Are looking to help your student with behaviors in the classroom or on the playground? Students with behaviors that impact their learning, their social functioning, or your teaching can be stressful for all. Behaviors, such as aggression, elopement, emotional outbursts, and task avoidance can take up instructional time and create a negative learning environment for the entire classroom.
For some students, classroom positive reinforcement systems, such as clip chart, tokens, or fake money, may not be enough. In these instances, a more personalized rewards system is often necessary.
While rewarding students with “bad” behavior may not feel fair to the rest of the students who do not have behaviors, using individualized behavior rewards systems are often the only tool that will improve the student’s behaviors. That, and counseling services.
In addition, students with behaviors already stand out to their peers and that kids will understand if they have a special system because they are also tired of “Little Jimmy” disrupting their classwork or hurting them. (My apologies if your name is Jimmy:) Students who do not understand, often also need a little support in my experience.
The purpose of the rewards system is to build an intrinsic desire to display desired behaviors through training with extrinsic motivation.
As a school psychologist I am often creating these individualized systems for teachers who have students with a specific behavior that is impeding their learning on a frequent basis. I am happy to do it, as I know they will work. As the teacher, however, you will need to be willing to implement the rewards system frequently. This will take your time if you are the teacher and do not have additional aide support.
How to determine Frequency of Reward Implementation
The frequency to which you will need to reward the student with a stamp, sticker, or other positive reinforcement indicator is very dependent on the frequency and intensity of the student’s behavior. Determining the frequency should also be based on what you believe the student can achieve. For example, if you have a student who tantrums (crying and maybe throwing objects) every 15 minutes throughout the school day, then making the initial frequency for 20 minutes might be fine. If the student tantrums just in the mornings, but every 5 minutes (or continually), then a morning chart for 5 minute intervals may be needed.
Other Important Aspects of Behavioral System Implementation
Sometimes students are not very motivated by extra recess time, a prize box toy, or a Lego break. Other times, they might work for one activity one week, but lose interest in it by the next. If a student has significantly disruptive or aggressive behaviors, you will hopefully find something that can motivate them to use calming strategies and attempt their work. By giving them options to work for throughout the day that they chose, you can hopefully get them through the school day without incident.
Other times, however, you may want to consider including home rewards. What? Parents with students with bad behaviors have to participate in their behavior at school. That’s a BIG YES! Maybe there is a toy that they want, a video game, or just TV or Video time that would motivate them at school.
Of course, the parent will need some serious discussions with you prior to starting the chart in order to agree to not give them their home reward if their child didn’t earn it. It’s called good parenting, but we can’t always control our parents. In my experience, the students with the worst behavior usually “rule the roost”, as my teacher friend, Melissa, likes to say.
Steps to Creating a Behavior Rewards Plan:
Step 1) Observe the Student:
If you are not the direct teacher of the student, such as the school psychologist, you will need to observe the student and consult with the teacher.
Questions to ask that will help you create the plan include:
What do the behaviors look like?
How often do they occur?
What is the specific desired replacement behavior?
What reinforcements will the student most likely work for?
Step 2) Create the Reinforcement System Based on your Collected Data and/or Teacher Interview:
For the chart, you will need to make a basic table that has intervals for rewarding indicated with a time interval (5, 10, 15, 30 minutes, etc.) or actual times, such as 9am, 9:30am, 10am, etc. Next, write the directions and use visuals with words, so that the student can easily understand the expected, or desired, behavior and rewards. This is especially important for students who are not yet reading.
Make the reward process easy, such as a check mark, sticker, stamp, or Velcro happy face. In addition, encourage the teacher or person implementing the system to give specific verbal praise for the desired behavior when giving the reinforcement.
This may include statements, such as, “I like the way you are doing your work” or “Good job keeping your hands to yourself at recess.” Verbal praise is a key part to building the intrinsic desire to improve behaviors. This is because it feels better to get adult attention for positive behaviors than for negative ones. This is what we are attempting to teach the child through the implementation of the rewards system, after all!
Step 3) Completely explain the system to both the teacher and student.
If you are not the teacher creating the system, you will need to make sure that the teacher understands it and is willing to implement it. Many teachers feel at first that individualized rewards systems take too much time. But please ask them, “Would you prefer to take the 30 seconds to give a sticker and verbal praise every 10 minutes, or the 30 minutes to evacuate the classroom while the student has a meltdown in your room?”
Then talk to the student. Let them know about their new special chart and their opportunity to earn prizes, breaks, or other positive reinforcements of their choosing. Finally, you will have to implement the chart with the student yourself to start. This will both train the teacher (if it’s not you) and/or the students aide if there is one. While some aides are trained in Applied Behavior Analysis, many do not have their own tools or charts, and are happy to implement one made for them.