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Using Behaviorism in the Classroom

March 9, 2011 by aaustin82 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

The behaviorist model of learning theory states that everything an organism does, even thinking, is a behavior.  Teaching using this theory leads one to treat the idea of learning something as a behavior.  Interest and correct answers can be increased with positive reinforcement, and lack of effort or wrong answers deterred with punishment.  To an extent, we all use this in the classroom.  Positive reinforcement is typically what I focus on in the classroom.  I reward effort in my classroom.  Students are given a list of possible test questions.  If they complete this homework, there is no grade, but I give them the answers and we correct where they have had trouble.  About half of these questions then appear on the test.  My data indicates that students that complete these suggested problems have higher test grades on average than students who choose not to.  When the student is excited about their test grade, I openly discuss how doing the suggested exercises helped.  Often the student agrees and continues to do them for upcoming tests.  This is just one example where rewarding effort can change a students’ outlook and behavior in the classroom with a net result of increased learning.  I use homework as drill and practice in a similar fashion, only here the homework’s are graded for credit.  Students are given questions about principles and equations that apply to situations that we have discussed in class first.  Then they are given new situations to see if they can correctly apply the previously discussed principles.  By giving the students the homework well before the due date, we can discuss questions and problems when they come up.  By helping the students through their problems, I reward them for applying effort and not waiting until the last minute to complete the assignment.

            Behaviorism is not dead, but it is integrated into classroom structure and management.  We all use it, in one form or another, to increase student learning and interest in our classroom.  Behaviorism can be used to enhance one’s classroom practices if used correctly in correlation with other learning theories.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Amanda

    Hi Aaron,

    You have great examples of how the behaviorist learning theory is alive and well in your classroom today! I specifically enjoyed your approach to rewarding effort in class by using homework questions as test questions. It is interesting to hear that this approach results in students’ positive outlook and behavior in class; not to mention higher achievement! The behaviorist learning theory’s correlation between positive reinforcement and effort is clear in your example.

    Do you currently utilize any of the technology applications or programs that reflect the behaviorist learning theory mentioned in course text this week?

    Amanda Skilliter

  • Jen Desiderio

    I love your technique of using homework questions on your tests. Students can then see the direct correlation of taking the time and effort to do homework and how that effort will affect the outcome of their test. Do you have 100% participation for homework, or are there students who refuse to ever do homework, and do the students who refuse ever come around after seeing their classmates successes?

  • aaustin82

    Amanda, I do not use tutorials as discussed in the text. I am thinking of adding a class wiki page next year where we could kind of do our own firgure it out as you go type work for the class, but I haven’t worked all of the detials out yet.

  • aaustin82

    Jen, being a senior level, non-required science class, I typically have high success rates on homework. Most of my students come into the class with a rather high work ethic. Most of my students do improve throughout the year, and as the year progresses, they need less and less of my help. I find this interesting because usually the material we are covering gets harder and harder, but they seem to adapt and learn how to figure physics problems out. Its the way you approach them, that’s what I teach.

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