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Strategy Spotlight: Catch them being good

Many of you familiar with the world of education or behavior management have heard the phrase “catch them being good” in some form or another. The philosophy behind this is simple. If you have behaviors, attitudes, or actions that you want to see more of in class, you identify and positively acknowledge them as you see them happening naturally in the daily life in your classroom. Research in Applied Behavior Analysis shows us that receiving positive reinforcement is the fastest way to promote and increase positive behavior. Receiving that reinforcement from a teacher will cement the skill in a student and encourage others to follow suit.

One of the strengths of the immersion program is the abundance of natural models of academic and social behaviors and skills available for students on the autism spectrum. In our immersion classrooms we often prompt students who ask for help with the phrase “Look at your friends” or with a gesture to their classmates. We may also choose to redirect 1-2 students who are off task by starting to praise or reward those who are on task. Students not receiving any type of reinforcement often will stop and look to see WHY their classmates are being singled out and then adjust their behavior to receive the same reinforcement.  


Here are some tips for catching students being good in an immersion classroom

  • Be specific in your reinforcement. Do not simply tell some students “Good job”. In an immersion classroom, you want to make it clear what is being rewarded or reinforced. Phrases like “good looking-eyes” with younger students or “thank you for having your homework ready” with older students serves not only to reward one group, but to remind the students who are still working towards the goal about your expectation or direction.


  • Vary your students receiving reinforcement.  If you are always praising the same student, other members of the class or group may believe that the PERSON and not the BEHAVIOR is what is being recognized.
  • Vary how many students you acknowledge. Ideally, you will want to reinforce the first few students to get everyone else moving towards compliance with the expectation or direction. You will not always be able to acknowledge every student who eventually shows the correct behavior, but you do want to make sure that your students who have a long road to go occasionally are being rewarded as well. Remember positive reinforcement builds positive skills, so make sure you are reinforcing those who are still developing the skills!
  • Use proximity. If you have one student in particular who is still developing a skill or behavior, praise and reinforce the students physically nearest that student who is still learning. That draws their attention more quickly.
  • Mix up your reinforcement. The preferred form reinforcement would be verbal praise or a positive gesture, as it is more natural. It is also easier to give, as you always have your smile and voice with you. That being said, don’t discount the power of the occasional sticker, stamp, or even a single M&M, Skittle, or cracker. In my experience, even high school students occasionally like a treat or sticker.
  • Do not engage with students who want to talk about your reinforcement.  Many of our students on the autism spectrum love to argue, look for loopholes, and rationalize things. Don’t allow students to engage you in a debate of your reinforcement choices. Simply reply with something like “I was looking for a couple of people who had their work ready. Now we are moving on. Maybe next time.” This reinforces the direction you were giving, the behavior you wanted to see, and the end of the conversation.
  • Reward good character, not just good academic behavior. Remember teaching good character is the goal of any behavior system. We don’t just want kids to comply with rules, but demonstrate kindness, respect, trustworthiness, and responsibility. Pairing character words with your compliment helps students understand the meaning of these bigger ideas. If you see a student struggling to remain calm in a stressful situation, you can comment, “Nice keeping your hands to yourself” to prompt and reinforce their progress. IF you see a student helping someone else, you can comment what a great citizen that student is being.
  • Catching kids being good benefits adults as well. It feels better to have positive interactions with students. It is more pleasant to compliment, smile, and reward than to reprimand, punish, or take privileges. As someone who works with children who are still learning and developing, it is a joy to be their cheerleader and booster!

Complimenting children on any aspect of play with you, work they are doing, or interactions they engage in should be employed quite a bit. It is easy to fall into playing or doing various other activities with children and forgetting to talk. But at school, we should constantly find ways to give the children positive attention and compliments. Even engaging in some activities is in itself a reason for complimenting the child. These nice, positive interactions with adults are very important to our little learners as well as our oldest students. They sense we are happy. They feel pride in their abilities. They know what is rewarded and what to strive for.  Overall, it engages the children in interactions where they get to feel good just by being there and that more than anything else promotes good behavior.

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Character, Leadership, and Immersion

-How do we eliminate bullying with so many students from different backgrounds and abilities?

-How do we teach students to embrace students of all abilities as members of the class?

-How do we make sure teachers and students alike respect and appreciate everyone for their unique gifts and talents?

One key difference that makes the Academic and Social Immersion Model successful is the complete integration of character education and leadership development for all of our students. “Character Education” and “Leadership” are buzz words in today’s society. They catch our attention as attributes we desire to be present in our daily lives. However at Oakstone, these words are much more than just buzz words. Character and leadership are foundational.  

Oakstone aims to educate the whole child through quality individualized education- understanding that children are unique and education is not one size fits all. So teaching character education in an environment that is already going beyond academics to cultivate social skills and hold students to high accountability standards comes very naturally to us.

At Oakstone we desire to ask and answer the question, “What DO our students need to learn to succeed in the 21st century?” And we want to consider not only academic success, but personal and social success as well. We know that traits like honesty, respect and responsibility will make all the difference in future relationships and opportunities for our students.

For the character education at Oakstone we have adopted the character traits of: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship, following the Josephson Institute’s Pillars of Character model. Students learn these words starting in preschool and elementary through monthly themed activities, assemblies and service projects. In middle school and high school students began a series of 3 character education classes- each class serving as a building block with goals and objectives unique to the developmental age of the students.

For the leadership component at Oakstone we developed our student leadership teams which are comprised of students in grades 3-12 who are passionate about their school and serving their fellow students. These students serve as ambassadors for the student body by bringing ideas and concerns from the student body to faculty and administration.

A few of the projects student leadership has implemented the past few years include: peer tutoring, annual school dances, new student ice cream social, purchasing the school mascot costume and flag as well as the gaga pit and 4 square in the air activities for the socialization courtyard, rewriting the middle school/high school’s dress code and technology policies and spearheading the adoption of 1:1 Chromebooks for grades 5th-12th.

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, character is a part of every employee’s annual evaluation. The adults are expected to model and lead by example for the students in areas including respect, citizenship, and trustworthiness. Not many adults can embrace feedback in these areas, but our teachers do because they set that tone and establish the culture. As an Academic and Social Immersion Model we require leadership from the top down in these vital areas.

Without character education and leadership development, we would not see the results we see, especially in the middle and high school classes. These pieces are at the core of not only the definition of Academic and Social Immersion, but the success of it as well!