Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behaviorism: An Oldie but a Goodie (Sometimes)

While reading through our text this week, there were many activities that teachers were using in classrooms in order to teach the importance of effort and give students opportunities to practice what they have learned in school. While reading through these one specific activity gave the impression of behaviorism more than other activities.

The activity that stands out in my mind, as behaviorism, is the effort and grades data collecting and charting. The lessons involve students tracking and recording the time spent on and quality of class notes, attention in class, participation in class, homework, and studying. Then, they graphed it against the graded outcome (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007)

Behaviorism is a system that is based on rewarding desirable behavior and punishing undesirable behaviors (Standridge, 2002). In this particular case, the reward is a good grade, and the punishment is a lower grade. In this process, the students also have to internalize the desire for good grades as motivation.  The students are expected to see a correlation between effort and their grades. The higher the effort equaled the higher the grade. In order for this to work, the students need to have the desire for high grades. Without that, there is no reward. No reward means there is no reason to condition oneself to put forth effort to earn nothing (or something you do not care about.)

That raises the question, how do you make a student care about good grades if they do not see the value? How do you convince a child that good grades can get you a better job and no, you do not have to settle for just any job that is out there?

Pitler H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction 
             that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Standridge, M.. (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, 
             and technology. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from


  1. While the goal for all our students in school is to be successful, there are some students who do not have the support outside of school and who have had bad experiences. I think the point of showing students the correlation between effort and good grades can and should be transferred to other areas in their life. For those students who do not care about school, have them track the relationship between the time they spend practicing a sport and how many games they win. Or how often they play video games and how often they win. Show those reluctant students that effort leads to success. Once they see effort work in other areas of their life, they might be willing to give school a second shot.

  2. Hi Jill,

    I feel that the behaviorist theory is practiced all the time throughout our lives, not just in school. In some jobs, a raise or bonus is based on an employees work performance. Good dedicated employees are hard to find and employers attempt to keep them by rewards in one form or another. I like to mention to students that if their work ethics in school are good, they usually will receive good grades, and these habits acquired in school will remain with them in the future. I would like to comment in regard to your statement relating good jobs and grades. Good grades help to get a student’s first interview in some cases. In other cases good 21st century skills during an interview and a piece of paper that acknowledges you have graduated from high school or college will get you a job.


    1. I completely agree that 21st century skills play a big role in getting a position in today's job market. Good grades leading to good jobs was aiming at the idea that good grades gets into into good post-secondary schools (colleges, technical academies, etc.), good post-secondary schools leads to high quality job opportunities. It is possible to get good opportunities without post-secondary schooling but there are fewer opportunities.

  3. I completely agree with each of you, as well. Although it seems like in a perfect world, our students would want to do well, and would work to do well because they are intrinsically motivated, reality is, that this just does not always happen. Students need rewards for positive achievements. I, as well was struck by the effort rubrics and gradings, to help show students how their effort and achievement really is linked together. This is such a real life learning lesson.

    1. This really was a real life learning lesson. I completely agree with you. Before this week I never thought to teach the importance of effort. Now, it seems like a no-brainer!