Reinforcement for Success

Consider a classroom you have observed (maybe one where you were a student) in which students were not as engaged as they could be. Based on

your reading and your own experiences, write four to five paragraphs in response to the following:
• How can reinforcement be used to address challenging behavior?
• What specific strategies would you use for a student who disrupts class often to make peers laugh (class clown)?
• Would you consider using a token economy reinforcer such as the one described in the vignette in chapter 12 in our textbook? Why or why


12 Strategies for Responding to Individual Success: Reinforcement Chapter Objectives After reading this chapter, you should be able to describe

the following concepts: Selecting student behaviors to target for reinforcement Identifying effective reinforcers for different students and

different target behaviors Components necessary to implement reinforcers effectively Different schedules of reinforcement Effective ways to

track the progress of students receiving reinforcement Sean is a new seventh grader at Deane Middle School and he loves to make people laugh. On

the bus rides to and from school he entertains his peers by reciting long profanity-laced jokes from his favorite stand-up comedians. His

friends howl, laugh, and shout out requests for jokes. Sean has recited on previous bus rides. Numerous verbal redirections from the bus driver

have not stopped Sean’s rants. During the first couple of weeks of school, she used to give Sean bus referrals, but these always elicited

protracted arguments with Sean and, if anything, his behavior would be worse on the next bus ride. Sean carries this level of disruption into

all of his classes. In first period, every time Mrs. Streeto turns to write on the chalkboard, Sean jumps out of his seat and dances in the

aisle. Seemingly every question Mrs. Streeto asks receives a wisecrack response from Sean and peals of laughter from the other students. Sean is

never mean-spirited with his disruptive behaviors and, when asked, he said that he likes all of his teachers; it’s just that making people laugh

is really fun. At the same time, not surprisingly, Sean is earning failing grades in all of his classes. He rarely turns in his homework, never

completes in-class assignments, and has failed most of the tests and quizzes in every class. This is despite IQ and achievement test scores that

indicate that Sean is very bright and capable of doing excellent schoolwork. Initially Sean’s teachers used standard school disciplinary

protocol. They would give him verbal redirections, write referrals, and assign detentions, and eventually Sean spent two days in the in-school

suspension room. None of these seemed to stop (or even slow down) Sean’s disruptive behaviors. After a few more weeks of these behavior

patterns, the seventh-grade team consulted Mrs. Farrelly, the school counselor. To address these issues, Mrs. Farrelly started by talking to

Sean’s teachers, his grandmother, who is his primary caregiver, and Sean himself. Mrs. Farrelly begins to see what the problem is. The vignette

for this chapter begins with a description of a student engaging in a large number of behaviors that his teachers want to stop, which may seem

like a strange beginning for a chapter on reinforcement. In fact, it may seem counterintuitive that when facing students who demonstrate

challenging behaviors that we want them to STOP, we instead focus on behaviors that we want them to START. However, research and the prevailing

school model for the past 100 years have continually shown us that the head-on approach of trying to stop students’ challenging behaviors

through punishment is (a) ineffective for many students and (b) creates a number of unwanted side effects (Vargas, 2009). Further, reinforcing

desired behaviors is integral in preventing challenging behaviors because when no behaviors are reinforced, many students will use challenging

behaviors to fill the void. Because the foundational basis for teaching is to elicit certain desired behaviors, both academic and social (e.g.,

subtraction with borrowing, turn-taking, conflict resolution), we create environments that make those behaviors occur more often. To do this we

need sound, effective reinforcement procedures for individual students. The steps to taking control of the classroom environment through

reinforcement procedures include: Identify social and academic behaviors that would benefit the student if they happened more often. Identify

the reinforcers that will make students more likely to engage in these behaviors in the future. (What?) Identify how and by whom these

reinforcers will be delivered to students. (How?) Identify an appropriate schedule of reinforcement. (When?) Monitor for behavior change as a

result of reinforcement procedures. (For how long?) In light of Sean’s behaviors, Mrs. Farrelly calls a Student Study Team meeting with all of

Sean’s teachers. No sooner does everyone sit down than the teachers complain about Sean and commiserate with each other about the disruptions he

creates in their classes. “We just need to find something to get his attention. What if we suspend him for 15 days?” offers Mr. Zito. Mrs.

Streeto nods her head in agreement. “Well, what I think we need to discuss is not what Sean is doing wrong. We are all pretty well aware of

that. I think we need to focus on what Sean does well,” Mrs. Farrelly interjects. A couple of teachers roll their eyes or make faces, but Mr.

Parker finally says, “Well, when he wants to, he buckles down and works some of the time. But then he goes back off-task and starts making jokes

again.” “Ok, but wait, I think we’re on to something. When Sean buckles down and works, what do you do?” asks Mrs. Farrelly. “Well, nothing, I

mean he’s supposed to do his work, right?” “True, and eventually we’ll get him to do his work on his own. But first I think we need to decide

what we want him to do, then we can talk about getting him to do it. So what do we want him to do?” “Buckle down and do his work,” says Mr.

Parker. “I guess that means looking at his paper or me if I’m talking, making progress in his class assignments, and discussing only the topic

that we are covering in class.” “Yes, but he isn’t going to just sit down and start doing all of those things all day,” Mrs. Streeto

interjected. “Right. And while it is great that everyone agrees with that definition of ‘on-task behavior,’ we need to break that behavioral

definition down into smaller steps and reinforce those more frequently, especially at the beginning,” said MrsFarrelly. The teachers around the

table nod their heads. “Now we know what we are looking for Sean to do.” Choosing Behaviors to Reinforce The decision to deliberately and

intentionally use reinforcement begins with choosing the behaviors that teachers want to happen more often. In fact, throughout the school day,

teachers can constantly confront themselves with this strategy for student behaviors: “This behavior just happened. Do I want that to happen

more often or less often in the future?” For the behaviors that teachers want to happen more often, teachers must be able to define and describe

them in a manner similar to the process described in Chapter 4 where we discussed defining and describing challenging behavior. In the vignette,

Mr. Parker wanted Sean to “buckle down and do his work” more often, but then he had to define and describe what that would look like. By using

criteria like eyes focused on his work, making progress in assignments, and only making comments relevant to the subject, the components of the

desired behavior—in this case “on-task”—became clear. This sort of definition allows other adults, such as the other teachers on the Student

Study Team, to ensure that they are reinforcing the same behavior consistently. This consistency is key to long-term acquisition of desired

behaviors. As noted in Mrs. Streeto’s interjection, the behaviors that we sometimes expect from students may be complex or require considerable

effort, or both. In these situations we need to put two reinforcement strategies into place. First, we need either to break the expected

behavior down into steps using task analysis (previously described in Chapter 5) or to reinforce behaviors close to the desired behavior that we

are looking for (successive approximations). When using successive approximations, reinforcement is provided until the student ultimately ends

up demonstrating the exact behavior. With Sean, the teachers might consider sitting at his desk, looking at his work, or raising his hand and

waiting to be called on as smaller parts of the global goal of increasing on-task behavior. They would then want to provide smaller-magnitude,

but more frequent reinforcers for these behaviors. When selecting appropriate behaviors to reinforce, we assume that the desired behavior and

its demonstration are already in the student’s repertoire (e.g., the student knows what to do and how and when to do it). Clearly, deciding to

reinforce students only when they demonstrate behaviors that are not in their repertoire is unfair and sets them up to fail. This would be akin

to telling a first-grade class that they will get recess when they finish their calculus; no amount of reinforcement will increase their

calculus-completing behavior. Teaching or reteaching is often an important first step to perform before beginning a reinforcement plan. One

final note on addressing skill deficits in relation to reinforcement: It is sometimes necessary to teach students to recruit reinforcement.

Sometimes students, especially younger students or those with impaired cognitive abilities, desire teacher attention and praise but lack the

skills to access it appropriately (Craft, Alber, &Heward, 1998; Wallace, Cox, & Skinner, 2003). By equipping them with a series of steps to

access teacher attention, students can gain the attention and praise they desire and improve their behavior and classroom success. To teach

students to recruit reinforcement the teacher must first determine the ways in which the student may appropriately recruit teacher attention

(e.g., raising his hand, walking to the teacher’s desk, asking specific questions). Then training can consist of think-aloud strategies (e.g.,

“I want the teacher to see that I finished this assignment. How can I get his or her attention?”), modeling, role playing, error correction, and

praise. This training in attention recruitment is low-cost and requires minimal time, showing students how to recruit attention and praise that

can dramatically improve the student’s performance. After deciding what behavior to reinforce, and determining that it is in the student’s

repertoire (or teaching it if it is not), the next step in the process is deciding what type of reinforcers to use. Mrs. Farrelly made careful

notes of the definition of the behavior that they wanted to increase. “Ok, so now that we have decided what we want Sean to do—‘be on task’—we

need to figure out some ways to get him to do it. Does anyone have any thoughts?” “Well, obviously Sean likes attention,” Mrs. Streeto

interjected. “Ok, but what usually gets him attention from all of us?” probed Mrs. Farrelly. “Well, when he acts up…” answered Mr. Zito. “Now,

how could we use our attention to get him to be on-task more often?” “When we see him doing a good job, we could tell him how he was doing a

good job. But won’t that embarrass him and make him less likely to be on-task?” “Well, if we all do it subtly, you know, a quick wink or a

thumbs-up; or even a nod in his direction may be something we could try. I know that’s what I do with other students,” offered Mr. Parker. “Ok,

that may work for the classes where Sean demonstrates some on-task behavior, but he is basically out of control in my classroom,” complained

Mrs. Streeto. “Well, in addition to teacher attention let’s think about some activities we could set up that Sean could earn as rewards for

being on-task in your class. If those don’t work, then we may have to consider some tangible rewards that Sean could earn.” “Well he likes to

entertain everyone. What if I let him tell some jokes, CLEAN jokes, at the end of class as long as he stays on-task during lecture and

independent work?” Mrs. Streeto suggested. Identifying the Reinforcers (What?) Recall that in behavioral terms, reinforcement is separated into

positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means adding something to the environment to increase future

occurrences of the behavior, and negative reinforcement means removing something from the environment to increase future occurrences of a

specific behavior. Because positive reinforcement has several advantages over negative reinforcement including avoiding the use of aversives and

allowing teachers to accentuate the enjoyable aspects of their classroom, the next section will first focus mostly on positive reinforcement and

then discuss negative reinforcement as another reinforcement option. In addition to the three categories of direct reinforcers there are systems

that function much as money works in our modern society. In these systems, called token economies, reinforcers like preferred activities or

tangibles are not provided directly. Rather, tokens that give the student access to the three categories of reinforcers referred to as backup

reinforcers are provided contingent on the student’s displaying behaviors that we want to increase in frequency. The tokens themselves, which

initially have no intrinsic value, gain reinforcing strength as they are paired with the backup reinforcers (attention, activities, and/or

tangibles) and so they become conditioned reinforcers. These are neutral stimuli that gain reinforcing strength by being systematically paired

with reinforcing stimuli. Token economies will be described in greater depth in the next section because they relate more to how to give

reinforcement rather than what reinforcers to use. Assembling effective combinations of reinforcers and implementing them effectively can be

difficult, so teachers should view selecting and using different reinforcers as a dynamic process. The most essential guide to selection and

implementation is the use of ongoing data collection to determine whether behaviors are increasing or decreasing based on what the teacher is

putting into the environment. Also, it is critical to view both the consequence that the challenging behavior accesses and the one that the new

desired behavior should access from a functional perspective. In the vignette, attention is recognized as a primary reinforcer for Sean, so the

teachers discuss various ways to ensure that his on-task behavior gets him access to attention. But, as stated, without this data collection

teachers may unintentionally reinforce behaviors they are trying to punish and punish behaviors they are trying to reinforce. In the section on

how to provide reinforcement effectively we will discuss other environmental conditions that seem to modify the reinforcing strength of the

three main categories of reinforcement: attention, activities, and tangible reinforcers. At the next Student Study Team Meeting, the same group

of teachers gathers in the school conference room. Mrs. Farrelly begins the meeting. “After talking with everyone and looking at some

preliminary data, I think the contingent attention we are using is helping. But I also think we need some type of portable system for Sean to

earn reinforcement across all of our classes. I want him to see that we are staying consistent across his classes and that we are all looking

for the same on-task behavior. What about using a token economy across classes?” “Oh, no. Those never work. I have a friend who teaches at

Highcrest Elementary School and she had a system where she would put marbles in a jar on every kid’s desk when they were doing a good job. But

kids were always knocking over their jars or stealing each others’ marbles. It was way more trouble than it was worth.” “Right, and I tried a

system where I gave out Fun Friday poker chips to students when they were doing what they were supposed to. But by the end of the first week,

half the kids were smuggling in their own poker chips and the others were playing poker!” “Well, ok, but what if we tried this? I went to the

craft store and bought these different-shaped hole punchers. I have a diamond, a heart, a clover, and a spade shape. And I have this pack of

index cards. What if we make Sean a daily point card, then watch for him to be on-task and punch the card when he is doing what he is supposed

to be doing? We don’t even have to make a big deal out of it. Just punch his card subtly as you walk by his desk—that way, he won’t be

embarrassed. Then at the end of the day, or maybe a couple of times during the day, he can spend his points on activities he likes—maybe talking

to friends or doing some of his stand-up comedy (as long as it is clean) for his classmates. The point card used in the version of the token

economy that Mrs. Farrelly is describing typically looks like the one shown in Figure 12.1. To implement this type of token economy, the steps

are straightforward: Get a stamp made just like the one described earlier (typically at an office supply store). Get a series of different

colored index cards to represent different levels (white–Level 1, blue–Level 2, gold–Level 3, no card–Level 4) As students move up in levels

they earn fewer points (fading), but privileges cost less, and students have access to additional activities and privileges. Make goals specific

and positive for each child (e.g., “Follow Directions,” “Act Friendly,” “Pay Attention”). Put the student’s name and the date on the back of

each card. Figure 12.1

Watch carefully for compliant behavior (sitting calmly, working quietly, standing in line), following directions, paying attention, doing

something friendly, etc. Award points by punching holes in a card using a hole puncher. (Use different hole punch shapes to decrease the

probability of counterfeiting.) Points are spent throughout the day for privileges. A point is spent when the teacher circles it in ink. There

is no total amount of points for a child to earn. Pair token reinforcement (points) with verbal reinforcement (leads to fading). The use of

fines, or response cost, will be discussed in Chapter 13 on punishment. Using Reinforcers (How?) As an example of how to provide reinforcement,

the vignette described the use of a token economy, a highly effective way to provide reinforcement in schools and classrooms. There are several

broad principles, however, that will determine how to effectively apply reinforcement for desired behaviors. These other important factors are

immediacy novelty consistency combining reinforcers with choice The first factor is the immediacy with which the reinforcer follows the

behavior. The longer the time between the behavior and the reinforcer, the weaker the reinforcer is. For example, if Rocco completes his math

worksheet but is not praised for completing it until several hours afterward, the praise will be a relatively weak reinforcement for this

behavior and relatively unlikely to increase Rocco’s future work completion behavior. It also does not create the behavior-response pairing that

teachers try to achieve when they reinforce a target behavior. The second factor that impacts reinforcing strength is the novelty of the

reinforcer. Reinforcers that are new, different, or unexpected are stronger than those that have been used for a long period of time. By

constantly changing reinforcement options, teachers maintain the novelty of the reinforcer and guard against satiation. As anyone who has ever

eaten one too many donuts can tell you, the first one is delicious (and even the second or third one), but donuts eight, nine, and ten are not

nearly as enjoyable. A similar effect can occur with students who receive too much of a reinforcer, a condition often referred to as satiation.

Satiation is when an individual receives a reinforcer too much or too often, causing it to lose its previous reinforcing strength. Using

surprise with novel or even some not-so-novel reinforcers can maintain reinforcing strength (e.g., getting a reinforcer that you didn’t expect

or finding out what it is only when it is awarded can make it more reinforcing). Consider the example of the mystery motivator: By not telling

students what they were going to win, desired behaviors increase as the students earn chances to “look inside the envelope” and see what the

prize is (Murphy et al., 2007). The act of “finding out” adds to the reinforcing strength of whatever the student wins. One teacher effectively

combined a token economy system with the mystery motivators; at the end of every day, students would use leftover points to bid auction-style on

a chance to pull from the prize envelope. In the prize envelope were various laminated cards that gave them access to different activity

reinforcers for the next day (e.g., 1 hour sitting at the teacher’s desk, lunch with the teacher, 15 extra minutes of computer time). Finally,

the sheer act of choice (e.g., using a menu to select a tangible or an activity) can impact the reinforcing strength of those stimuli. In fact,

being able to choose the order of even typically aversive things (e.g., a math worksheet, a language arts worksheet, and a social studies

worksheet) may make them, if not reinforcing, at least less aversive. The third consideration is consistency. It is vital to be consistent with

the behaviors that are reinforced because learning is taking place for students. In other words, students are making connections between

behavior and reinforcing consequences (i.e., “When I do this. … thisreinforcer is added to my environment.”). These connections are strengthened

through consistency. As mentioned earlier, reinforcement should be faded, but that process should be data-based and done systematically over

time. Finally, the use of choice presentation for tasks and reinforcers will strengthen the learning connections between behaviors and

reinforcers. In other words, allowing students to decide the tasks they want to complete first, second, or third as well as to choose from a

menu of reinforcers make students more likely to complete the tasks and less likely to satiate on identified reinforcers. Everyone likes to feel

a sense of control over what happens to them, and it is particularly valuable for students to develop an internal locus of control. This means

that students recognize that their choices and their behaviors are what will lead to desired outcomes (or not). Students who demonstrate chronic

challenging behavior often truly believe that everything is out of their control and that things happen for various external reasons but never

because of what they themselves do. Embedding choices throughout the day helps to reduce this feeling of powerlessness. Token Economies While

discussed briefly earlier in this chapter, token economies are elaborated on here so that they can be implemented more intensively for

individual systems. Systems such as token economies assist in the delivery of frequent reinforcement. Until now, we have noted that the three

categories of classroom reinforcers are direct reinforcers; however, another option is the provision of indirect or secondary reinforcers. A

token economy is defined as a system in which students earn symbolic reinforcers (tokens) in exchange for demonstrating specific, appropriate

behaviors. These tokens can then be exchanged (or spent) on preferred tangible objects or on time doing preferred activities. These tokens may

be items that are not easily stolen or counterfeited and can be awarded efficiently and effectively in quantities. A token economy provides a

convenient way for teachers to systematically provide reinforcement without interrupting teaching. Like a monetary system, a token economy

compensates students for appropriate behavior by providing access to preferred activities. This strategy can be implemented with single students

or with smaller groups across the entire school day. One ancillary benefit of the token economy is the impact that it has on the teacher’s

behavior. A token economy requires that teachers constantly monitor for appropriate and desired behavior rather than inappropriate behaviors and

makes it convenient and easy to reinforce desired behaviors when they occur. Behavior Contracts A behavior contract is another way to

systematically deliver reinforcement. A behavior contract is a formal written agreement between the teacher and student of behavior expectations

that specifies (1) clear behavior objectives, (2) the reinforcement that the student will receive when they meet these objectives, (3) a short-

term goal statement, and (4) review dates to evaluate performance. The teacher and the student review the contract and sign it, and then each

receives a copy. It is important to clearly identify the behavior to be increased or decreased in observable and measurable terms and to select

as reinforcers the items and activities that the student finds motivating. There are two other guidelines to ensure eventual success with

behavior contracts. First, with younger students the time interval of the contract should be fairly short, usually the end of a day or even the

end of a half day; longer intervals of time can be used with older students. Second, regardless of the student’s age, it is critically important

that students experience success and see the teacher living up to their end of the contract with the first behavior contract that is set up. In

other words, let the students succeed with the first contract, then increase the behavioral demands and the time interval over which the

expected behavior must be demonstrated. “Okay. I like the idea of giving Sean attention when he is on-task with some subtle gestures and some

specific praise statements. But do I have to do this all of the time?” asked Mrs. Streeto. “Right. I mean, I do have other students to teach,

content to cover, and student work to grade,” added Mr. Parker.

I hear what you all are saying and I appreciate the demands you have on your time, but don’t forget how much of your time Sean takes when he is

acting out,” answered Mrs. Farrelly. The teachers nod their heads in agreement. “The key to using reinforcement is not that we reinforce every

single behavior every time, although we may have to do that for the first few days while Sean acquires the skill to remain on-task for longer

periods of time. Rather, we provide reinforcement systematically on a schedule where we gradually reduce the frequency or fade the

reinforcement.” “So what you are saying is that at first we give Sean attention every time that he is on-task but then reinforce it every three

minutes he is on-task or every third assignment that he completes? And then we go even longer or have him do even more work before we provide

reinforcement?” Mr. Zito asked. “Exactly. By gradually reducing the amount of reinforcement we provide for his behaviors, he won’t depend on us

so much to tell him he is doing a good job. And if we see that he is starting to slip back into his old ways we can regroup and provide

reinforcement more frequently,” answered Mrs. Farrelly. Schedules of Reinforcement (When?) The question of when to provide reinforcement is an

important one. There are multiple effects a teacher can have by strategically planning when to reinforce to a desired behavior. First, they can

ensure that the reinforcer remains effective. When students are learning new skills (the acquisition phase), reinforcement typically is provided

every time the student demonstrates the desired behavior. This schedule of reinforcement, referred to as continuous reinforcement (CRF) or

providing reinforcement on a 1:1 basis, is important to strengthen these new skills. During the initial phases of learning, however,

reinforcement must be both immediate and consistent. When natural reinforcers are not reliable, the teacher must ensure that desired behaviors

are met with reinforcement when displayed in natural environments. If the schedule of reinforcement remains this dense, however, it is likely

that the student will become satiated. A second effect of providing reinforcement every time is that the student will come to expect the

reinforcement every time they engage in the behavior and may cease demonstrating the behavior as soon as the reinforcement is not presented.

Therefore, it is important that the teacher identify the reinforcement schedule that she or he will use purposefully; that is, teachers should

be systematic with how frequently they reinforce desired behaviors. In order for this to happen, students must perform the appropriate behaviors

at the appropriate times and be prepared for reinforcement schedules under which some, but not all, demonstrations of the desired behavior are

reinforced. Reinforcement schedules are typically divided up by amounts of time (interval) or number of behaviors emitted (ratio). In other

words, a teacher can reinforce a student for every three minutes that a student is on-task (intervals) or for every two times the student

complies with the teacher’s directions (ratio). Table 12.1 Fixed Variable Interval Fixed Interval—Reinforcement is provided based on the

emission of a behavior after a fixed amount of time.Real-World Example: An employee receives a paycheck every fourteen days. Abbreviation—FI: 14

days Variable Interval—Reinforcement is provided based on the emission of a behavior after an average amount of time.Real-World Example: At a

stoplight, the light turns from green to red every 90 seconds, on average. (The interval may be longer or shorter based on pedestrians and time

of day.)Abbreviation—VI: 90 second Ratio Fixed Ratio—Reinforcement is provided after a behavior is emitted a specific number of times.Real-World

Example: A gumball is dispensed after two quarters are put into the machine.Abbreviation—FR: 2 quarters Variable Ratio—Reinforcement is provided

after a behavior is emitted a number of times, on average.Real-World Example: A slot machine pays off, on average, after $120 dollars have been

deposited into it.VR: $120 dollars Reinforcement schedules are also divided up by fixed schedules (every 5 minutes or every 5 behaviors) and

variable schedules (every 4 minutes or every 4 behaviors, on average). Therefore schedules of reinforcement can be summarized as shown in Table

12.1. As you think about these reinforcement schedules, remember that we want to use the least amount of reinforcement necessary. This means

that we want to fade reinforcement, or systematically reduce the amount of reinforcement provided without reducing occurrences of the desired

behavior. Therefore, if we have a behavior on a dense schedule of reinforcement, we want to gradually increase the number of demonstrations

required or the intervals of time between reinforcers. Continuous reinforcement should be used only during the acquisition of the skill; then,

as the learner becomes more fluent, the reinforcement schedule should be thinned. The topic of making decisions about when and how quickly to

fade reinforcers leads to another reinforcement rule. Reinforcement rule: Collect data continuously to determine what, how, and when to provide

reinforcement and to ensure that the contingencies put in place truly reinforce the desired behaviors, removing them as soon as possible without

decreasing occurrences of the desired behavior. These different schedules of reinforcement provide different levels of reinforcing strength. In

general, variable schedules have greater reinforcing strength than do fixed schedules because the individual does not know exactly when the

reinforcement is coming; therefore, the student will keep emitting the behavior because the next reinforcer may come after the very next

behavior or in the very next minute. For example, suppose that someone is playing a slot machine in a casino; they would tell you that they

believe the payoff is coming with the next pull of the slot-machine arm—the next reinforcer is always just around the corner. No one inserts

money into a slot machine unless they believe that payment is imminent. This logic explains why using fixed versus variable schedules of

reinforcement can have highly practical implications for the classroom. When considering fixed versus variable schedules of reinforcement, two

frequently used token economies are point sheets and punch cards. For a point sheet, points are awarded on a fixed interval (e.g., every 30

minutes the student earns a prespecified number of points contingent on their behavior over the previous interval). For a punch card, the

teacher monitors student behavior and provides reinforcement on a variable ratio contingent on average numbers of behaviors emitted (e.g., “I

just saw you hold the door open for a peer and then say ‘You’re welcome’ when they thanked you; so I am going to give you points (punches) on

your card”). With the point sheet approach, desired behaviors increase toward the end of the interval (e.g., 30 minutes) and immediately after

the points are dispensed. But toward the middle of the interval (e.g., at the 15-minute mark), students’ behavior may deteriorate because they

begin to recognize, consciously or unconsciously, that the reinforcement is temporally farther away. Note that other factors, such as the need

to collect data on when students do and do not earn their points, may require using a point sheet rather than a point card. This issue of data

collection introduces the final section of progress monitoring. A few weeks later, the Student Study Team has a final follow-up meeting about

Sean. Everyone agrees that the reinforcements put in place not only dramatically increased the desired on-task behaviors but also decreased

Sean’s undesired behaviors. Mrs. Farrelly affirmed their conclusions by presenting the data that she had collected using a momentary time-

sampling strategy in several of his classes. “So obviously we are making tremendous progress with Sean. I think we can now use a strategy that

will have Sean chart his own behavior on a daily basis. That way, he can determine whether or not he is improving or slipping back into his old

ways.” “I think that’s a great idea,” interrupted Mr. Parker “Not only will this give us data to help monitor his behavior but it will also let

Sean be more self-directed and be reinforced by his own good choices.” “Exactly. I want Sean to feel good about his choices, not just because we

tell him he’s doing a good job, but because he recognizes it himself,” said Mrs. Farrelly. “Could we use a computer spreadsheet to show Sean a

graph of his behavior?” asked Mrs. Streeto. “Exactly. Here’s what I think we can do. At three or four random times during each class we have

Sean mark down whether he is on-task or off-task. Teachers can just set a kitchen timer or look up at the clock and cue Sean to mark a ‘+’ or a

‘-’ on a sheet depending on whether he is on-task or off-task. Then, at the end of the day, he can divide how many times he was on-task by how

many times he was on-task plus how many times he was off-task and that will give him a percentage that he can enter into a spreadsheet every

day. I’ll even sit down with him once a week to set a goal for his average percentage on-task every week. Then if he meets his goal, we can

celebrate his success. Maybe we all could have lunch with Sean as our guest of honor.” “That sounds great, especially if you’re buying lunch,”

Mr. Parker joked. Tracking Progress (Is the Reinforcement Working?) As we have said throughout this chapter, reinforcement works only if it

increases future occurrences of a behavior. To determine whether the stimuli that we put into a classroom environment are truly reinforcing, we

must monitor student behavior. In previous chapters we have covered viable strategies for collecting data on occurrences of both desired and

undesired behavior in the classroom. All of these strategies, however, involved another individual collecting the data. Because the ability to

manage one’s own behavior is one of the ultimate goals of education, self-monitoring and charting is another viable strategy to determine the

effects of reinforcers. It also is an activity that in itself can be a reinforcer. Given instructional tools and support, students manage their

behavior and therefore contribute to the development of a personal behavior-change program. Self-monitoring is an effective method for teaching

students to record their own behavior, evaluate specific goals to increase academic engagement, and maintain productivity. Specifically,

students are taught to monitor their attention to tasks or their rate of task completion, accuracy, or productivity and to evaluate themselves

in comparison to a predetermined objective. Self-monitoring teaches students to be more consistent with behaviors already in their repertoire.

Changes in student performance can be displayed in charts, visual pictures of past and current responses. Simple and time-efficient, charting is

a low-cost method that allows students to track progress, make predictions, and set goals. It is also a versatile instructional intervention,

providing students an easy way to get involved in setting academic and behavioral goals through an interactive approach. The easiest way to set

up a charting or self-monitoring program is to begin with some type of worksheet. This sheet will provide the structure for the self-monitoring

system. Consider the example of Mary. Mary uses a worksheet to mark each time she is provoked by a peer and how she responds. Ms. Smith

furnishes her with a new self-monitoring sheet every day and reminds her how to use it. Then Ms. Smith awards Mary points for each occasion on

which she used her replacement behavior. Because the frequency of provocations may decrease as Mary develops the habit of walking away, a

sufficient number of points is awarded to make this effort worthwhile. Later in the day (and, as walking away from provocations becomes more

typical, perhaps once a week), Ms. Smith allows Mary to trade in her points for things Mary has selected from her own Figure 12.2 Self-

Monitoring Sheet Alternate View NAME DATE GOAL In Seat Raise Hand Complete Work Math 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 Reading 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 Health 0 1 2 0

1 2 0 1 2 Geography 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 Humanities 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 TOTAL /10 /10 /10 DAILY TOTAL /30 = % reinforcement menu (free time, a “get

out of one homework assignment card,” a pass to the library). Ms. Smith also observes Mary closely in the initial stages of this program to

ensure that she is monitoring her own behavior. These types of sheets can be applied even more broadly to encompass multiple behaviors. Figure

12.2 shows a self-monitoring sheet that allows a student to monitor three behaviors (In Seat, Raise Hand, and Complete Work) across all of the

different classes that the student attends. This not only provides a way to access reinforcement but also allows both adults and the student to

see the progress being made and whether there are predictable times during which the student struggles with a particular behavior. Setting this

strategy up generally involves discussing the procedure with the student and encouraging the monitoring of socially valid target behaviors that

can be easily monitored. Then the student and teacher together set criterion levels of performance that provide attainable goals for the student

and agree on a desirable consequence for meeting the goal. Some appropriate behaviors for self-monitoring include engagement with or attention

to tasks, in-seat behavior, or hand-raising as a replacement for calling out. It is important to operationally define the target behavior to be

monitored and recorded and have the student practice identifying appropriate and inappropriate demonstrations (e.g., the student may practice

hand-raising and monitoring behavior). In the beginning especially it will be important to monitor student self-recording by checking the

student’s data for accuracy versus the teacher’s data. Build in periodic accountability checks and reinforcers when data match up and provide

structured evaluative feedback regarding the accuracy of the student’s monitoring. This information can also be recorded and tracked on charts

that are simply visual displays of student performance that provide concrete feedback regarding behavior. To chart behavior, identify the

student, the goal, and the context in which the charting will be used. (Charting in difficult subject areas may motivate the student to increase

performance for academic or behavior goals.)
Teach students how to collect or record data based on the measure of the target behavior (e.g., have students self-grade assignments, monitor

on-task behavior, and record reading fluency data). It will be necessary to determine the most convenient way to display data. Consider the age

and ability of the students, the length of time it will take students to record data, the routines within instruction, and the accessibility of

materials—visual displays can include anything from simple stickers on a chart to computer-assisted programs. Analyze data with the student to

interpret progress, and have the student identify a goal and show the distance between current and future performance. Highlight or mark a line

to emphasize the goal. Charting can be used with the whole class on one goal or with multiple students and goals. Charting is an especially

efficient data collection system for documenting progress on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities.


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