Operant conditioning is based on Thorndike’s “Law of Effect” (1898), in which it is proposed that
behaviours that are followed by positive responses are likely to be repeated and those that are
followed by negative responses, not repeated.
Skinner refined the Law of Effect by introducing “reinforcement” into the descriptions. Using
Skinner’s new description we end up with; those behaviours that are reinforced are repeated
(strengthened) and those not reinforced tend to dissipate (are weakened).
From a classroom management perspective, positive reinforcement is an essential strategy for
teaching students how to act and conduct themselves.
Positive reinforcement (e.g. praise) should be given for behaviours that are desirable, for
example, verbally answering questions in class. Initially, this should be done for all answers
given, regardless of whether they are correct. This will build a culture of answering questions.
As the behaviour in question become commonplace, the teacher should then both reduce the
frequency of the reinforcement and, as in our above example, only give it for correct answers.
Ultimately the teacher will reduce the frequency of the positive reinforcement to only those
responses of the highest calibre. This will create a culture of desired excellence in the students