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