|Behaviorism in Practice|
John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the two principal originators of behaviorist approaches to learning. Watson believed that human behavior resulted from specific stimuli that elicited certain responses. Expanding on Watson's basic stimulus-response model, Skinner developed a more comprehensive view of conditioning, known as Operant Conditioning (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). In the video Behaviorist Learning Theory, Dr. Michael Orey also discusses Behaviorism as Operant Conditioning, and this represents “reinforcement of desirable behavior and punishment of undesirable behavior” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010).
In the book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, I explored two instructional strategies that embed technology: “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice” (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. 2007), and how they relate to the behaviorist learning theories. In the chapter “Reinforcing Effort” the authors talk about how students need to learn the importance of effort in their school work. They should understand the correlation between effort and achievement. The authors suggest using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track students’ effort and their achievements. This is a behaviorist approach because students get a visual representation and they strive to work towards doing well in school. I use Microsoft Excel in my classroom to keep track of students’ behavior. If they acquire three checks in a day, they get snack and recess taken away from them. Interestingly, and as explained by the behavioral theory, as soon as I display the excel sheet on the smart board a noisy class becomes quiet. It works most of the time, but the noise level goes up pretty soon as soon as the excel sheet is minimized. This is a classic example of Operant Conditioning of negative reinforcement. The excel sheet I use for Behavior Reinforcement and write a comment on why the check was given to that student, so that I have a record of their behavior for parent teacher conferences.
“The instructional strategy of reinforcing efforts enhances students’ understanding of relationship between effort and achievement by addressing their attitudes and beliefs about learning” (Pitler, H., et al. 2007. p 155). Instead of reinforcing efforts, I am reinforcing behavior by using this excel spreadsheet.
The second instructional strategy tool that the authors talk about is “Homework and Practice”. Homework is reinforcement of things taught in school and “having students practice a skill or concept enhances their ability to reach the expected level of proficiency” (Pitler, H., et al.,. 2007. p 188). The technologies discussed in this chapter are word processing applications, spreadsheet applications, multimedia, web resources and communication software. I use all these tools with my students, and have created a classroom blog on which my students work on one skill each week. They type their blog homework using word processing, I post YouTube videos for them to comment on, and they are required to visit websites for math and grammar practice. Drill and practice works very well especially for math facts. I use the drill and practice approach by assigning students to websites (on the classroom blog) to practice their facts. Then they have to make a comment on the best website and the area they improved upon (subtraction, addition, multiplication, or division). I have seen a great improvement by students practicing their facts on the computer and playing games to learn them, instead of using a paper and pencil to practice them. I also assign homework every day for them to work on a software program called “
In the book Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, it states that “Online education games have an inherent appeal and generate immediate feedback that allows a student, parent, and teacher to monitor progress toward mastery” (Pitler, H., et al.,2007. p 195). I encourage my students to go on the blog as much as possible and try the websites I have recommended to them. This instruction strategy is positive reinforcement, and I am lucky to have very supportive parents who also like the idea of having a classroom blog for their children.
Instructional strategies of “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice” have a direct correlation to Behaviorism. “Positive reinforcement is presentation of a stimulus that increases the probability of a response and Negative reinforcement increases the probability of a response that removes or prevents an adverse condition” (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). Negative reinforcement is when I use the excel worksheet to track my students’ behavior and they get a check on the sheet for not behaving in class. With three checks in a day they lose snack and recess time.
Even though the instructional strategies and behaviorism are effective ways of teaching students how to behave and perform well in school, in my view, the Operant Conditioning of “punishment and reward” are only short-lived, and will not have a long-term effect in teaching students to behave in an appropriate manner. Behavior should be taught by “Modeling, Shaping and Cueing - Modeling is observational learning; Shaping is the process of gradually changing the quality of response; and Cueing is providing a child with a verbal or non-verbal cue as to appropriateness of a behavior” (Orey, M. (Ed.). 2001). I too am guilty of falling in the trap of Operant Conditioning, and would like to use the ‘Modeling, Shaping and Cueing’ methods in my classroom to improve student behavior.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction, and Technology.
Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved on January 12, 2011 from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Behaviorism
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works.