Chapter 6: Reflection for Action Recall the scenario presented in your text: Ms. Jefferson was concerned about her students’ lack of interest in reading in the seventh grade. She concluded that they needed more immediate and tangible rewards. She needs to devise a program that would provide rewards for students’ reading achievements. What should this program include?
Now think about how you would approach this problem using the RIDE ACRONYM.
Reflection In order to answer this question, reflect on some of the topics we have explored in this chapter including principles of behavioral learning theory, reinforcement, punishment, managing behavior, and influences of behavioral learning theory on instruction.
Evaluate the information you learned on behavioral learning theory, reinforcement, punishment, managing behavior. Does any of this apply to Ms. Jefferson’s dilemma?
Reflect on the information you learned about reinforcements. How can Ms. Jefferson use reinforcements to increase students’ interest in reading?
You recall that different schedules of reinforcement are more effective than others. How can Ms. Jefferson use this information in her reading rewards program?
Recall the information on shaping. How can Ms. Jefferson use shaping to increase students reading?
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Ms. Jefferson can use information on behavioral learning theory, reinforcement, punishment, and managing behavior to design a program that increases students reading activity.
You remember that a reinforcer is an environmental event that increases the strength of a behavior such as a sticker, a candy bar, or an approving smile. In other words, a reinforcer is a consequence of behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will be performed again. Ms. Jefferson could reinforce student understanding of the text by requiring student teams to demonstrate literary content knowledge in order to receive a reward. Consequently, the teams with the greatest understanding will earn weekly prizes. Based on this information, you conclude that reinforcers are important to this problem so you decide to gather more information about the kinds of reinforcers and their uses in the information-gathering phase.
You recall that schedules of reinforcement refer to the frequency with which reinforcement is provided. Schedules of reinforcement influence the speed, continuity, and persistence of behaviors. Continuous reinforcement schedules provide reinforcement after every occurrence of a behavior. Intermittent schedules of reinforcement provide reinforcement only some of the time. You recall that such schedules can be either variable or fixed but you need to gather further information to determine how Ms. Jefferson can use this information to improve reading.
If we waited for a child to perform a complex behavior before reinforcing that behavior, we might not provide much in the way of reinforcement. The child may not yet be able perform such behaviors. You remember an example of shaping from your textbook that involved a student learning cursive writing. It explained that the first time a child writes the letter a, it may not resemble what the teacher considers a cursive a, and it would not be the desired behavior. However, if the teacher reinforces the child’s attempts to write the letter a as each one comes closer to the correct form, he/she is shaping the child’s behavior. The child is gradually getting closer to performing the behavior at the standard we are aiming for. Ms. Jefferson can use shaping by giving rewards to students who show they are reading and reflecting upon what they have read on a regular basis. To determine the substance of student reflections, Ms. Jefferson could collect their journals two times per week. If students accumulate eight rewards for high-quality journal entries, they will be able to attend a book-themed pizza party.
Information Gathering You realize that you will need more information to help Ms. Jefferson design activities that will help her students become interested in reading. To assist you in your information gathering activities consider the following questions.
After reflecting, you remember that Ms. Jefferson can use reinforcers to increase students’ interest in reading. Refer to the section on reinforcers in your text, what information will Ms. Jefferson need to gather about her class in order to design an effective reinforcer?
For the remainder of the questions assume that Ms. Jefferson has initiated a rewards program in which classes where each child reads three books in a month would receive a free pizza party at a local pizzeria.
Using your text as a reference, what schedule of reinforcement is Ms. Jefferson using? Evaluate this method against other schedules of reinforcement, what are the benefits and/or limitations to this approach?
Ms. Jefferson would like to gather information on the effectiveness of her program. Whom in the school can she contact for information that might help her evaluate her program?
Ms. Jefferson’s reward system (because it is based on quantity of books read rather than quality) may have negative implications. What information could you gather to help you decide if this is so?
Ok, let’s consult the experts!
Ms. Jefferson should look at the research evidence on the use of positive and negative reinforcement for reading. It would also be important for her to conduct a detailed appraisal of what motivates avid readers in seventh grade so she can find ways to encourage the same behaviors in her students. In addition, it would be helpful to ask other seventh grade teachers how they increase their students’ interest in reading. Do they see students taking out books from the library on a frequent basis? Ms. Jefferson should find out when the students complete their reading. If they are all reading their books at the end of the month and just before the deadline, they are not showing interest or engagement with the task. She might also want to see if her students are reading books appropriate to their skill levels. If they are reading books that are too easy, they may not be benefiting from the experience as much as they could. She should also talk to the struggling readers in the class to find out how they feel about her strategy for motivating students.
After reading, you determine that Ms. Jefferson’s pizza program reflects an intermittent schedule of reinforcement because reinforcement is provided only some of the time. Now you must differentiate between variable and fixed intermittent schedules. Fixed intermittent schedules allow the learner to predict when reinforcement will be provided. The schedule can be based on the passage of time (e.g., the first desired behavior after a 5-minute period) or on the number of behaviors performed (e.g., every five homework assignments submitted). When the schedule is based on the passage of time, it is called an interval schedule. When the schedule is based on the number of behaviors performed, it is called a ratio schedule. If a student knows that he or she will get a homework pass after turning in five homeworks on time, she can predict when she will get her next homework pass. Variable schedules of reinforcement are unpredictable. For example, if I press my garage door opener, I expect the door to open. Many times, however, it does not open. I may have to press the opener any number of times before it works. Because the door opens some of the time, I continue to press the opener rather than replacing it because it works often enough for my needs. The same pattern of reinforcement happens every day to students in the classroom, as their correct answer, punctuality, and offers of kindness are sometimes reinforced and sometimes not. Sometimes the teacher will provide praise for a correct answer and other times she will just move on to another question for another student. Like fixed schedules, variable schedules can be based on the passage of time (variable interval) or based on the number of responses. Because the student cannot predict when he might be reinforced, and assuming that the possible reinforcement is in fact likely to increase the probability of performing the behavior again, the student will persist in the behavior. The students get a pizza party if each student in a class reads three books in a month. The reinforcement schedule is a fixed interval schedule because the reinforcement will occur at the end of each month. This is an effective reinforcement schedule because the reinforcement is predictable meaning the learner has more control over when he receives reinforcement. During the early acquisition of behaviors, fixed schedules are helpful as they allow the learner to predict when the next reinforcement will occur. They can quickly learn the relationship between the behavior and the consequence.
Ms. Jefferson can gain additional insight into both reading frequency and quality by contacting the school librarian. Perhaps he/she can offer information on the book borrowing habits of her students—is the increase in borrowing due specifically to her students, or are there other factors at work within the school and community? Perhaps the librarian can share observations as to which students are “regulars” and at what times during the month her students tend to visit the library. The librarian might also be able to provide Ms. Jefferson with information about the kind of material her students are reading—is it generally challenging material for seventh graders? Are many of the students interested in detective stories, or are they interested in biographies of sports heroes? If the librarians are not able to provide this level of detail, perhaps they would be willing to keep a sign-out sheet at the front desk for Ms. Jefferson’s students to complete a few brief questions—the titles and type of books they check out during the month. (She could offer an incentive on a variable ratio schedule to be sure the students fill in this information). The school reading specialist is another candidate likely to help Ms. Jefferson gather information about the quality of her students’ reading. Through classroom games or standardized tests, the reading specialist could work with Ms. Jefferson to develop a benchmark of her students’ abilities early in the pizza party reading program and compare the results measured at the end of the year. While it would be difficult to trace improvement in recognition of particular vocabulary words, increased abilities in reading comprehension would be a useful measure of the students’ progress and overall quality of reading.
The question of the students’ reading quality comprises whether the students are developing their individual reading capabilities and if they are actually comprehending the books as they read them. Ms. Jefferson’s program is an example of behavioral learning theory—by introducing this pizza party reading program, Ms. Jefferson has offered a change in environment for her students and through this change, is promoting desirable behavior. If the program is working, students are altering their behavior by reading more books to achieve the party as a reward. Students are also trying to avoid the unfavorable outcome of being the student that prevents the class from receiving the reward. While an increase in reading frequency can be inferred from the increase in book borrowing, there is little evidence that the students, or Ms. Jefferson for that matter, are putting emphasis on the quality of reading based on the initial description of the program. However, through sheer increase in reading volume, there is the potential that students will gain vocabulary skills and the ability for self-regulation of their reading activities in the future. These seventh graders will hopefully develop reading competence that will lead to self-efficacy and a personal interest in reading, but this will depend on whether Ms. Jefferson can add elements to her program that will promote intrinsic motivation within her students.
Decision Making Next, you will have to help Ms. Jefferson make some decisions on whether to continue with her pizza program and if so, determine if any changes should be made to it. To help you do so consider:
Are there any negative implications of using rewards to increase behavior?
If Ms. Jefferson determines that students are not retaining anything they have read, what techniques could she use to increase the quality of students reading?
How can Ms. Jefferson change her reading program to focus more on quality?
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Providing rewards can have some negative consequences. The 7th graders may look intrinsic motivation for reading or pick easy books just to meet the goal.
Upon reflection of Ms. Jefferson’s program, one must first examine the frequency of the students’ reading—whether all of the students are indeed reading more books and if they are reading them more often. Ms. Jefferson introduced the pizza party as an extrinsic reward designed to improve the frequency of reading—the desired behavior. The promise of a pizza party for the entire class is an example of a group contingency program in which the reinforcement is only awarded if all the students meet the reading goal. As seventh graders, Ms. Jefferson’s students are most likely quite concerned with peer approval and are influenced by the peer pressure to “do their part” toward achieving the party. Ms. Jefferson is controlling her students’ behavior in this manner, but does this reward serve as positive incentive for her students? If all of her students value the pizza party as a positive consequence and have the capacity to read three books a month, they should respond with the desired behavior. The law of effect suggests that once the students have enjoyed the pizza reward as a result of their reading, they are likely to continue the same behavior with increased frequency. However, Ms. Jefferson’s program is structured on an intermittent fixed schedule of reinforcement. The fact that students must read three books in order to achieve the award is an example of a fixed ratio schedule, and the fact that the three books must be read within a designated time period adds an element of the fixed interval schedule of reinforcement. The pizza party does not occur without the designated number of books read (the ratio), but the time element (the interval) certainly might influence the students’ productivity at certain times of the month—especially as the month draws to a close and just after a new month starts. As long as Ms. Jefferson uses this type of reinforcement, her students are likely to continue reading with steady frequency. But because the increased reading is achieved through this fixed and completely predictable schedule, Ms. Jefferson will need to address a drop-off in reading frequency if she wants to or needs to stop the pizza parties at some point in the future.
If students have little knowledge of what they read, the teacher may wish to create reading contracts with them. The contracts would require students to explain what they have read to Ms. Jefferson after they finish a pre-designated number of chapters from each book. This will allow her to positively reinforce students with praise as they gradually approximate the desired behavior. In addition, Ms. Jefferson could reduce or eliminate weekend homework, pop quizzes, or book reports for those students who keep a book journal that describes their personal reflections of the text they are reading each night. The students who keep the journal could also work in groups to present commercials or short skits about the texts they have read. Working as a group may serve as a form of reinforcement for seventh graders who wish to have peer approval. The group work could be videotaped and played back for all to see at the next monthly pizza party. Students also need to learn how to manage their studies and reading behaviors. It may be helpful for student readers to maintain a diary that states their goals, self-instructions, self-observations, self-evaluations, and self-consequences. It is important to refrain from issuing negative punishment towards those persons who do not wish to read. The use of negative punishment may cause students to associate reading activities with negative outcomes. However, positive punishment may be helpful to use in this case, if the teacher takes away classroom reading time in response to student disruptions. This presents reading as a privilege, not a chore.
Perhaps Ms. Jefferson can change the program from simply reading three books to include submitting a paragraph summary of each book, or vary the requirement by asking for a written summary one month, or even asking the students to create a diorama of an important scene. Based on the information she gathers about the type of books the students like to read, Ms. Jefferson could change the program completely by creating a Jeopardy-type category game. Students could select from a wide variety of subject areas like sports, insects, famous places, or history and win points for their team by giving a brief example of how a book they read includes elements of one of the areas. In each of these cases, the students could still obtain the pizza party reward, but Ms. Jefferson has a means of measuring reading comprehension and quality.
Finally, you should help Ms. Jefferson create ways for her to evaluate her pizza program. To do so consider:
Has Ms. Jefferson succeeded in increasing the frequency of students’ reading? What about the quality of their reading?
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Ms. Jefferson can evaluate whether the quality and quantity of student reading has increased in her class after using these techniques. If the students continue to read three or more books per month and comprehend what they have read then the intervention was successful. It is important to see if student interest in reading stays high over time or decreases, requiring the teacher to devise a new strategy. Ms. Jefferson should keep track of which students are reading and how quickly they report having read a book. She should develop some brief assignment to assess the students’ understanding of what they read. To evaluate the success of the seventh grade reading program, Ms. Jefferson could consult her class graphs to see if the children are still reading at the same rate even after the nature of the incentive changed to obtain the pizza party. She should invite the reading specialist to come back to measure the students’ progress in the games and on the tests she administered at the beginning of the program, and should also get feedback from the librarians to see if the students continue to visit the libraries with the same frequency as when the pizza party program was first introduced. Ms. Jefferson should also ask her classes, and in some cases individual students, for feedback about the program and their attitudes about reading when they started the year and have them compare these to how they feel about reading now. She could also speak with her colleagues to compare the frequency of reading in her classes to that of the students in the other seventh grade classes. Ms. Jefferson could also meet with the students individually to congratulate them on their individual total number of books read and talk with them about their interest in reading and how they feel the quality of their own reading has or has not improved. In terms of the long-range success of the pizza party reading program, Ms. Jefferson could check in with these seventh graders as they become eighth graders—how regularly did they read over the summer without the pizza party incentive, and what are their attitudes toward reading as they enter the next grade level? If Ms. Jefferson has documented that she has motivated her students to read more frequently and has also devised a plan to further spark her students’ interest through quality reading outcomes, she can feel confident that her program is a success.