When teachers seek to change behaviour they must ensure to reinforce the replacement behaviour i.e. the behaviour they want the student to engage in. Reinforcement is based on the concept that how a person/s respond (known as the consequence) determines the likelihood of the student engaging in the behaviour again in the future; therefore behaviour that results in pleasant consequences (positive reinforcement) is likely to be repeated, while behaviour that results in unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. Using positive reinforcement we can shape, change, and strengthen appropriate behaviour.
Things to Remember:
- Being consistent is key; a reinforcement schedule should be followed consistently.
- Reinforcers must be reinforcing to the student.
- When teaching a new/replacement behaviour it is important to:
- Provide reinforcement contingent on the correct response
- Provide reinforcement immediately following the correct response
- Provide reinforcement for every correct response
- Provide reinforcement only when the correct response occurs
- Reinforcers should be rotated so that the student remains motivated by them and does not become bored.
- Reinforcers should be faded-gradually-over time as the student becomes more fluent and successful with the new behaviour.
- Avoid giving free access to reinforcers as it is unlikely that the student will want to ‘work’ for them if he/she can access them for free.
- Use the most preferred reinforcers for the most difficult behaviour as the student’s motivation to access these will be higher.
- Preferences change so continually reassess the student’s favourite reinforcers to ensure that you are always using the most powerful ones.
- Across the school day the ideal ratio of incidental positive reinforcement to correction should be at least 4:1.
A reward chart or token economy chart is an effective tool that can be utilised to reinforce and thereby strengthen or increase desired behaviour.
Reward Charts / Token Economy
The basic principal of a token economy is that the student earns tokens for engaging in the desired behaviour and these tokens are then exchanged for a preferred reinforcer. There is no one single type of reward chart. The reward for the student can be a physical object, a tick or a stamp, depending on what is most motivating for the student.
When replacing a behaviour you may see a temporary increase in the behaviour you are looking to change, or indeed novel behaviours may emerge, this is called an extinction burst. Should this occur, it is important to stay on track and to remain consistent with your behavioural change strategy. However, if there is a health and safety concern, the priority must be that of the safety of the student and any other persons.