Sparking Success: How to Improve Learning Behaviors through Positive Reinforcement

By Jess Corinne
December 9, 2021

As an Educational Specialist myself, I have always prided myself on maximizing learner engagement and, thus, expediting progress through positive reinforcement and the fun-factor. If learners feel seen, heard and understood, they are more likely to lean into discomfort and to challenge themselves towards success. Motivators such as positive praise and token-based systems can ignite a profound drive in learners. As a result of this, Learnfully developed a research-based reward system, Success Sparks, that are used as a driving force throughout instructional sessions. We reward effort and not accuracy for it is effort that cascades change in performance and underlying ability. Let’s explore why and how Success Sparks work to develop, strengthen and apply our learner’s skills to guide them towards realizing, then reaching their full potential.

Start with Why

Token Reward Systems have been used for centuries to encourage and shape desired behaviors because they enhance intrinsic motivation so that individuals can conjure up the strength they need to face adversity and overcome learning obstacles. Research with individuals in classroom settings using token economies has been firmly established the efficacy of token reinforcement in altering a wide range of responses (Kazdin, 1977). In a study conducted by Gonzaga, educators utilized a token reward system with preschool, elementary, middle, and high school learners experiencing behavioral challenges and found great success.   The majority of individuals respond positively to rewards. For those who do not, we differentiate our use of positive reinforcement accordingly. 

How it Works

Here’s how our Educational Specialists use the Success Sparks System:

  • Break the session down into smaller chunks of time. Waiting an entire instructional session to earn a Success Spark can seem like too big of a goal and many learners will lose interest therefore impacting the efficacy of the system.
  • Choose up to three behaviors to address at one time, rewarding effort over accuracy. We select a behavior that your child is already doing well, one behavior that needs a little improvement, and one challenging behavior to allow learners to see and feel success one step at a time. 
  • Create an appealing reward menu or game board with a variety of learning tasks. Our Educational Specialists set an agenda at the start of each session to maintain clear goals, then offer rewards worth a variety of Success Sparks to keep it exciting.
  • Frame the desired behaviors in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t sound the word out aloud,” we create a goal like, “Say the word in a burst.” Using positive reinforcement, state which behavior we want to see so we can reward the good behavior with a Success Spark.
  • Place a Success Spark on their chart as soon as they earn one. We offer immediate acknowledgement for good behavior by giving our learners a Success Spark for meeting his goals. 

Small Steps to Big Goals

Studies have proven the efficacy of successive approximations or baby steps towards a larger goal – one step at a time, in other words. Once a learner earns a set number of Success Sparks (small steps), our Educational Specialists reward them with a handwritten note and a Spark Award in the form of ribbons (big goals). Many of our learners, then, hang the ribbons on their wall to serve as a constant reminder of the hard work and dedication they put into our sessions. As their efforts unfold, their collection of ribbons grows. This form of delayed gratification can be difficult to employ as a motivating force which is why the ​​Success Sparks are in place for immediate inspiration towards the larger goal.  

Learnfully’s Educational Specialists are experts in positive reinforcement and are loyal to personalizing their approach to meet each and every learner’s needs. The use of a structured, reliable system such as Success Sparks dramatically improves learner engagement and grit so that they can achieve their goals and feel confident while doing so. Spark Success in your child by enrolling in one of our many programs, your learner will assuredly find joy in the learning process as a result. 

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