Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behaviorist Theory

According to behaviorists the learner develops behaviors and skills in response to rewards and punishments.  In other words, by reinforcing desirable behaviors, the behavior will increase.  By punishing undesirable behaviors, the behavior will decrease.

In this week’s resources, we were asked how reinforcing effort correlates with the behaviorist theory.  One of the first steps in enforcing effort is to explicitly teach why effort is important.  Research tells us that not all students recognize the correlation between effort and achievement. However, students can change their beliefs and make the connection.  This follows the behaviorists’ theory that if you can learn a behavior you can unlearn it.  If you don’t believe effort and achievement go hand-in-hand, you can change your beliefs. 

The way to change a behavior or student effort is by showing the students the consequences of their actions.  When a student behaves well, they get praise or a reward. Some schools have tickets students receive or a bulletin board with their name on it. Students make the connection that their positive behavior equals a reward.  To reinforce effort, teachers must help students make the same connection. According to Using Technology with Classroom Instruction, using a spreadsheet to chart effort is a great demonstration.  Students rate their effort in multiple categories and then record their grade.  Students will hopefully see that more effort equals better grades.

Poor grades frequently reflect a student not turning in homework. Homework is a hot debate in many schools.  Students that are up for retention are often students that just refuse to turn in work. Homework can be seen from a behaviorist standpoint. The “drill and practice” is often just repetition. 

In conclusion, the behaviorist learning theory is looked upon negatively these days. Many associate behaviorism with the “drill and practice” method.  Society is pushing for more real-world applications, cooperative learning, and critical thinking.  These do not seem to coincide with the behaviorist learning theory.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD


  1. I also teach fourth grade. I am wondering if you do any excel spreadsheets to monitor effort. I had not thought about this in terms of effort. I have had students keep track of attendance and grades, but never effort. I think it would interesting to see if they would notice the correlation. I think there is room for a bit of drill and practice as long as it is not the only means and the skill gained is then used effectively. I am interested in what you think since you are also a fourth grade teacher.

  2. I have not used excel with my students before. We graph our selection tests from our reading series, but that is it. It would be interesting to try this to see if they can make the connection. Standardized testing just ended this week so now might be a good time for me!

    I agree there are some things that almost require drill and practice. Just like we differentiate for learning styles, I think teachers do the same for learning theories. I know I use some drill and practice in my room, but I also use cooperative grouping and projects.

    1. I think we all have to use so many different things for each student. Most great teachers I know are great because they use a variety of methods. It keeps the students interested.

  3. I really think that charting behavior and effort is a great idea for elementary students. In the past, I have had my high school math students keep their own grades by calculating their point totals, weighting them, and figuring their averages. Once they did this by hand, I taught them how to do it on Excel. Trust me when I say, you cannot teach them how to use Excel too early. Some students had never seen the program. As technologically savvy as they seem to be, so many of them cannot use half of the Microsoft Office programs.

  4. Christina,

    Well done with your presentation of the week's resources. My biggest concern is how to get students to take solid notes. I know I have always started with guided notes and then will wean them away from using guided notes and being able to take their own notes. However, i have never been able to get every student in a class to master the skill. I have never used a graphic organizer--actually had no idea what that even was--so I have no experience with that concept. My question(s) to you is how do you teach note taking to your 4th graders? Do you have them take notes? Have you attempted graphic organizers for certain units with your students?