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