words they will fall behind and may end up disturbing the class. Child development programs incorporate the use of positive development to encourage children with emotional disorders to develop in healthy environments. Moreover children who are emotionally disturbed benefit from positive environment teaching and tend to comprehend the learning material while developing vital social skills. Though some scholars may argue on the affects of certain teaching methods these articles tie together by demonstrating all aspects of positive reinforcement from psychological to classroom outcomes.

Works Cited

Catalano, Richard F., et al., “Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs.” The Annals of: The American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Pearson, Robert W., and Lawerence W. Sherman: Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004. 98-107. “Consequence Methods-Applied After the “Target” Behavior Has Occurred.” Negative Reinforcement, Escape and Avoidance Learning – Psychological Self-Help. 14 Oct. 2004 <http://mentalhelp.net/psyhelp/chap11/chap111.htm>.

Dil, Nasim, and Edward Earl Gott. “Improvement of Arithmetic Self Concept Through Combined Positive Reinforcement, Peer Interaction and Sequential Curriculum.” Journal of School Psychology 9.4 (1971): 462-72.

Estes, David. “Young Children’s Understanding of the Mind: Imagery, Introspection, and Some Implications.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 15 (1994): 520-48.

Flora, Stephen Ray. The Power of Reinforcement. New York: State U of New York P, 2004.

Fecser, Frank A. “Positive Education Program’s Day Treatment Center’s.” Reclaiming Children and Youth 12.2 (2003): 108-12.

Harrison, Janet S., and Philip L. Gunter. “Teacher Instructional Language and Negative Reinforcement: A Conceptual Framework for Working with Students Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.” Education and Treatment of Children 19.2 (1996). EBSCO. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 07488491. 8 Oct. 2004 <http://web3.epnet.com>.

Roser, Robert W. “To Cultivate the Positive…Introduction to the Special Issue on Schooling and Mental Health Issues.” Journal of Psychology 39.2 (2001): 99-110.

Sutherland, Kevin S. “Promoting Positive Interactions between Teachers and Students With Emotional /Behavioral Disorders.” Preventing School Failure 44.3 (2000): 1-7.

Valore, Thomas, and Kenneth Siemen. “Alternatives to Punishment: Words and Ice.” Reclaiming children and youth 12.2 (2003)

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