Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement quickly became the most preferred method of classroom management for ESL teachers, mainly because it works so well. But there are a variety of different teaching styles that stem from teachers’ backgrounds, personalities, and experiences.

Happy boy Students in PattayaEach of these brings a different flavor to the classroom and make things fun. There is one fact, however, that can’t be refuted: positive reinforcement is an absolute must when teaching any age.

When I tell people I teach young children I’m usually posed with the same question, “How do you do it!?” followed by a perplexed look of fascination. It’s actually quite simple once you get the hang of it. When I first started it was really difficult, but being able to understand how to give them feedback is critical to success.

When I started teaching older age groups I was actually more concerned about them than I was with my young students. It wasn’t until I realized that a similar style of feedback I gave to my younger students worked the same with my older students. Of course, the style of teaching differed, but the most important part, the feedback, remained the same.

Here are a few tips for positive reinforcement and feedback strategies in the classroom.

Correct Answers

A student who has answered all your questions incorrectly for the entire class finally grasps the lessons content and answers a question correctly. What’s your first thought? “Jesus, finally this kid understands what I’m trying to say!” Or “Yes, he gets it! I’ve found a way to get him to understand!”

If your answer is the latter, you’re well on your way to bringing the best out of your students.

Think about when you get something right for the first time or even when you learn something new and have finally got the grasp of it. It feels good, and you want other people to notice too, especially the person who taught it to you.

As teachers, we should absolutely get excited when our students do something correctly. Those students who pretend they don’t like praise, like praise.

Of course, you don’t want to make students the center of attention, but finding out the right amount of attention to give them is crucial. Just enough to make them feel excited about their accomplishment, but not so much to embarrass them in front of their classmates.

Incorrect Answers

Students get answers wrong, that’s inevitable. The question is, as teachers, how do we deal with these mistakes. Outright deny their answers? Ignore the mistake? Correct them by using diction like “can’t” “don’t” and “wrong”?

Sometimes the answer isn’t so straightforward. It can be a complicated process, but I believe the best way to ensure teachers provide positive reinforcement is to avoid using words such as “wrong” “don’t” and “can’t”.

Think about it. How often do children hear “don’t do this” “don’t do that” “you can’t go there” “you can’t do it this way” and the dreaded, “You’re wrong.” Well, okay, but you didn’t tell them what TO do.

Tell a student what they should be doing and how to solve problems. Telling them they got a problem wrong doesn’t mean they’re going to magically find a way to solve the problem correctly. Be their guide to find the correct answer, not the referee who judges their performance.

Something like “If you change this here you’ll be closer to the right answer,” or “You’re really close! Just take X out and change it with Y.” These phrases avoid using  negative reinforcement and replaces them with positive ones.

Timely Feedback

Make sure students receive feedback from you immediately. Students constantly have thoughts running through their head, if you wait too long they may soon forget they even made a mistake.

This becomes more important with speaking. Giving timely feedback is so much more important when students start wanting to tell you about everything under the sun. (Tenses and articles are usually the trickiest for most of my students).

Writing also requires careful observation. Making sure students know what they need to correct early will help then avoid those issue later in their writing.

These are of course just a few of the many different ways to engage students in a positive and healthy way. As was mentioned earlier in the article, each teacher brings something different to the classroom. Blending a teacher’s personality with a positive environment can do wonders for the classroom.

Have you used the positive reinforcement method? How did this work out for your class? Do you use any other methods for teaching? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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