Tuesday, November 8, 2011


This week I was able to explore two instructional strategies, reinforcing effort and homework practice.  Positive reinforcement and reinforcing effort is vital in kindergarten.  Smith points out that positive reinforcement is key if you are attempting to control behavior (1999).  Teachers have control of the environment and in turn can have control of the behaviors in the classroom.  I find this to be glaringly true in a kindergarten classroom.  Kindergarten students are eager to please.  Many times all that is needed is a positive comment or a smile to reinforce the behavior you are seeking.  The wonderful thing about kindergarten is that not only do you affect the specific child who you are responding to, but the entire class wants the same reward as the original child, even if it is simply a smile!  Everyone in the class wants to use punctuation after Johnny received a thumbs-up for using a period.  Could there be a greater grade to teach?

As well as creating positive behaviors, reinforcement can create positive learning experiences.  Effort is one of the most influential factors in achievement (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). In kindergarten we are constantly discussing what our “best” work and behavior looks like.  We emphasize the process and the amount of effort a task took more importantly than the finished product.  I feel that my job is to be their biggest cheerleader in the classroom.  Eventually, the students themselves catch on to this and are found encouraging each other and praising their classmates. In kindergarten we create spreadsheets of student growth and are able to share these with students and parents.  Even if kindergarten students are not yet capable of understanding the charts and graphs they are excited to show “what they learned” and how much they now know. 

Watch this YouTube video to see an example of positive reinforcement in action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK32448CgKE&feature=related

Homework in kindergarten is not as prevalent as in other grades.  Pitler et al explain that parents should not be heavily involved in homework (2007).  Since the typical kindergartener would have difficulty reading and following directions we keep homework to a minimum.  The homework we give in kindergarten is many times an opportunity for students to show their skills to their parents.  We send home a weekly poetry notebook which is learned in class and simply presented to the parents at home.  Parents sign the notebook and are able to leave a comment for their child.  Most of the students love this chance to read to their parents. 

We use web resources in the classroom and as activities parents can do with their children.  I send home sites that focus on the skill we are currently working on.  I have found that parents appreciate the guidance in finding sites for their children. 

Behaviorism is most definitely alive and well in the kindergarten classroom.  When used appropriately it can be very effective.  Of course, like most good things, it can be over used.  Not all activities can have rewards for simply doing what is expected.  Teachers must find that fine line between overuse and behavioral harmony.
Check out this about behaviorism in education for more information.  http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Behaviorism

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-behavourist.htm

Stanbridge, M. (2008, February 5). Behaviorism. Retrieved from Emerging perspectives on learning,   teaching, and technology website: http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Behaviorism


  1. Great post! Although I do not teach kindergarten nor have I ever taught it, I would imagine that your explanation of a child receiving positive reinforcement makes the other children want to behave in a positive way to earn the same recognition and smile from the teacher as well. I have worked in summer camps and I work with toddlers and small children in the YMCA setting and I have seen children change their behavior when they see a teacher praise another student for positive behavior. It's the rippling effect that seems to take place when a child is thanked for behaving properly and other children want to do the same.

    I teach 4th grade and although the rippling effect of this does occur somewhat in the 4th grade, it does not occur as nearly as often as in a kindergarten setting. What do you think the cause is behind this? Everyone wants to be rewarded for positive behavior but it doesn't seem that my students change their behavior to receive the same reinforcement from the teacher. At some point in education, working with children, it seems that there is a time their minds begin to change and when a child is reinforced for positive behavior, instead of taking the rippling effect, some kids begin to call the said students a teachers pet or a favorite. Have you ever witnessed this in an older class and why do you think this occurs?

  2. Melissa, I really admire kindergarten teachers. As I see it you need a very special character to deal with these little ones in a learning environment. I have never worked in preschool, and although I love walking around their rooms and sometimes having a little chat or reading time with them I think I couldn´t handle being a whole day around them. I read in your post the good part is they are really easy to please and that they rapidly modify some behavior towards being recognized as their classmate was. But, how do you foster these behaviors becoming habits? At my school I´ve seen some preschoolers that are definitely out of control and who even become disruptive for the rest of their class, how do you deal with them? Because as a high school teacher I can think of several ways of making my students understand they are not doing thing in a right way. But I bet things like giving extra work or taking them out of class to independent work would not be appropriate with your kids.

  3. Melissa,
    I could not agree with you more. Teaching the younger kids, to me is so amazing at how these kids completely look up to us as teachers and how much they want to impress us. Kindergarten kids definitely love to have positive reinforcement. Most of the time that is all they need to hear.
    I taught kindergarten for 8 years and this year I am teaching first grade. It is a little the same but I do notice that the positive reinforcement does change a little in first grade. There are still some kids who crave that attention and need that positive reinforcement but then there are the kids who also need to be disciplined. My biggest problem this year is trying to figure out a discipline plan that will grab the attention of the students. Right now we have the card system and if they have to flip their card then they run ten laps at recess. The problem is I have some kids that this doesn't phase and they are the ones that are running laps everyday. Obviously this punishment is not working and I need to find something else. Any suggestions?

  4. Melissa,

    I'm only a few grade levels ahead of you in second grade. My second graders are much like your kindergarteners; sometimes a smile or a "good job!" is the greatest reward of all! Then, all of the other students want the same thing!

    I think you are doing a great job of incorporating the behaviorist theory into your classroom. I like the idea of making spreadsheets to show student progress. You're right, in kindergarten, it might be too much for your students to do their own rubric like what was suggested in the book, but you are laying a great foundation by discussing the importance of effort and hard work. I like that you discuss what "best" work and "best" behavior looks like. Young kids really seem to understand when you give them a visual!

    Great post!

  5. Thanks for the comments, ladies! Tricia, I try to find an actual 'natural consequence' for negative behaviors. If a student writes on the table they will move their clip, but they will also clean all the tables while everyone else is at recess. We have a 'wall' that students stand on during recess when they disrupt class. I always tell them, you were playing when everyone else was working so you already used up your play time. The way that I love to discipline the most though is through positives. If we all get a green day then _____. If we get 5 green days we'll get to _____. Students seem to monitor themselves (and each other) so much more when there is a goal. The goal can even be classroom related. I let the kids making positive choices decide what we do first, math lesson or writing! Incredible how much they love to be the boss : )
    Leanor, I know exactly what you're referring to as I taught 5th grade before and so many more things come into play. Students are much more competitive, unsure, and hormonal! I said 5th grade was so much fun to teach but each day you never knew how they wanted to be treated, like an adult or a child... I suspect 4th grade is very similar. I would think having group goals would be helpful in that grade so that students do not get made fun of for making good choices, instead it's a team atmosphere.
    Thanks for commenting,

  6. I loved your post! I am fascinated by the way you applied reinforcement contingencies in a classroom setting and have seen results. Let me ask you, you must not have a lot of undesirable behaviors right? Great use of the scientific literature to help children and provide a better learning environment for them. A book that I would recommend, if you are interested, Karen Pryor's book, Don't Shoot the Dog the New Art of Teaching and Training. This book goes hand in hand with what you are doing, shaping young people.
    I wish that my kindergarten teacher would have used this method instead of other types of methods that consisted of negative reinforcement. Awesome post!


  7. It is human nature like to be praised by others. If we give them a reward as a positive reinforcement, then the kids will continue doing the good things in their lives. However, if we critize and scold them, then they will not continue doing the bad things. In order to stop their bad behavior, we have to use negative reinforcement.By Lim Keng Keh

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