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 behaviour of a student, by reinforcing or rewarding any elements in the student’s behaviour 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 reinforce.
Skinner and other psychologists have showed that when an Animal makes any response involving some sorts of behaviour, if this behaviour is rewarded in some ways, 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), 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 form of gifts, praises, commendation, 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. These are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
1. Positive Reinforcement: A positive reinforcer is any stimulus whose presentation increases the probability that behaviour will occur. The use of positive reinforcement to guide human behaviour is quite prevalent. In general, a response reinforce is a stimulus which is capable of eliciting a response that is desirable. It is like a gift or food that is provided when a behaviour, we want an individual to learn, has been produced.
2. Negative Reinforcement: A negative reinforcement is a stimulus whose removal increases the probability that behaviour will occur. It is not same thing as punishment; rather, it involves removal of an annoying or offending stimulus leading to an increase in a particular desired behaviour.
Both negative and positive reinforcement increase the occurrence of behaviours. With positive reinforcement, the organism emits a behaviour to obtain a reward, with negative reinforcement however, the organism emits a behaviour to secure relief from an aversive stimulus. Salami (1999) also adds social and continuous reinforcement in aforementioned reinforcements.
3. Social Reinforcements: These are social events such as nearness, smiles, praise, thanking, touching, shaking hand, 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 behaviours that are desirable in their students. An effective application of reinforcement also ensures the mastery of language. Effective use of reinforcement by the teacher results in 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 of and the rational 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 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 enquiry. If the lesson is motivated, students will discover certain rules in English themselves. Even, they will be curious of 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 student hear these wrong sentences, they will sense that something is wrong with the sentences. We can find students that 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 on the subjects he teaches. A teacher, for example, who wants to teach preposition “Under, on, inside” etc can adopt demonstration methods.
Teacher will carry a locker in front of students in the classroom, and he will take a book and place it in the locker and say that “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 and put a book I 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 relationship between teachers and students, especially students 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 English Language. Teacher-learners relationship, clapping, commendation, humour 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 student. Besides, on no account must a language teacher be severely harsh. This can instill fears 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 that 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.
APPLICATION OF MOTIVATION TO CLASSROOM TEACHING IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Ibukunle (2000) points out that motivation is central to learning and achievement in the classroom. Teaches concerned with achievement in the classroom must be knowledgeable in the techniques of motivating pupil’s behaviour in English Language. Ezeani (2000) mentions:
1. The learning materials should be meaningful and related to the goals of students. This can be done if the teacher can make the students realize what the lesson will help them achieve in life. For example, an English Language teacher must remind his students of the benefits that they can derive in the course, or tell them the world of work, such as teaching, the mass media, public relation industry with politicians and industrialists as targets, publishing industry as editors, proof-readers and public letter writers etc. By doing these, students will have keen interest the course/subject.
2. The teacher should provide students with specific tasks. This may be in form of project work, reading assignment, practical, demonstration etc. They are expected to provide solutions to specific problems. For example, a teacher can deliberately give students a difficult topic in English as group assignment, or projects which will make them find solutions to it themselves. This will prevent lazy habits among them.
3. The teacher should provide the students with immediate feedback which will enable students to know their performance in the class and thus motivating their interests for learning. For instance, if a teacher has conducted a test or has given an assignment on any topics in English, he should, after finishing marking, give their scripts back for the purpose of motivation.
4. The teacher should also recognize the concept of individual differences in learning. He should therefore design his lesson bearing in mind the individual differences. In the teaching of English Language, for example, a teacher should know that students are different in assimilation, so, a teacher should start from known to unknown and from simple to complex so that students will be able to achieve their goals on the aspects of English Language.
5. The judicious use of reinforcement e.g praise helps in motivating learners. In the classroom, a language teacher should try as much as possible to reinforce his learners so that they can achieve their goals. For instance, clapping, praise, reward, commendation, saying Good or very Good of you can motivate learners in the classroom to achieve their goals in English Language.
6. Positive relationship should be developed and sustained between the learners and the teachers. For example, if a teacher wants his students to master the aspects of language and to achieve their goals in English Language, he should advise, motivate, help and sustain the interest of students in the course. On no account should a teacher be harsh or unfriendly with students he is teaching.
7. Co-curricular activities like school debates, club activities, games, should be organized frequently for students to demonstrate their hidden talents. They derive satisfaction and self-confidence by so doing.
8. Support and encouragement should be given to high anxious students. For instance, when a teacher is teaching any aspects in English Language, take home assignments and open book exams, teacher’s supervision and feedback are useful. These methods will make them discover their weaknesses in many areas of English Language.