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4-to-1 Ratio

4-to-1 Ratio

Last month I introduced the 4-to-1 ratio with positive behavior management. The 4-to-1 Ratio is a practice in which teachers increase the number of positive interactions with students as compared to negative interactions. That ratio is to provide 4 positive interactions (e.g. friendly conversation, nonverbal acknowledgement, praise, and so forth) to every 1 negative interaction (e.g. punishment, criticism, and so forth) for each student. This month we’ll discuss how to start implementing the 4-to-1 ratio in your classroom.

The first step in implementing the 4-to-1 ratio is understanding what constitutes as acknowledgment of different types of behavior; which isn’t as obvious as it may sound. Your acknowledgment may be either verbal or an appropriate, and easily understood, physical gesture (a thumbs-up signal, a high five, or simply a nod, for example). Whether the behavior is positive or negative, the tone of your acknowledgment should be one of respect for the student. The goal is to draw attention to the behavior. Verbal acknowledgment of desirable behavior is easy: “You’ve done an excellent job in correctly finishing the assignment before the end of class.” Verbal acknowledgment of an undesirable behavior isn’t always so obvious: “This is the time to remain quiet and in your seats, with your eyes on me. Thank you.”

A few other tips to keep in mind when implementing the 4-to-1 ratio.

  • Acknowledge the behavior immediately after it takes place. The timing of the acknowledgment is just as important as the tone.

  • Be specific in your acknowledgment. Include a precise description of the behavior in your acknowledgment.

  • Make it sincere. As most of us know all too well, students are just as capable of identifying sincerity in another person as adults are (sometimes even more so).

  • Vary your acknowledgment. Don’t get into the habit of repeating the same verbiage over and over again.

  • Make your acknowledgment student referenced. In other words, acknowledge the effort that a student puts forth in comparison to how he or she has done in the past; NOT how the student behaves when compared to other students.

While it’s important to always strive to provide acknowledgment in as positive a manner as possible, none of us are perfect. Eventually you will respond negatively, particularly if the student behavior is extreme. And that’s okay! The important thing to remember is the ratio. As long as you respond positively 4 times more often than you do in a negative way, your implementation of the approach will probably be effective.
Don’t be surprised if this is something you need to work on. Most of us don’t intuitively use the 4-to1 ratio concept in our personal lives, much less in the classroom. It may help to post a note to yourself somewhere around your desk as a reminder. Eventually, however, positive acknowledgment will become easier and easier. Just as it takes time to break old habits, it also takes time to develop new ones. Once you become accustomed to this new habit, you could very well discover that the 4-to-1 ratio benefits not only your students, but you, the teacher, as well.

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