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.