This exercise teaching the concept of positive reinforcement was empirically validated in an two experiments (Grant, 2004; Grant & Courtoreille, 2007). The version currently in use is an adaptive or response-sensitive tutorial in which students who make specific types of errors are readministered item types they answer incorrectly until they answer two consecutive items of that type correctly. The basic idea is simply to give students extra practice over things they are having trouble with. We found this response-sensitive approach produced 42% better performance compared to a group of students who simply practiced using a fixed set of items.
The exercise is designed to teach students to discriminate among five different example and and five different nonexample subtypes. The five example subtypes are: (a) items in which the positively reinforcing consequence was ostensibly undesirable (e.g., a slap or a reprimand); (b) items in which the reinforcing consequence consists of the presentation of an opportunity to engage in an activity (e.g., free play); (c) items in which the reinforcing consequence occurrs intermittently rather than dependent on each response; (d) items in which the positively reinforced behavior is undesirable (i.e., disruptive classroom behavior); and (e) items illustrating positive reinforcement in which the consequence is ostensibly desirable, the consequence was presentation of a stimulus rather than an activity, reinforcement was continuous rather than intermittent, and the behavior was desirable.
Likewise, nonexamples consist of five subtypes: (a) items in which there is no increase in response rate; (b) items in which the consequence is presented on a response-independent rather than on a response-dependent basis (Lattal & Poling, 1981); (c) items in which the behavior occurrs more frequently due to rule-following rather than the application of reinforcing consequences; (d) items in which the consequence is dependent on the nonoccurence of a behavior rather than the occurrence of a behavior; and (e) items in which the consequence consists of removal of a stimulus (i.e., negative reinforcement) rather than presentation of a stimulus.
The exercise was also designed according to concept learning principles (Engelmann & Carnine, 1982; Grant, 1986; Markle & Tiemann, 1974; Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). For example, in the introductory section the use of matched example/nonexample pairs has been supported by research showing that it is desirable to present the learner with such pairs in which a single critical feature of the concept being taught is missing in the nonexample (Carnine, 1980). Teaching concepts like positive reinforcement through prose examples and nonexamples has been shown to be more effective than standard textbook presentations (Grant, McAvoy, & Keenan, 1982; Miller & Weaver, 1976).