One of the earliest ways we build positive learning habits is by pairing learning with the activities the student would prefer to be doing. For some students, that’s a first/then activity board, for others, that’s using high interest manipulatives. For students with significant anxiety or trauma around learning, that means pairing instructional demands with preferred activities (non-contingent reinforcement). In my current classroom, I have students using all three strategies.
Using edibles for reinforcement, even non-continently, isn’t my preferred instructional strategy. But it’s a stepping stone to building learning habits. I have a student who, when school started less than a month ago, would tantrum every time we said it was time to do anything he perceived as “work.” He spent much of the day trying to get snacks out of his snack bag. We began pairing snacks from his snack bag with actively participating in academic work. Multiple times this week, I observed him to come independently to the table when told it was time for an academic task and sit with his snack bag expectantly waiting for the task. He is beginning to develop a new mental model and expectation of what school means. He is developing learning habits.
The next step has traditionally been hard for many of my students. These are students who are able to join learning activities, but do not persist in task completion. If the task becomes challenging (or boring) these students will mentally (or physically) “check out.” They do not (yet) have the learning habit of “seeing it through” probably because nobody has ever explained to them what the goal is that they are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately though perhaps unsurprisingly, most interventions (that should be a red flag right there!) for students who struggle with this learning behavior is compliance-based. The answer to “why should I have to do/finish this should never be “because I said so.” Targeted instruction in my classroom is focusing on teaching students about their goals and how to measure their own progress (short and long term). Creating progress monitoring habits will help students to persist in task completion without relying on compliance or building staff dependency.
More than content, teachers strive to instill a love of learning in students, especially those who do not see themselves as learners or who have not had positive experiences with school in the past. We do that by building relationships with our students and creating a culture of trust and risk-taking. We do that by teaching and fostering positive learning habits. Learning is about much more than ABC and 123.