I forgot to mention this when the subject of rewards came up.
I had a class clown when I taught 2nd grade. He was in no way disrespectful, mean and did not purposely misbehave (most of the time). But he loved getting the class’s attention, and it was not easy to keep them on track in the first…
This reads like a great reinforcement system (I distinguished reinforcement from reward on purpose here because not all reward systems function as reinforcement). In applied behaviour analysis terms what this teacher has done is referred to as differential reinforcement of low rates of behaviours (DRL; Deitz, 1997). After establishing the initial rate, the student and teacher aimed for progressively lower rates of that behaviour over time. Reinforcement is only delivered when that targeted rate is achieved.
I also like the self-monitoring aspect of this intervention. With the student keeping track of his own behaviours and seeing the actual numbers, he can monitor and work towards a more acceptable outcome. There is research to show that simply monitoring one’s behaviour (both desirable and undesirable) can affect the rate of the behaviour in the desired direction (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007).
And finally, the discreet and individualized approach to this “reward” system is also beneficial. There was an effort to avoid shaming the student into behaving in desirable ways and the system itself was tailored to the individual and the behaviour targeted for change. This is how reinforcement works. Reinforcement is not always in effect when generic behaviour charts and rewards are used. In these cases, reinforcement happens by chance for some students; and for others, there is no effect or worse, the system becomes an aversive.
Classroom “reward” systems that function as reinforcement are not as easy as they look. Not every student needs it (i.e., if they are already demonstrating the “good” behaviour/skill, it is already being reinforced) and each student comes with their own reinforcement history and skill sets. All of these factors (and others) require consideration when developing reinforcement systems.
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Deitz, S.M. (1977). An analysis of programming DRL schedules in educational settings. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 15(1), 103-111.