Draconian punishments of the past have been long abandoned because they’re unethical, immoral – and they’re absolutely ineffective. Bad behaviour is a symptom of other problems, some within your control, and some without. To successfully manage behaviour in the class means taking a look at what can be done to first understand misbehaviour, and then address the underlying issues.
So don’t worry – when we talk about negative reinforcement, we’re not advocating the cane, the slap, or even a scolding – it’s about removing negative influence.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
What Negative Reinforcement Is (And What It Isn’t)
Negative reinforcement occurs when a stimulus is removed after a particular behaviour is displayed. You increase the likelihood of the behaviour recurring because you are removing or acting to avoid the negative consequence.
So where does positive reinforcement fit into this puzzle? The core of reinforcement (positive or negative) is ultimately increasing behaviour. Positive reinforcement uses addition to achieve this, negative reinforcement uses subtraction.
- When you’re using the former, you add something positive into the mix to increase a response.
- When you’re using the latter, you’re taking something negative away in order to increase a response.
Negative reinforcement should never be equated to punishment. Punishment is about decreasing a behaviour, whereas negative reinforcement is about increasing a behaviour.
You’re probably familiar with standard examples of punishments like losing play privileges, being sent to the head teacher’s office etc. However, like reinforcement, punishment can be divided up into negative and positive.
- When you practice positive punishments you are adding something undesirable into the equation as a response to a behaviour. As an example: A child speaks out of turn in class for the 2nd time, the teacher hands them a detention slip in front of the class, the child stops speaking out of turn.
- When you practice negative punishments, you take away a positive as a response to behaviour. Example: A student is bullying another student. You take away their outdoor privileges for a week. The student stops bullying.
How Does Negative Reinforcement Change Our Behaviour?
It bears repeating that negative reinforcement has nothing to do with blame or shame. It’s not punitive, it’s not mean-spirited. It is effective.
The thing that is removed as part of this behaviour modification is usually something your learners find unpleasant or uncomfortable. That’s why the removal often results in a beneficial outcome for the student and teacher.
The relationship between behaviour and consequence can be traced back to a type of learning called ‘operant conditioning.’ Dating back to the late 1930s, this method dictates that for negative reinforcement to truly work, the stimulus must be taken away immediately after the behaviour change.
Okay, you’ve got the concept down but what does negative reinforcement look like in practice?
Your students are neglecting to clean up after they finish crafts and you need this to change. Leveraging negative reinforcement would look like this:
- Before behaviour: Kids are asked to clean, they don’t, you get upset with them.
- Behaviour: Children begin to clean up the mess to stop the lectures.
- After behaviour: You notice the clean up and stop getting upset.
- Future behaviour: Children continue to clean up their toys after playtime.
You are working with a non-verbal student. The two of you are struggling with an effective communication tool. You introduce cards.
- Before behaviour: Your non-verbal learner is given something they don’t want.
- Behaviour: They show you a “no” picture card.
- After behaviour: You take the undesired item away.
- Future behaviour: The student shows the “no” card when they want something taken away.
One of your students is having behavioural issues in a group environment. They appear to get frustrated when asked too many questions at once. You need to teach them to take a breather so you introduce social breaks.
- Before behaviour: The student is frustrated.
- Behaviour: Student raises their hand and is removed from the situation.
- After behaviour: The student takes a breather.
- Future behaviour: Student learns to takes social breaks or breathers before getting too frustrated.
What Have We Learned?
Negative reinforcement isn’t about negativity, it’s about removing a stimuli with the ultimate goal of behaviour correction.
When used effectively, negative reinforcement can be an extremely effective management tool in your classroom.
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Draconian punishments of the past have been long abandoned because they're unethical, immoral - and they're absolutely ineffective. Bad behaviour is a symptom of other problems, some within your control, and some without. To successfully