Positive Practice is like a Magic Wand – Transform negative behavior and improve attention

There is a great deal of research supporting the effectiveness of positive practice. These procedures have been used to improve attention problems, aggression, sharing problems, homework, swearing, blurting out and many other inappropriate behaviors. Procedures can be used for leaving doors open (shut door ten times), forgetting to wash hands (go through the routine of washing five times), and messy workstations (desks/centers/rooms). This is called positive practice because the child has to practice the correct behavior numerous times.

Positive practice can also be used with academic problems because of its drill and practice features. Many students are unmotivated because they have not mastered an essential skill that is needed before the next academic skill can be taught. As skill deficits increase, the student becomes less and less motivated. At this point, I’m sure you can name at least 2 or 3 students that fit this mold. The drill and practice component of positive practice helps a student acquire and master the skill. It is particularly useful for spelling, mathematics facts, reading and writing skills that require significant practice for mastery.


Positive practice should be performed as soon as possible after the behavior you want to change. By performing the practice immediately, the negative episode or misbehavior is interrupted preventing a long chain of practiced negative behaviors. That being said, I understand that it is not always convenient to stop everything and implement a positive practice procedure. While the immediate practice is always the most potent in changing behavior, it is also acceptable to practice at a more convenient time. For example, the teacher is instructing a small group while the class is rotating through centers. A student rotating through centers continues to blurt and interrupt the classroom. The teacher may choose to ask the student to raise his hand before asking a question or sharing an idea. She may require him to practice this procedure two times and then return to her small group intervention. Later, during recess, she may ask the student to practice the procedure for asking a question or sharing a comment/idea during center/small group time (practice the hand raising procedure 10 times before returning to recess).

Do parents complain that their child WILL NOT do homework or say, “homework is a complete nightmare”, indicating that a decrease in tasks sent home is necessary?

Goal: Increase positive behavior during the completion of homework.

Solution: Initially, you want to decrease the inappropriate behaviors you are seeing when it is time for homework. First, you will need to (1) choose an appropriate time to complete the homework (as soon as you get home from school, after a snack, after 30 minutes of free time…) (2) choose a homework area or location (3) make a homework tools box (the box will contact things typically needed for homework…pencil, calculator, crayons, scissors). The toolbox is important!!! I know the idea seems silly; however, it will be part of your positive practice procedure. (4) provide a clear beginning and ending (use visuals like a visual timer or schedule to show progression). In other words, showing the child how close he is to being finish. Just placing a worksheet in front of him doesn’t necessarily show a clear ending point (for most children, the amount of TIME a task requires is a huge factor).

Start every homework session the same way. Ask the child to go get the homework toolbox and sit in the designated homework area. If negative behaviors arise with the mention of homework, calmly walk over get the homework toolbox and sit in the designated area. Ask the child to put the homework toolbox up and then allow him/her 5 minutes before asking to get the toolbox once again. Continue the procedure until successful.

Motivational Ideas To Implement During Homework Completion:

1. Random, on-task timer with points as reinforcement for attending and working. Make a 10-15 minute recording of silence and beeps (old school way) set your smart phone timer to go off at random incriments of time. Play the recording or start the timer as soon as you give the direction that it is “time for homework get your toolbox.” The child will be reinforced if he is on task when he hears the beeping sound. For example, the child is sitting at the table getting his pencil out of his homework toolkit and the recording beeps. You will walk over and give him a favorite snake item. You may also utilize a point system. Give the child a sticker, happy face, checkmark… when the recording beeps. After homework is completed, he may redeem the points for a special treat or surprise (2 pts=favorite dessert after dinner…).

2. Mystery motivators – keep the reinforcing item a mystery surprise until after homework is completed

3. Magic pens are very effective. One pen in the set is filled with invisible ink; the other pens are used to make the invisible ink visible. A box is placed in the upper right-hand corner of each worksheet. Some of the boxes have an invisible star in them. When the child completes a worksheet, he colors the box to see if the star appears. If there is a star, he receives a mystery motivator. (Find invisible ink pen sets on Amazon)

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