Ezeani and Sindiku (2000) define reinforcement as anything that increases the probability of occurrence of a response. It is a process whereby a particular response is maintained or strengthened by a stimulus contingent upon a response. According to Ezeani (2000) Reinforcement increases the probability of the response occurring again.
A teacher can influence the behavior of a student, by reinforcing or rewarding any elements in the student’s behavior that the teacher wishes to strengthen. For an event to be regarded as reinforcement therefore there has to be a desirable response which is followed by a desirable stimulus (e.g. a reward) to ensure that the earlier response is maintained or repeated. If the desired response or rather a better one is repeated after the stimulus has been applied, it can be concluded that the repeated response is due to the stimulus. The stimulus is known as reinforcement.
Skinner and other psychologists have shown that when an Animal makes any response involving some sort of behavior if this behavior is rewarded in some way, the animal tends to repeat it. Similarly, in Pavlov’s classical conditioning, the reinforcement is the stimulus, that is the unconditional stimulus (US), food, which elicited the unconditional response (UR), and salivation. In Skinner’s operant conditioning, the reinforcement is contingent upon the occurrence of the response. The reward conditions the animal to behave in a certain way. This same principle applies to people.
Reinforcement therefore implies the judicious use of desirable stimulus to improve the quality of or sustain a response or behaviour. This stimulus could be in the form of gifts, praises, commendations, clapping, and a word like very good or good student” from the teacher, etc.
TYPES OF REINFORCEMENT
Ezeani (2000) describes how Skinner through his experiments provides the basis for distinguishing two types of reinforcement.
1. Positive Reinforcement: A positive reinforcer is any stimulus whose presentation increases the probability that behavior will occur. The use of positive reinforcement to guide human behavior is quite prevalent. In general, a response reinforcement is a stimulus that is capable of eliciting a response that is desirable. It is like a gift or food that is provided when a behavior, we want an individual to learn, has been produced.
2. Negative Reinforcement: A negative reinforcement is a stimulus whose removal increases the probability that behavior will occur. It is not the same thing as punishment; rather, it involves the removal of an annoying or offending stimulus leading to an increase in a particular desired behaviour.
Both negative and positive reinforcement increases the occurrence of behaviors. With positive reinforcement, the organism emits a behavior to obtain a reward, with negative reinforcement however, the organism emits a behavior to secure relief from an aversive stimulus. Salami (1999) also adds social and continuous reinforcement to the aforementioned reinforcements.
3. Social Reinforcements: These are social events such as nearness, smiles, praise, thanking, touching, shaking hands, hugging, laughing, saying good, that’s clever of you to the students, etc.
4. Continuous Reinforcement: Under continuous reinforcement, every appropriate response is followed by reinforcement. Learning can be rapid with this type of schedule but when reinforcement ceases, extinction will follow.
THE EFFECT OF REINFORCEMENT ON ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING
According to Sindinku (2000), reinforcement is crucial to learning English Language. Hence, teachers should try to reinforce those behaviors that are desirable to their students. An effective application of reinforcement also ensures the mastery of language. Effective use of reinforcement by the teacher results in an increased rate of learning English by students. It can also be used as a classroom control device during teaching English subjects by the teacher. There are also processes and rationale for motivating or reinforcing learners in an ESL situation as Sadrock (2007) describes them:
1. Motivation helps students pay more attention in the class. Whenever the teacher is teaching a topic in the English Language, he can try as much as possible to promise gifts or rewards that can make students pay attention in the class, e.g. a teacher who teaches a difficult topic in English can tell students that if any students can answer the questions I want to ask at the end of the lesson, I will give such a student N1000.00 everybody will listen and pay a serious attention because everybody will want to collect a prize.
2. The use of motivation leads to self-discovery and independent inquiry. If the lesson is motivated, students will discover certain rules in English themselves. Even, they will be curious about how sentences are constructed, e.g. a teacher may enter the classroom and deliberately speak “bad English” as “I wented to Lagos” or “I have go home”. If students hear these wrong sentences, they will sense that something is wrong with the sentences. We can find students who can stand and correct the sentences themselves without being taught by teachers.
3. It stimulates students to higher achievements. In the teaching of English, if a teacher can reinforce students, there will be a higher achievement, e.g. a teacher who uses appropriate teaching methods/instructional materials will have a great achievement in the subjects he teaches. A teacher, for example, who wants to teach prepositions “Under, on, inside” etc. can adopt demonstration methods.
The teacher will carry a locker in front of students in the classroom, and he will take a book place it in the locker, and say “The book is on the locker, and the preposition on will be underlined in the sentence. The teacher will also put a book under the locker and say again “the book is under the locker, and the preposition under will be underlined in the sentence. Again, the teacher will open a locker put a book in it, and say “The book is inside the locker and the preposition inside will be underlined in the sentence. By doing all these, students will understand better what the word preposition means and they will be able to use them correctly in sentences. Therefore, learning will be highly achieved.
4. It helps in establishing cordial relationships between teachers and students, especially students who find learning less boring and confusing. As a language teacher, for example, you must try to apply motivational techniques that will sustain the interest of learners while teaching a topic in the English Language. Teacher-learners relationship, clapping, commendation, humor, etc. is important e.g. if a teacher asks a question. What is concord? Provided a student answers it correctly.
A teacher must ask other members of the class to clap for such students. Besides, on no account must a language teacher be severely harsh. This can instill fear in students. A good English Language teacher must be friendly and generous so that his learners can show interest in his teaching, and learning can be enhanced and achieved.
5. More learning outcomes are achieved. A language teacher must try as much as possible to use evaluative techniques during and after the lesson. This will assure him whether the objectives of the lesson are achieved or not. The learners who are reinforced often in the classroom will be always eager to learn more. By doing these, the teacher, at the end, will discover that learning outcomes have been achieved after he has evaluated his lessons. But if all these are not done, the objectives cannot be achieved.