Read an Excerpt
Session One: Acknowledgement, Encouragement and Building Positive
Say, "For a few moments, I want you to think back to your childhood, and remember:
- the ways you were acknowledged or encouraged; (Pause for a few moments.)
- the positive things people said to you or about you. (Pause for five seconds.)
"We remember the positive things our parents told us, and the negative.
When we are children, we tend to repeat in our head the things that are said about us. We believe them. We know we have the good qualities they said we had,
and that we are good at the things they said we were good at--and we have to work hard as young adults (or even mature adults) not to believe the things they said that we were bad at!
"Humans affect each other in every interaction. What are effective ways to encourage and build positive behaviors?"
Building Positive Behaviors
Trainer's Note: It is useful to illustrate the points below by drawing ascending steps on a flipchart like the diagram below.
Contingency Management teaches that positive reinforcers increase behavior.
When a person experiences something positive for a particular behavior, that behavior increases. You may have a high goal for a student--mark a "Goal
B+" (Positive Behavior) at the top of the stairs--but if you want her to achieve that goal, start with the current behavior. (Mark a "B+" on a middle step.)
It is important to find an appropriate (positive) behavior to reinforce. For example, if a young student has poor handwriting, try to find something on his paper to reinforce. Notice that in an approving way. For example, say in an interested and pleasant manner, "These letters are touching the line,"
or "You're putting the sentences together very well." This is especially important for students who have had little success in the classroom. Those who are achieving and doing well socially are already receiving many positive reinforcers in terms of good grades, teacher and parent approval and positive experiences with peers.
Create an opportunity to "catch them" doing something well. For example,
ask the student to do one part of a task after you know they understand it.
Or, ask a student to help you with a task or do something for someone else.
Then, thank them or note positively what they have done.
Praise is usually a positive reinforcer. You can tell if your praise or affirmation is a positive reinforcer for a student by watching to see if the behavior improves in the direction of the goal.
So Why Doesn't Praise
Some students don't seem to like praise and look sour when they get it. Their behavior certainly doesn't improve. Perhaps they found the praise embarrassing.
Sometimes students don't accept praise. They simply do not believe you--perhaps you said it was "great" and they do not think so.
A few children occasionally get worse immediately after excessive praise, as they are so accustomed to getting negative feedback that the positive feedback is anxiety-provoking. The child may try to stop the anxiety as soon as possible by doing something negative. (Make an arrow going down the steps on the flipchart drawing.)
If you give praise, and the behavior gets worse, you know it is not acting as a positive reinforcer for that child.
A Few Simple Rules for Building Positive Behaviors
Trainer's Note: You may wish to note the five points below on a flipchart in advance.
1. Give Believable Praise, Make It Specific.
While a child with a good self-concept who is accustomed to praise will react pleasantly to a glowing comment, students less accustomed to praise will often reject positive general comments as unbelievable. If your praise is specific,
they can verify that it is true. For example, a five-year-old will be pleased and believe your saying, "You made the back of that +D' straight and just the right size." He can observe the "D." He may not believe your saying, "You have the best printing in the world." Or,
you may want to recognize a student's effort with a classmate: "You listened to Guillermo when he really needed you to listen. That was being a friend."
Or, "Wow, this group knows how to cooperate."
"Specific praise" is not necessarily praise--the positive may be conveyed only in the adult's attitude and voice tone. The words can be descriptive.
Specific praise is an excellent instructional tool in that it can point out key variables important for the successful completion of a task. For example,
"You remembered a topic sentence at the beginning of that paragraph,"
or "I like the way the darker colors flow from one side of the painting to the other."
Specific praise can be used as a step in helping students develop intrinsic motivation. When a student asks you if something is good, and you know they have been receiving specific praise--so they know some key variables important to the task--give her or him a smiling look, indicating that it is good and say, "You tell me what's good about it."
2. Give Specific Praise, and Name the Quality.
Examples of this are: "I liked the way you just helped Nannette. You were giving happiness." "You didn't hit him when he called you a name.
You stayed in your self-respect and power. Good for you!" Or, "I appreciate you volunteering to help with that. You are so cooperative." Or, to a young child, "I like the way you thought about it and were able to stop and say
+arms are for hugging, not for shoving.' That was choosing peace."
Students remember what qualities you say they have. Your recognition of their qualities can be very important. It can begin a change for those who feel inadequate--altering their self-perception from negative to positive. Knowing one's own qualities is an important foundation for self-respect and self-esteem.
3. Be Genuine.
As human beings, we instantly perceive feelings. The words can be classified as those that give acknowledgement, encouragement or praise--but to have a positive effect they must be genuine.
How do you feel when someone gives you praise and you think they don't mean it?
It is your affection and love that are important to a person--those feelings give students the experience of being valued, and permission to appreciate their own work and efforts. We are all human beings. Love, recognition and being valued are what people want. Taking delight in a person, appreciative eye contact,
and respect are invaluable indicators of sincerity, easily perceived by two-year-olds,
eighteen-year-olds or forty-eight-year-olds. A simple appreciative glance or a "thumbs up" signal may be the best affirmation for some students.
A three-year-old girl with a just-finished painting is quite happy with a description accompanied with smiles and loving eye contact: "Wow, look at all the colors you used--red and blue and purple! And there are all sorts of circles and lines!"
That specific description actually has no "praise" in it at all, but acts as a positive reinforcer as the child feels valued with the affection received.
Occasionally, there are teachers who are frustrated with classroom behaviors who believe they are giving praise when they angrily say, "I like the way this side of the room is quiet." Human emotions are the most important part of the equation. Anger invites resentment and retaliation. How do we function in an atmosphere of anxiety, control by fear and resentment? . . . We survive,
but do we bloom? There's no substitute for real appreciation and love.
4. Praise and Encouragement Always Leave a Positive Feeling Within the Receiving
Sometimes people really try to praise or encourage, but end their comment with a "spoiler." For example, how does the husband feel when the wife says, "Honey, you did a great job cleaning the garage. It looks so organized.
I don't know why you don't keep it like that all the time. It's always such a mess! . . . " That was a spoiler! Or when the husband says to the wife,
"What a delicious dessert that was! Why can't you make something like that more often?" Or when the teacher says to the child, "You concentrated and finished your work quickly. Good job. If you'd only do that all the time,
it wouldn't be such a hassle every day." The comment started out well,
but when the comments turn to nagging or reminding others of past negative behaviors,
the positive feelings usually diminish quickly.
Effective and true acknowledgment, encouragement, recognition and praise leave a pleasant feeling in the mind. We need to communicate with students--what is the effect of each of our remarks? Even clear rules, high expectations and limits can leave a feeling of hope in the mind.
The delivery of your positive affirmation must adapt to the receiver!
We speak differently to people of different ages. With students as well, it is important to vary the tone of voice and manner of delivery according to the age and personality of the student, and your relationship. Cooing is great for babies, gushing for most two- to four-year-old girls. Some young children prefer a few quiet words or a happy glance. Boys tend to prefer praise delivered in a matter-of-fact way, especially after age nine. Watch their reaction to find if they are accepting of specific praise, but shy away from flowery words.
Many teenagers are like soft-boiled eggs: hard on the outside, soft on the inside. They may not seem to notice your praise--may shrug it off the hard exterior--but you know it has been effective when that behavior increases, when they want to spend more time near you and when the hard facade on their face fades. Initially give the "hard" students dry, matter-of-fact praise ("Not bad!")
or a little note. You can gradually increase the open positivity of the praise as they soften. Watch for a change in their behavior--if they are approaching you more and the behavior is growing in the direction of the praise, it is being received as a positive.
5. When a New Behavior Is First Beginning, Praise It Immediately.
It is appropriate to provide immediate feedback for a new positive behavior.
A few students will not work unless there is someone at their side. Consequently,
they usually get very little done. Provide them with a new behavior by doing the first problem with them, then saying, "You know how to do that. Great!
When you have done these three, hold up your hand." Make a mark at the end of the third problem. When you go over to reinforce him, increase the amount of problems he is to do before you come over again. Within a short time, the student will be working much more independently and getting much more done.
While frequent praise is often needed in establishing a new behavior, as the behavior becomes a habit, gradually reduce the praise. Occasionally you might praise the continuing effort. For example, say with a smile, "You've been remembering that homework every day."
¬2001. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Living Values
Activitiets for Young Adults by Diane Tillman. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health
Communications,3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.