Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Behaviorism in Practice

This week I explored the role of behaviorism in modern education and how it relates to current instructional practices and technology tools.  In particular, I research the role behaviorism plays in the reinforcement of behavior and completion and monitoring of homework. Although behaviorism principles are perceived to not be widely used in school, in reality they play a critical role in many intervention programs, behavior modification systems, and general instructional techniques.  Initially developed by theorists such as Pavlov, Skinner and Watson, behaviorism can be defined as a developmental theory that measures observable behaviors produced by a learner’s response to stimuli (Standridge, 2002).   Specific behaviors responses to stimuli can either be reinforced or extinguished depending on the feedback the learner receives.  As a result, behaviorism can play a vital role developing basic skills and foundations of understanding in all subject areas and in classroom management.

As mentioned, behavior can be shaped depending on the positive or negative reinforcement one receives.  The concept and application though of positive reinforcement is often a contentious debate amongst educators.  For many educators, the act of positively reinforcing behaviors students should automatically be demonstrating, constitutes as form of bribery. What we need to realize is that reinforcement is a natural motivator within of our lives.  We would not invest in work, obey laws, or engage with others socially if we did not received some sort of reinforcement whether that is intrinsic or extrinsic (Kansas, 2012).  According to John Hattie (2008), reinforcement “was among the most powerful influences on achievement, acknowledges that he has "struggled to understand the concept" (p. 173).

Recently, though the term reinforcement has been replaced with the concept of feedback.  Both of these principles are rooted in the idea that in order to positively impact student behavior and performance, students must receive timely and meaningful responses from adults. (Wiggins, 2012, p. 10). In order though for feedback to be considered meaningful one should:  name only behaviors that have actually occurred, say what you see, not how you feel, and avoid naming some students as examples for others (p. 10).  To accomplish this within a classroom setting teachers can utilize a number of technology tools. According to Pitler, H., Hubbard, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K, (2007) spreadsheets, word documents and electronic rubrics can assist teachers in communicating and reinforcement student behavior and effort. Electronic rubrics assist in defining a set of behaviors and proficiency levels that a teacher expects from a student or group of students. Utilizing word documents, teachers can generate point sheets, behavior plans and contracts, and reward tickets.  This information can then be recorded and displayed using a spreadsheet which can graph the data in a variety of ways (Pitler, et al, 2007).  By graphing data and recording information, it allows students to have a visual indicator of progress which can subsequently result in internalization and reflection on ones skill and behavior. When you use these three tools in conjunction with one another, it allows a teacher to engage in an open, constructive, and purposeful dialog with students.

According to Robert Marzano, research has shown that homework is one of the least effective instruction tools within a teacher’s tool box (Marzano, 2001).  Even though homework may not be the best approach to instruct students on new skills, it does help in support the drilling of mastered skills to ensure that they are maintained.  This concept of drilling skills through repetitive practice aligns with a number of behaviorism principals. Similar to feedback, homework provides teachers with a wonderful opportunity to incorporate technology resources. Teachers again can utilize spreadsheets in order to record and track student progress (Pitler, et al, 2007).  When presented as a visual within the classroom, students receive immediate feedback and can gage what areas they need to improve upon.  The internet is another resource teachers can incorporate to assign homework.  Through blogs, wikis, podcasts and web quests, teachers can create an interactive learning environment that challenges students to apply critical thinking skills and 21st century learning.  Teachers can also use websites that will drill students on fact families, phonemic skills, comprehension skills, and a multitude of academic areas.  Through expanding ones definition of homework, teachers are able to create a learning environment that extends beyond the brick and mortar setting.


Hattie, J. (2012, September). Know thy impact. Educational Leadership, 70(), 18-23. Retrieved from

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Marzano, R., Norford, J., Paynter, D., Pickering, D., & Gabby, B. (2001).  A handbook for classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H., Hubbard, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Work. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Standridge, M. (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved on September 9, 2012 from

University of Kansas. (2012). Positive reinforcement. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (2012, September). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(), 10-16. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Jaime,
    In addition to the point that you made about behaviorism in the classroom, I also liked the suggestions for modeling, shaping and cueing in the classroom. The students are always watching our behaviors and by that they "acquire many favorable and unfavorable responses by observing those around them" (Orey, 2001, p. 6). So to conduct your self in the classroom by modeling desired behaviors a teacher can then shape or "break down into discrete, concrete units, or positive movements each of which is reinforced as it progresses towards the overall goal" (Orey, 2001, p. 6). Finally, if a student(s) are not responding how you would like you can then cue a child with a "non verbal or verbal cue as to the appropriateness of a behavior" (Orey, 2001, p. 6).
    Overall, I liked how this article gave a breakdown and practical applications for the classroom teacher.

    Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

  2. In my classroom I do not have students in desks, but in groups of 4-5 at tables. As you may think this creates a number of challenges to instruction and classroom management. This is why I found behavioral approaches have been so meaningful in my classroom. Although I may not have known the formal terms, I incorporate shaping, cueing and modeling on a daily basis. I use proximity as a non verbal cue to redirect behavior, establish clear and specific behavioral targets for group and class work, and ensure that each table has a positive model for behavior. I also use reinforcement and meaningful feedback to ensure my students are aware of their progress and the role their personal effort plays on the success in class.

  3. Hi Jaime,

    You mentioned that "reinforcement is a natural motivator within our lives." I totally agree. I remember, when I was an undergraduate student, debating whether students should be paid for grades. The idea was that, for students, school was their job. While I agree with the concept that school is a student's job, something still didn't feel right about paying for grades (whether it was the school, the state, or the parent paying). I can't explain why I don't feel quite right paying for grades, other than my own motivation of doing well just because it's the right thing to do. Here is an article about the subject:

    What is your opinion on paying for grades or improved test scores?


  4. Jeremy:

    I think the actual paying students for grades is a terrible idea. It some how takes away the point and value of learning. Students do need motivation, but to instill that the only purpose for achievement or education is the financial gain sends the wrong message. I also worry about the sense of entitlement students have now of days. This somehow seems to play into this mantra of what do I get out of it, I have heard from so many kids.

  5. Hi Jaime,
    While I do not like the idea of naming students, I do believe that student achievement should be lauded as experience has taught me that when we make students feel good about themselves, they are likely to perform at a high level. Perhaps when a student advances two grade point levels, he can be given the responsibility to assist a fellow student, with the understanding that he maintains or continues to progress in the subject discipline.

  6. Jaime,
    You gave great responces on ways that teachers can use technology to record and display their progress. I teach in a computer lab and find it helpful for students to be able to track their own progress. I wanted to display the information in my classroom, but because of the amount of students that I teach, find it very helpful for the students to record their own progress and save it. This allows them to be responsible and reinforces skills taught in
    Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

    I like that idea of reward tickets. I was helping out in a reading skills class and the teacher would give tickets out to students as a reward for being a winner of the game, Around the World. The student receive x amount of tickets for being the winner. She had different prizes that the students could spend their tickets on like pencils, notebook, and paper. One of the prizes that caught my attention was being able to use it to get out of silent lunch. By perfoming well in clas, students were able to use their tickets to get out of behavioral consequences.

    What do you thing about that?


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  8. Jamie,
    I agree homework is changing. Anytime critical thinking and 21st century skills can be used is beneficial for everyone. With the use of Screencasting this has become a perfect fusion that can be used in a variety of ways in all subjects.

    Camtasia( other apps such as Educreations (, ScreenChomp (,and Show Me( been useful in providing powerful and effective ways to deliver, teach, and review content. Students can become the teachers as they create videos that can instruct, review, and inform. These can be reviewed as many times as needed. As students teach the skill then we know that they have truly mastered it.

    Here are some free resources ( help get your classroom started: This primer ( be an excellent introduction.These Screencasting strategies ( will be helpful in creating effective and compelling presentations. These are some resources I hope someone will find useful in their Screencasting journey.


    1. Sorry about the formatting. It is not liking my links. I tried to fix earlier, but it is not working.