Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Behaviorism and Teaching Strategies

The theory of behaviorism states that we can look at people’s actions and work on modifying behaviors by ignoring them so they are extinguished, punishing them so they happen less frequently or rewarding them so they happen more frequently. While reading through and cataloging the strategies suggested in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works I found that some strategies fit into this theory and some did not. Some of the technology suggested to support the strategies correlates well, and some did not.

A strategy that was suggested to support student achievement was to show students the relationship between effort expended and achievement using data collection, spreadsheets, charts and graphs. In my mind this fits into the theory. The authors suggest that once students have been given explicit guidance about what it means to expend effort they will be able to keep track of their effort and achievement. (Pitler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012 ) They can observe their behavior and using the reward of achievement can increase the action (effort) that brings about the reward (achievement). The technology suggested, spreadsheet software that has the capability to produce charts and graphs, correlates very well with this strategy and supports it.

Providing recognition for specific behaviors also fits the behaviorist theory. In fact, it is almost purely a behaviorist strategy. The teacher defines a desired behavior and rewards it through recognition or reward. Using technology to supply the reward in the form of badges, or feedback points as in ClassDojo is an excellent correlation. Providing reward in the form of recognition for exemplary products is not purely a behaviorist action. The actions or behaviors used to create the product are what should be rewarded. However, rewarding excellence can increase the possibility that excellence will occur again. For students who don’t achieve, rewarding behaviors that can lead to excellence will be more effective. The technology suggested to support this strategy: web showcases, blog polls, online picture galleries, tools that allow communication via audio or video to provide recognition correlate fairly well.

The next chapter talks about homework and practice. The only part of the homework portion that fit into the behaviorist theory in my mind was providing feedback for homework completed and using drill and practice software or websites to extend learning beyond the classroom. Feedback could be construed as a reward or punishment (depending on the feedback) and would then have the possibility of changing behavior. However, I think the only behavior it might be able to change is whether homework is completed or turned in or not. Using drill and practice software or websites can fit into this theory because generally desired behaviors (those that lead to correct answers) are rewarded and undesirable behaviors (those that lead to incorrect answers) are not, so they should decrease.

Using Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) software is one of the technologies to support practice. There are most certainly aspects of the behaviorist theory that are included in CAI software, in the immediate feedback and rewarding correct behaviors to increase their frequency. Most of the other strategies suggested for practice fall into other theories of learning. Based on these readings, it is obvious that there it a time and a place for using strategies that fit into behaviorism. However it is also clear that there are many successful strategies that do not.


Pitler, H., Hubbel, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria: ASCD


  1. Have you ever used any of these suggested strategies in your own classroom? If yes, how did they work? If no, which strategies do you think would would best in your classroom?

    Jen Jordan

  2. Jen, I've used rewards for exemplary work, I think that's a pretty typical reinforcement. I think it works for kids it works for, if that makes sense. What is a reward to one student isn't for another. For younger kids especially, recognition is often seen as a reward. As students age, however, the power of recognition can diminish. I've also had students who had specific disruptive behaviors that we used straight behavior modification with. They had the chart on the desk and got marked with some positive indicator when they stayed on task for example, with a delayed reward if they had enough points. I know one thing that did was focus my attention more on giving them positive feedback when correct behavior was shown, but I have the feeling it was training me more than them.

    It would be very interesting, especially for older students, to try making explicit the connection between effort and achievement. I wonder for some students if the connection would ever be made. I guess it would depend on what sort of task is being measured. I can see an easy correlation for any physical task, but it would have to be a very clear relationship and the task being measured would have to be well thought out.

    Have you used any of these strategies? I think it might be relatively clear to see the relationship between practicing certain art techniques and seeing progress, do you?

  3. Hi Mary. Can you talk a little more about ClassDojo? Do you use it? How does it work? Is it something you really think is valuable in a high school classroom?

    I am somewhat tempted to take a look at it, but also really not interested in something that is time-consuming or very much like my failure of a red-ticket system (in which I awarded a ticket every time the kids participated in German and/or used the target language outside of the classroom and provided proof.

    Do you think it would be a lot like that?

    1. Dana,

      I don't use ClassDojo (very small classes)but here is a quote that might help--from a HS teacher
      "While Dougherty found ClassDojo useful, some of her colleagues didn’t have the same positive reaction. “What I saw teachers struggle with is how to get the value out of a tool without changing the structure of what they were doing,” ClassDojo fit her style because she was spending most of her class time on group activities...It was easy to move around the room awarding points as she checked in on each group’s progress. from but I think if you have a system that works...why change it?


  4. Mary,
    Do you find that you use much of the behaviorism in your classroom? I try not to use too much but I feel it is a necessary thing in the classroom. I am interested in the soft ware you talk about, have you used it much and does it work?

    1. John-haven't used ClassDojo because we have very small class sizes because all students are on IEPs. I found an article that might be useful however...


  5. Mary,
    We use Class Dojo school wide this year. I agree with you that it most definitely correlates with the behaviorists learning theory. You stated that "rewarding behaviors that can lead to excellence will be more effective." I think you are right! Class Dojo reinforces the behaviors which lead to achievement. I am seeing great results in my classroom.
    I also appreciated Chapter 2 P. 58 which discussed the use of technology to steer our students away from a "defeatist attitude" which can lead to low achievement. I think that Class Dojo is a an excellent way to show students that their good behavior relates to their achievement. I would also like to try creating a Google Doc Spreadsheet as suggested in Chapter 2 that would serve as reminder to the students.
    Any thoughts on how I could create a spreadsheet for 2nd graders? Have you seen this done with students that young?


  6. Jessie

    What if you found images of some kind to include in the spreadsheet for the students to use. I know you can add images to Excel, and I assume you can in Google (but not sure). That way the kids would have a visual to go along with the words. Also, if you had those same picture in the classroom somewhere connected to the behavior you want they would relate them to the behavior even more strongly. Do you think that might work?