I have a deep philosophical problem with rewarding kids for something that they are supposed to do as a matter of course. Perhaps I am just being stubborn in the face of the evidence supporting positive reinforcement, but why should I offer up rewards to my (non-emotionally disturbed 6th grade) charges just for remaining quiet and on task? Doesn't that send a poor message to the kids -- that normal behavior must be remunerated? Doesn't that show them how low our expectations for them have sunk? I have children of my own and I would never, for example, offer to pay them for doing everyday household chores; they are to do that because that is their responsibility as members of my family. Am I off base here?
For most people, this is a common view. parents for get the years spent shaping the behavior of their children such that they know how to act like responsible children. They know how to act and what is expected of them. They do not need elaborate behavior modification techniques and token reinforcements. Usually, some social praise for good behavior and gentle reprimands for bad behavior is sufficient.
However, some children have not been taught how to act and do not find academic work reinforcing to them. What is the teacher to do in this situation? Engelmann has observed:
The traditional educator often does not accept the possibility that a child may not come to the classroom with wide-eyed eagerness to learn. The reason may be that the educator doesn't view the "indifferent" or lazy child as his responsibility. For this child the school often becomes punishing. The child's initial indifference to academic learning becomes active resistance, and the child is labeled.
There is ample research showing (which Palisadesk alluded to) that it is difficult to teach a new behavior to a child through negative reinforcement techniques. A child can be reprimanded for bad behavior, but that won't necessarily teach the child the right behavior. Positive reinforcement is much more effective in changing behavior to a desired behavior.
What the teacher wants to do is shape the desired behavior by offering the minimum reinforcer that will elicit a change in behavior and then gradually fade the reinforcer as the desired behavior is achieved. Eventually the bad behavior will be extinguished and the good behavior will continue without a minimal reinforcer, such as verbal praise.
(Bear in mind that these techniques are effective with "non-emotionally disturbed" kids as well. It is thought that most emotionally disturbed kids are that way due to years of enduring a punishing environment.)