Group Reinforcement Systems
School and class wide reinforcement systems often take the form of group-oriented contingencies: an entire class is reinforced based on the behavior of one student, a number of students, or the entire class.1 There are three types of group-oriented contingencies: independent, dependent, and interdependent.2 Interdependent and independent group-oriented contingencies are discussed in this chapter and dependent group-oriented contingencies in the next chapter on individual reinforcement systems.
Interdependent Group-Oriented Contingencies
In interdependent group-oriented contingences, the reinforcement of the group is based on the behavior of the group as a whole. The positive aspect of this is that peer pressure, which occurs naturally in the classroom, is used to encourage positive behavior. However, it can be negative if peers continually blame one student for not earning the reinforcement or a saboteur emerges who intentionally tries to keep the group from earning the reinforcement.
We have found that using interdependent group-oriented contingencies is usually highly effective and mirrors structures that exist in many corporations, businesses, and other organizations, so using them will help develop life skills that will serve students well in their adult life. Students learn to work together, monitor each other, and productively handle conflicts and problems to the benefit of the group.
Dividing a class into teams is a common and simple way of forming an interdependent group-oriented contingency. Teams are given names often based on academic content being covered (colors, shapes, continents, Native American tribes, and so on). The number of teams can vary, and the name variations are unlimited. Points are awarded to teams based on various positive behaviors exhibited—for example, the first team to line up, the first team showing the teacher they are ready for math, the first team where everyone is demonstrating appropriate listening skills. Then either the teams can work to simply "win" or the winning team can earn various reinforcers. The options are truly endless for creative educators.
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