What techniques can Ms. Rollison use to manage the disruptive and non-compliant behaviors of students like Patrick and Tameka?
Page 5: Differential Reinforcement: Introduction
People tend to repeat those behaviors for which they are reinforced or rewarded. A student who receives a smile from the teacher or looks of admiration from classmates for a particularly perceptive answer in class will probably strive to continue giving good answers. Conversely, people often avoid engaging in behaviors for which they are not reinforced. For example, a student whose classmates reject him because he calls people names or who loses recess as a result of clowning around in class will probably refrain from repeating that behavior in the future.
In some instances however, a student is reinforced for inappropriate behavior. When classmates laugh at a student’s antics, or a lesson is delayed because of misbehavior, the student is inadvertently rewarded for misbehavior and, consequently, disruptions can increase.
A teacher who is knowledgeable about reinforcement and who delivers it appropriately has effective options available with which to encourage positive behavior. Similar options can be used to decrease or eliminate negative behaviors. The rest of this module discusses a behavioral intervention called differential reinforcement and how it can be used effectively in the classroom.
In general, differential reinforcement involves either giving or withholding reinforcement, depending on whether the behavior is desirable or undesirable. Differential reinforcement techniques are designed to decrease instances of problem behaviors by:
- Giving a student reinforcement when a behavior (e.g., laughter or joking) occurs in the presence of one stimulus (with peers during free time)
- Not reinforcing the behavior in the presence of another stimulus (e.g., when the teacher is providing instruction)
When differential reinforcement is used consistently, student behaviors that are reinforced will increase, and student behaviors that are not reinforced will decrease or be eliminated entirely. A teacher who guides a student to engage in a behavior (e.g., joking) only in the presence of a particular stimulus (e.g., with peers during free time) is one who has established stimulus control.
Many school districts employ behavior specialists to assist teachers dealing with disruptive or non-compliant student behaviors. Because behavior specialists often use terminology and abbreviations to describe various types of differential reinforcement, we have included those terms and abbreviations in this module to help you to familiarize yourself with them.
Listen now as Joe Wehby explains more about differential reinforcement and how it might be used to control classroom behavior (time: 1:23).
Joe Wehby, PhD
As was mentioned in the interview, there are three types of differential reinforcement:
|Type||Abbr.||How/When To Use||Main Goal|
|Differential reinforcement of other behavior||DRO||
Reinforce the student when s/he refrains from engaging in the target behavior.
Example: Student receives a star for each interval he refrains from talking with his neighbor.
|Differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior||DRL||
Reinforce the student for engaging in the target behavior less often. Used for positive behaviors that occur too frequently.
Example: Student is rewarded for limiting the number of questions she asks during reading to 3 (versus 8).
|Differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior||DRI||
Reinforce the student when s/he engages in an identified behavior which is incompatible with the target behavior.
Example: Student receives a sticker for each interval he is on task vs. daydreaming at his desk.
The differences among the three types of differential reinforcement can be somewhat subtle. The most important thing to remember is to focus on the overall process of how differential reinforcement works.
Collecting Baseline Data
If you wish to decrease an unwanted behavior, it is important to know how often that particular behavior is occurring; that way, a teacher can verify whether any behavioral intervention is, in fact, having an effect. For example, Ms. Rollison can’t be sure that Patrick’s outbursts have decreased unless she actually counts how many outbursts he had per day before she started her intervention, and then compares that to the number of outbursts that he has per day after she implements her intervention.
Ms. Thibodeaux suggests collecting baseline data on some of Patrick’s behaviors. Click to hear what Ms. Rollison discovered (time: 2:09).
Now let’s take a look at when and how to use each of the three differential reinforcement strategies.