Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behaviorist Learning Theory with Instructional Strategies

Behaviorist learning theories have been and will be used in the classroom for years.  Using these theories and how in depth someone takes them depends of the instructional strategies used in the classroom.  In my classroom, I use many different instructional strategies because I teach technology and using the same methods over and over get boring for the students.  In turn this may cause them to become behavior problems.   I use mostly a project-based curriculum, therefore my instructional strategies are ones that get the students involved in what I am teaching them.  In the article, “the behaviourist orientation to learning”, James Hartley (1998) talks about for key principles to use when dealing with behaviorist theories (Smith, 1999).  First is that activity is important because learning is better when the learner is active rather than passive (Smith, 1999).  This is so true in my classroom.  I get many behaviorally challenged students in my classes because the guidance counselor has no where else to put them.  I find to have a better connection with these students because they are active in my room using there hands to build things. 

Also Hartley (1998) mentions that learning is helped when objectives are clear (Smith, 1999). When I am going over project and directions in my classroom, I make sure that the students know what the objectives are and what needs to get done.  Being I have been there for four years now, words travels, and I am starting to get students who know what my rules are and know not to break them.

Going through the text, I found that “Reinforcing Effort” seems to be a great strategy.  I find the connection made between the effort put forth in the chart and the grade at  the bottom to be a very real and eye opening way to show students that effort and grades are tied together.  Using that chart not only shows students that there behavior in the classroom effects there grade but it also gives them a small responsibility to be truthful in putting a number on there effort in class and also the responsibility of remembering to fill the chart in.  If a student happens to lie on the chart and ends up with a poor test grade, then it will not be hard to tell that they student is not being truthful.  This activity helps to add evidence that positive reinforcement in the behaviorist learning theories are important in the classroom.

After reading through the text on “Homework and Practice”, some very important ideas jumped out at me.  I have caught myself doing this and I would venture to say most teachers have, I assign homework and then either forget to check it, collect it and forget to grade it or even collect it and not even acknowledge it.  Once sentence that jumped off the page at me was “If homework is assigned, it should be commented on” (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski, 2007).  If we are using behaviorist theories and providing positive reinforcement, how do we covey to our students that we “forgot” about the homework when them forgetting to do the homework may result in a punishment!

Another thing that stood out on the page was the fact that a homework policy needs to be established and assignments need to clearly articulate purpose (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski, 2007).  This also aligns with the ideas that Hartley (1998) presented.  He talked about how learning is helped when objectives are clear (Smith, 1999).  When we convey a clear concise message to our students about the assignments we want them to complete, there is no question that they know what to do and should be able to complete the assignment with no issues.

I feel that I have developed many good instructional strategies, which help bring certain aspects of the behaviorist learning theory into my classroom.  I am a big believer in positive reinforcement but also know there is a time and place for punishment.

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from

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


  1. Your comment about teachers forgetting about homework hit home with me. I have to admit that I have been guilty of not getting homework back in a timely manner or forgetting it completely. Once I get going though, the students remind me to give them back their homework. As an incentive for completing their homework, I give them classroom money (positive reinforcement/behaviorism). If I have forgotten to pay the students, they remind me that I have not done so. In having that incentive to complete homework, it helps the students to get it done and it forces me to grade it because the students want to get paid! I know that if I did not pay my students for their homework, I would "forget" more often to return it back to them with feedback!

  2. I also forgot to mention that I agree with you about positive reinforcement and having a place for punishment. Some times you just have to punish that student who does not do what they are supposed to do.

  3. Wow! I too am in a similar situation when it comes to having many of the behavior problem students. I am a 5th grade teacher and have been for the last 5 years at the same school so word has gotten around to the students that I am a teacher that demands a lot from her students, but also knows how to let kids have fun while learning. I have had students transfer from other 5th grade teachers who could not handle them simply because I let the kids know the expectations and have a clear routine. Kids love routines and will stay more focused when they know what is coming up. Good for you that you have found strategies to deal with these students and help them succeed.

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  5. Hi Ben - Todd from Walden

    I read your post, and you mention the homework comments from the book, specifically about homework needs comments and feedback in order to be effective. I had an instance where I had a school board member's son in my class, and the student was struggling. In the first few weeks of class, I was using the check plus, check, check minus grading for all the homework. The school board member actually called me and said if his son was going to spend 30 minutes on my homeworkm the least I could do was spend five minutes on his son's homework and tell him what he was doing wrong. That hit me like a ton of bricks, because this board member was right. Since he was a board member, I took it too seriously. I started giving feedback on homework, even little marks like circling simple mistakes. I still do this by the way.

    It turns out that the feedback is really a double edged sword. I was able to go back to the student, point out that I repeatedly tried to fix his mistakes, which he did not correct. The he father went to the students and said something like the teacher told you numerous times to fix it and you did not, so you deserved the bad grade.

    The school board member and I are able to joke about the homework discussion to this day. His son wound up with a B and is in college now. I also taught, and his insistence, both his younger daughters.

    Thanks for you post, it brought back a fond memory. Keep your chin up with those challenging students. If the counselors and administrators keep putting them in your room, it is because you can handle them, not because your room is a last resort. Last year I had six transfers from another teacher, and although we started the year with the same amount of students, I would up teaching 28 while she had 16. Good teachers can handle more students, so take it as a positive sign.

    Todd Deschaine