Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Behaviorism in Practice

The behaviorist learning theory correlates with the two instructional strategies described in this week’s readings: Reinforcing Effort and Homework and Practice.

Reinforcing effort is described as improving a student’s grasp of the concept of effort and achievement by looking at their attitudes and beliefs about learning. We need to understand that not all students realize the importance of effort and having the belief in it. We also need to help them believe that effort does pay dividends even if they do not have the belief system. I liked that the book pointed out, that in many cases, this outlook is affected by environmental factors. For example, a student may really struggle with a particular subject because, according to them, their parent struggled. On the other hand, they may believe their friends are successful because of the stereotype they have about them. Because of research, this outlook can be changed. One way would be to produce an effort rubric or survey. Students not only take ownership in their learning, but they can also see how much effort really pays off. I liked the idea that I could even use this strategy by having my students graph how much time they actually spend studying. This would be workable since I teach fourth grade. (Pitler,Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). According to James Hartley (1998), there are four important key principles of the behaviorist theory under learning terms, and of those four, reinforcement was named the cardinal motivator (Smith, 1999). If a student’s efforts can be documented, they can be reinforced with the appropriate grade or score.

Homework and Practice is a great way for students to review what they have learned as well as use their newly learned skills in application (Pitler,Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). (Smith, 1999) states that skills are not acquired without regular practice. Homework, however, is not without controversy. Therefore, it is important for educators to evaluate the purpose of the homework as well as provide some sort of feedback on it. I loved the example of a writing assignment where a student decided to write a report after completing numerous other projects. This particular student was able to check the level of her writing through the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level rating in a Microsoft Word document. When this student did a rating on her report, she discovered that her writing was below her grade level. She, therefore, decided to use some of the newly learned vocabulary words from class to make her report more descriptive. What a great way for students to get feedback in an assignment before it even reaches the teacher! This would be a great example of effort being reinforced through self-monitoring (Pitler,Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007) .

Both of these strategies coincide with the behaviorist theory because there is some sort of reinforcement to desirable behavior or punishment to negative behavior. According to Dr. Orey, reinforcement is the most powerful of the two (Orey, 2002). If the student wanted to make her paper at or above her grade level of writing, she would have to choose whether or not to use more descriptive words. If a student documents how they perform on their tests or quizzes, and they lack the effort in studying each night, they will likely see a negative outcome for a given grade.

This, once again, allows the student to take ownership in their work. This can change the way a student thinks! No longer do they have to fall into the trap of a “defeatist attitude” (Pitler,Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).


Hartley, J. (1998) Learning and Studying. A research perspective, London: Routledge.

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

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from


  1. You make some really great points about the course work from this week. Effort within many students seems to be waining (part of me has been wondering if it is a generation thing)and to keep them physically and emotionally involved with their learning gets harder as they get older. Many of the students want to be like their parents, so it is easy for them to say, "Well my parents weren't good in English Language Arts so I know that I am not going to be either." That is a hard barrier to break through, but the students take that as a personal attack when you tell them that they have the skills necessary to be great at ELA. They just don't want to hear it.

    I also liked you point about the student that checked her grade level ability within her writing. That is just one example of a student that has taken their learning to the next step and they took ownership as well. More students need to be exposed to all the wonders of technology. No one told that student she needed to do that, but she has enough interest in her education to want to do better. It is that excitement that we need to capture and pass along to all students.

    1. Thank you for your response, Shelby. The great thing about passing on all the wonders of technology, is knowing we can do that through the learning from our courses for the Master's program. I took many computer classes in the 90s, but so much of what I learned is outdated. It has really given me a great start though. Because many of our students have so much experience with technology, they are not afraid to explore software programs, etc.

      Alternatively, there are several barriers in adults without that background knowledge in computer software and just tech tools in general. This in turn can prevent the maximum learning capacity in the classroom. Too many teachers near retirement think it is just another thing that will pass. I have met several teachers who have that mentality. It is sad that they do not want to liven up their teaching and engage the students into something they love and frankly, something of which the students are knowledgeable. This is where the effort begins. The effort seems to rise with something that peaks the interests of students.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about how you value of student effort being a very valuable trait. I have tried for a while to try and find a way to get my students to understand that study time makes a huge difference in the level of success. This idea reinforces that concept.
    You talked about the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level rating, how is this done? I never realized that this was possible through word and that sounds like a valuable method for helping my kids understand if they are writing at an appropriate level when they turn something in for my class.

  3. Hi, John.

    Thanks for your response.

    If you visit page 43 from out text book, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, you will find in chapter 2 the example of this tool. I thought it was quite interesting myself. I hope to use it in my classroom. What a great way for students to get quick feedback before the paper ever crossing the teacher's desk. The students can strive for stronger word choices in their writing.