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Using Positive Reinforcement in the Special Education Setting

written by: Kathy Foust•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 9/30/2012

Positive reinforcement is a proven and reliable way to increase positive actions. Here are some specific methods you can use in your classroom as well as some ideas for developing your own methods of positive reinforcement.

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    Positive reinforcement is a popular and effective classroom management tool, and can be particularly effective when working with children who have special needs. It can promote positive behavior and good study habits in your students if it is used correctly.

    Positive reinforcement can be in the form of rewards that are physical objects, privileges, or the omission of certain tasks. The key is adapting the rewards to the specific needs of your students. It is up to you to decide what works best for your classroom and your students.

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    Working with a Students in a New Classroom

    If this is a new classroom, you may not know your students well enough to know what will work for them. If this is the case, then I suggest either a written questionnaire or some type of private or group session where the students are able to express their likes and dislikes. Knowing your students is a key point in figuring out what will work for them.

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    Specific Examples of Positive Reinforcement

    For students who continuously act out due to disorders such as ADHD, try rewarding their good behavior with some organized free time. Coupons are a good way to do this. For example, if the student is constantly speaking out of turn, reward the act of NOT speaking out of turn with a coupon for a half hour of working on a craft project they are interested in.

    For students who are consistently late turning in their work, you can develop a method of positive reinforcement that rewards them by eliminating one homework assignment for every ten that are turned in on time. Make sure the student is very familiar and comfortable with the subject so that eliminating one assignment does not impact their overall knowledge of the subject.

    Reward good grades with coupons or points that allow the students to pick rewards from a selection. These do not have to be expensive rewards. They can be anything from designer pencils to craft projects that fit your budget.

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    Remember that one of the best ways to use positive reinforcement with students, including those with special needs, is by acknowledging progress. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for doing a good job. This not only gives the student some attention, but lets them know that you notice how hard they are working.