Negative Reinforcement vs. Punishment in Elementary Schools


Teachers need to be armed with diverse classroom management techniques to promote good behavior and discourage unwanted behavior in elementary schools. Because not all students will be motivated by the same techniques, teachers can use either reinforcement or consequences as needed to solve disciplinary issues in a classroom. In an excerpt from the book "Learning Disabilities and Challenging Behaviors," published on the website LD OnLine, authors Nancy Mather and Sam Goldstein state that both punishment and negative reinforcement are effective classroom management tools, if used as soon as possible following unwanted behavior.

Negative Reinforcement

  • Negative reinforcement is actually a way to bring about positive behavior choices. The goal of negative reinforcement is to reduce unwanted behavior by strengthening a good behavior, according to Johnmarshall Reeve of The Gale Group in an article published on the website For example, in an elementary school classroom, students are rewarded by removing something that they do not like, such as homework or a test. Teachers using this method of classroom management are better able to focus on good behavior instead of concentrating on misbehavior.

Using Negative Reinforcement in Elementary Schools

  • Negative reinforcement can be very effective in motivating students to do their work. For example, if students use class time to complete an assignment, the teacher can opt to remove homework that would otherwise be given. Negative reinforcement could also be used when developing classroom seating charts. If the desks were originally placed in rows to help discourage talking during class, the teacher could design a more desirable seating chart to reward children for not talking during class. The teacher would be negatively reinforcing the students by removing the rows and allowing students to sit near peers.


  • Punishment is a consequence resulting from unwanted behavior. The goal of punishment is to decrease the likelihood of a student repeating the unwanted behavior in the future. According to an article published on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, appropriate forms of punishment can help ease a child's feelings of guilt for misbehaving. Teachers should make classroom rules clear and repeat them often, so children are able to make the connection between a broken rule and the subsequent punishment.

Use of Punishment in Elementary Schools

  • If an elementary student were to push another child, the teacher could choose to punish the child by the taking away the child's job of line leader. An article on the Responsive Classroom website recommends that teachers administer safe and effective punishment by calmly placing students in time out as a way to promote self control, while maintaining a child's dignity and integrity. If a student chooses to bring a prohibited item to school, such as a cell phone, the teacher could punish the child by confiscating the cell phone.

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