How to Determine What Is Reinforcing for Students
Reinforcement is very student specific. What is reinforcing to one individual may not be to another. Individual students often are reinforced by very unique and unusual things according to their interests and strengths. For example, we once had a student who loved to take apart vacuum cleaners as a reinforcer and another who found looking up the Latin names for various plants reinforcing. There are many ways to determine what is reinforcing for individual students or groups of students. Next we will discuss several of our favorites, including interviews and surveys, observations, and reinforcement journals.
Interviews and Surveys
How do you determine what is reinforcing to students? The first place to start is to ask them. You can do this in an interview or conversational format or in a more formalized manner through reinforcement surveys.2 Often students don't know what they are reinforced by or have never really thought about self-reinforcement, and it helps them to see what other students have tried. Reinforcement surveys provide this, in addition to suggesting many creative options that students and educators may have never thought of. Various sources offer premade reinforcement surveys. One of our favorites is Intervention Central's Online Reinforcer Survey Generator (www.jimwrightonline.com/php/jackpot/jackpot.php). Along with many other valuable and free tools for educators, this Web site has a link for customizing a reinforcement survey for individual students categorized by common functions of problem behavior (adult attention, peer attention, escape, tangible items) and include both academic and nonacademic items.
Don't overlook the power of asking parents for reinforcer ideas by also interviewing them or having them complete surveys. Parents know their children well and often come up with ideas that educators would never have the opportunity to observe or think of asking students about.
Another way to determine what is reinforcing to students is simply to observe what activities they choose when they have free access to do whatever they want or what they do a lot of in general both at school and at home.
We tell our students to always be thinking of new things that they would like to work for and add them to their reinforcement journals wth teacher approval. This can take the form of a simple spiral notebook that individual students use to brainstorm possible reinforcers in and add to on an ongoing basis.
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