Thursday, November 10, 2011

Behaviorist Theory - Week 2

During week 2, we read about two different instructional strategies, “Reinforcing effort” and “Homework and Practice.”  Both strategies use the behaviorist theory of learning to achieve the desired result from the student.  The behaviorist learning theory uses two methods to achieve conditioned responses, reinforcement and punishment (Laureate Education, Inc.  2010).  According to Dr. Michael Orey, reinforcement is the preferred way to go.  While punishment works, reinforcement has a much greater impact on behavior.  Students should see their positive accomplishments be rewarded (reinforced).  In this way, they will show they are learning something.

In the “reinforcing effect” strategy, students are learning about the relationship between effort and achievement.  This seems to be such common sense that we do not need to elaborate on it.  However, research indicates that not all students recognize this relationship (Pitler 2007).  Students need to be taught the value of work.  By showing the students Ms. Powell’s rubric, student have the opportunity to see what the teacher is looking for in students.  Students can also see what behaviors to avoid, such as only studying for a test on the previous night.  By using the spreadsheet idea, students are learning how to collect date, organize data, and create graphs, in addition to understanding how effort impacts achievement.  The calculation and graphs are easy to develop using the spreadsheet.  This makes seeing the results that much easier.  Students who had to make the graphs using paper and pencil may get frustrated that they never see the correlation between effort and achievement due to not completing the graph adequately.

In the “homework and practice” strategy, students have the opportunity to review the newly acquired material.  Practicing this material will strengthen students’ knowledge of concepts.  Pitler recommends giving homework with a clearly articulated purpose and outcome.  He also recommends teachers should also provide feedback as quickly as possible.  By providing this feedback, student work can be reinforced or corrected more efficiently.  Technology can enhance this experience.  There are many online application that provide practice problems with instant feedback.  There are also many applications which can help with the reinforcement of skills.  These include word processing and spreadsheet applications, multimedia, web resources, and communication software (Pitler 2007).  The communication software is being more influential as today’s technology grows.  GoogleDocs is a common communication application which helps to organize information from several students.

The behaviorist learning theory allows for building up students using reinforcement.  Two strategies using this learning theory were examined.  Technology can help in several ways.  As technology develops, there will be even more ways for to reinforce positive student work.
Tim Trotta


  1. Tim,

    "In the “reinforcing effect” strategy, students are learning about the relationship between effort and achievement. This seems to be such common sense that we do not need to elaborate on it. (Trotta, 2011)."

    You are completely right. Student understanding of the relationship between effort and achievement can easily be missed by teachers since it does seem so obvious to us. Many people equate achievement with success when really effort is it's own success. This is an important lesson especially for the modern student who is used to immediate gratification.


  2. Tim,

    I agree with your statements and those made by Dr. Orey that behavioral learning strategies do work in the classroom. In fact you would be hard pressed not to find examples in any classroom around this nation. However specifically to comment on your statements with reinforced homework practices; I of course believe this is healthy education and it does work. But I see this day after day in the middle school arena in ways that students are only graded on completing homework in class hardly having any for home. When they get to high school where I teach, I find students have little foundation to bring into class and have terrible work ethics when they are asked to complete work now on their own time, leaving more precious class time for other activities. I think this type of education is just overused at the middle school level at least in the region that I teach. I agree it can be very effective but I also think many teachers forget about varied instruction. The incorporation of technology with this learning skill I think is a must whenever it can be done because this strategy is already used to much as sole classroom instruction. My true hope is that many teachers open there lesson plan ideas to more than just the old methods.

  3. Tim,

    I agree with you in regards to teachers needing to teach the importance of hardwork and effort before applying reinforcement into the classroom. Students need to understand the concept that hardwork and effort do not go un-noticed. The teacher needs to pretty much explain to the students if they do well on an assignment, this is the reward. Students will understand what is expected of them and the reward they get if good work or behavior is established.

  4. I have seen a drastic change in the characteristics of high school students within the last 10 years, and certainly from the time I was in highschool almost 20 years ago. Hard work was the expectation. Sure, there were the few who tried to get away with not doing homework, but most students at least tried. Now, students do not perform tasks unless they are being graded. I have actually been told by students that "if I am not getting a grade, then I'm not going to do it." I would not dare say that to my teachers when I was in school. Even ten years ago, I did not find that attitude to be prevalent. Now, a good percentage (probably over 50%, or even higher) have this mentality. It is so hard to teach the importance of homework and hard work in general without using grades. I certainly try to teach the idea of practice, but not everyone gets it. Even students who are capable of acing all of the tests without studying, are not developing their skills of learning how to study.
    This leads to a topic of constant debate. When a student earns a 90 in a class, what does that grade represent? Does it represent mastery of the concepts? Or does it represent a work ethic of copleting all homework assignments, even though they average 80-85 on all assessments? A 100% homework average is capable of bring up the overall grade. Do we penalize the student who already knows the material, or picks it up so quickly that he does not need to study to do well on a test? By making a homework grade part of the course grade, we are indicating the final course grade represents a knowledge of the material as well as a good work ethic. Should a student who does not do homework, but is still able to ace all tests, earn a 100% to show mastery of material?
    Hard work is an essential skills students need to learn. Many times, assigning a grade for effort is the only way for students to realize this. By doing this, however, do our grades reflect work ethic or mastery of the subject. I know many students with high school degrees that would not have graduated had it not been for a homework assignment. Some students fail every single test. They pass solely because homework averages raise their grades.

    Tim Trotta