Positive Reinforcement vs. Discipline/Punishment

Discussion in 'General Education' started by callmebob, Apr 6, 2011.

  1. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    Apr 6, 2011

    There have been many discussions in regards to positive reinforcements at our school; this year and other years as well.
    What I don't understand is why there is so much emphasis on positive reinforcements for things students/kids are expected to do anyway.
    I believe students need to be disciplined/punished for their inappropriate behavior more so than being rewarded for doing what they are expected. Do we really need to avoid punishment and reward kids for following directions as much as we do?
     
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  3. Teaching Grace

    Teaching Grace Connoisseur

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    I think the theory behind it is kids growing up into teen years with a good self-esteem in tact. This is definitely better than them feeling like they have always been told what they are doing wrong without ever being told what they did right. With that being said, I use a mix in my own classroom. I do not give out a lot of treats and I do use punishments. When I do give out treats, because it's so rare, it has the effect of increasing engagement in whatever we are doing. I also nip it in the bud when, the next time we do said activity, some one will ask," are we going to get a treat?" I will specifically say," no, because I don't like greedy children." Whether that is wrong or not, I don't know. But it only takes a time or two before they know that just because they are showing me what they know doesn't mean that they are going to get a treat or prize.

    My husband and I have this discussion every so often because you do see a lot of kids these days who feel like they are simply entitled to everything. They should instead be realizing that they have to work to earn good things.
     
  4. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Discipline means to teach and to train with the goal of self discipline. I see a difference between consequences and punishment.
     
  5. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    I understand there is a difference, that is why I used both words. I think there is a time and place for both discipline and punishment.
    TN2, I like the way you put that.
     
  6. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    I appreciate that you used both words, because people often mistake them for the same thing. In fact, positive reinforcement can also be used to establish discipline.

    Actually, I'm glad you used the term positive reinforcement. If you look at most "consequences" in most schools, they do not fall under the behavioral definition of punishment: the application of an aversive stimulus to decrease a targeted behavior.

    And I'll agree with you to an extent on the potential overuse of positive reinforcement. There's sort of a maxim that you're not supposed to reinforce behaviors that already occur. To that extent, Alfie Kohn is right, and a lot of behavioral researchers would completely agree with him (in his books he comes off as though he's turned behaviorism on its head, but really what he does is just show how it can be misused -- his insistence on never offering positive reinforcement takes it to the other extreme, though, which is also misguided).

    Positive reinforcement is safer than punishment as a behavioral technique on the whole, I believe. Punishment has limited uses but people tend to try to stretch its use, and end up with unwanted effects. For punishment to work it has to be very consistent, and getting the severity of punishment wrong can have bad effects (if one uses punishment, a punishment that's not severe enough can be almost as bad as one that's too severe -- possibly worse, since a much more severe punishment would have to be applied later). With positive reinforcement, a variable ratio schedule* works well (though getting this right can also be tricky). The reinforcement should really be used to set up the behavior that you can't get other ways, or to get them to a new level of performance. If you're interested in simply maintaining a behavior, the reinforcement should be gradually reduced to the minimum needed for maintenance (which may or may not be no explicit reinforcement at all).

    I know you believe in corporal punishment, callmebob, and part of this may be because you believe it works. You're right that it can change behavior, often quite quickly. However, if you take a look at the research on punishment, on how to use if effectively and what to use it for, on how lasting its effects are, on the scheduling and timing that's needed, you'll likely see that it doesn't really work in the school environment.


    * i.e., providing reinforcement only every fifth time on average, for example.
     
  7. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    American children have great self-esteem, for the most part. Compared with other nation's children, they think they're great students. By contrast, children in many Asian countries have low self-esteem. Self-esteem is deemphasized and many do not think highly of themselves as students. However, they obviously far succeed our children in performance.

    I think by rewarding and praising everything they do, we cheapen real praise and real reward. We also fail to teach intrinsic reward.

    I praise my students when warranted but there are definite consequences for actions that are not and should not be permitted.
     
  8. MrsJC

    MrsJC New Member

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    I agree that praising is important. But I have a problem with things like the token system that is used in elementary schools. It's practically bribery. And I've found that while it may increase participation, it also causes children to reach for any answer in order to get a star or prize. Even if it doesn't make sense.
     
  9. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Self-esteem

    I disagree with this statement. My reasoning is subtle, but I believe accurate.

    American children have a false sense of ability regardless of how they feel about themselves. They also have a false sense of boundaries. This looks like self-esteem, but it isn't.

    I know many entitled kids and many that think their skills are top notch that don't really feel good about themselves. I think they are taught how to behave on the outside, but if you really sit them down and talk about how they really feel about themselves and their relationships with others you will find out that they have low self-esteem but use attitude to cover it up.
     
  10. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    I base my entire program on PR with one caveat. I DO NOT use it unless it is warranted. I observe my kids in lots of different groups and activities. I have kids that excel in almost all the things we do. Then I have some that never do but usually because they have never really tried or gotten off the couch long enough to learn how. To make it easier for me and them I try to do as many different activities as I can. When I finally find that one thing the underachiever can do and do pretty well I lavish the praise on them. This is usually the catalyst to get them moving and trying in other activities. I have seen it work over and over.
     
  11. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I agree with this. Positive reinforcements will produce the opposite when you are using them with a behavior a student is already doing.
     
  12. porque_pig

    porque_pig Comrade

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    Apr 7, 2011

    In foreign language education, American students are notorious for overestimating their language ability (two semesters of Spanish = fluency in many students' eyes). However, in a communication-based classroom, students need to feel comfortable enough to open up and speak in a language that is unfamiliar to them. This is especially difficult for high-achieving students who don't deal well with criticism.

    I think the important thing is giving the right kind of positive feedback. A "Good job, Johnny!" kind of statement is totally ineffective, but a response like "You did a great job with those double object pronouns, but in the future, stick to vocabulary you already know--keep up the good work!" is specific and more useful to the student. I think this is still positive reinforcement, but it is positive reinforcement with a purpose. Students are reminded that NO, they are not fluent speakers (I don't even feel comfortable calling myself a fluent speaker at times), but they know precisely how to improve and they know what they're doing right.

    Also, if an entire class has been working hard, I'll be sure to work in time for a game (albeit a productive one) at the end of class. It's a relevant (and much anticipated) reward.

    I also like using logical consequences. If you do not write your journal assignment, then X will happen. If you complete this extra credit assignment satisfactorily, then X will happen. There are both positive and negative consequences involved.

    I don't see why a classroom can't seamlessly integrate both. While I really dislike token systems, positive reinforcement can be a useful tool. And while I never want an authoritarian classroom, students function well with a set of logical consequences for their actions. I'm for using both (with reason!).
     
  13. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 7, 2011

    There is something from play therapy literature called "tracking" - it's not a complex strategy by any form, but it can be powerful when considered instead of reinforcement.

    Basically, tracking implies verbally observing to the child what s/he is doing at the time. So, if a child skips a difficult problem to come back to later (which you have previously taught), you might say:

    "Last week we talked about skipping difficult problems, and you decided to do that this time."

    Or, even less commentative of adult's behavior and strictly commenting on the child's behavior:

    "You decided to skip a problem."

    This would be in contrast to reinforcement:

    "Great job! You skipped a problem because it was too difficult - I'm so proud of you!"

    There are some similarities and overlap, but the important distinction is that the first statement offers no overt judgement, but rather lets the child make the determination about worth. It just states the behavior - calling it to the attention of the child - but does not include "good job." The teacher refrains from judging the student in a positive manner. What's highlighted is what the child thinks about him/herself, not what the teacher thinks. This has the potential to avoid some of the pitfalls of reinforcement, and has the potential to increase self-evaluation and internal ownership over the skill. In addition, the child may come to be proud not because s/he pleased the teacher, but because s/he made the right choice. It also teaches the child to reflect back on his/her choices, because tracking can be used with less desirable choices as well. In other words, the teacher is narrating the child's choices, not providing commentary, so the child is responsible for evaluating whether that choice is desirable or not. In this way, tracking is both an alternative for verbal reprimands, performance feedback, and reinforcement.

    This is not to say that tracking is always better than reinforcement, performance feedback, and verbal reprimands, but it's another option. For example, reinforcement can be really powerful when someone praises effort rather than performance.

    In general, reinforcement is good when used correctly and in the right situation. When I say reinforcement, I am referring to everything from social praise to token economies. The list of correct uses/right situations is numerous, and the list of incorrect uses/wrong situations is numerous. It's sort of like saying "Tylenol is good" - could be right or wrong, depending on how much taken with what other meds and for what condition.
     
  14. pyramidreading

    pyramidreading Rookie

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    Apr 7, 2011

    What, exactly, is the difference between a consequence and punishment?
     
  15. porque_pig

    porque_pig Comrade

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    For me, there can be both positive and negative consequences of an action. Punishment, however, is inherently negative.
     
  16. bondo

    bondo Cohort

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    Apr 7, 2011

    I am with original poster on this one. Doing the "right" or "good" thing should be expected. I am not saying we should never give praise, but a kid should not be receiving something special for getting in line when told to.
    I agree that punishment is a better way to influence desired behavior. For punishment I typically take away something that a student enjoys because of poor behavior. Kids may not care if they get something if they behave well, so they will continue to misbehave. However, if something they enjoy is taken away for misbehavior that behavior is more likely to change. Kids especially do not understand "you dont know what you have until its gone" and they are more likely to change to get something they like back. Of course this is still selfish, but hopefully as they grow older they will mature and want to do the right things for others, instead of avoiding or gaining something for self.
     
  17. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Apr 7, 2011

    bondo,it might surprise you to learn that what you are doing is not punishment, behaviorally speaking. It's negative reinforcement. To the best of my knowledge there's been less research on it, but I think the general feeling is that it is not subject to a lot of the downsides that come with punishment.
     

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