Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behaviorism in Practice

Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoksi (2007) suggested that effort has a direct influence on student achievement and that reinforcing effort enhances students’ understanding of that relationship.  Teachers must express to their students how important effort is and that the amount of effort that they put forth will ultimately affect their overall academic performance.  It would help to have a matrix designed for students in order to examine what exactly constitutes effort. 
One researcher, Edward L. Thorndike, stated that “responses were strengthened or weakened by the consequences of behavior” (Smith, 1999).  Dr. Orley (Laureate, 2010) also stated that “reinforcement is more powerful than punishment.”  According to the behaviorist learning theory, Dr. Orey (Laureate, 2010) recommended reinforcement of desirable behaviors.  James Hartely noted that positive reinforcements should be used more than negative, as positive reinforcements serve as a motivator for success (Smith, 1999).  Teachers can praise and reinforce quality effort from their students by giving appropriate feedback.  Meanwhile, undesirable efforts should be punished, primarily in the area of attention as off task behaviors generally warrant punishment.  Punishment for a lack of effort may also include point deductions based on missing homework assignments, or skipped answers. 
Homework and practice is yet another instructional strategy that relates to the behaviorist theory.  After students learn the concept, they now have the opportunity to apply their skills on their own.  Pitler et al. (2007) explained, “Having students practice a skill or concept enhances their ability to reach the expected level of proficiency” (p. 188).  They go on to say, “Multiple exposures to material help students deepen their understanding of content and become proficient with skills” (Pitler, et al., 2007, p. 188).  Therefore, students’ skill level may be strengthened or weakened depending on the amount of practice, or homework.  Meanwhile, teachers need to give feedback to the students fairly quickly as students tend to make careless errors at times while practicing a new concept.  We do not want our students to continue making those errors, even if they are completing their homework and practicing daily.  Therefore, it is important for teachers  to reinforce practice and accuracy at the same time.    


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

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

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


  1. Malissa,
    I agree that teachers need to make students more aware of the fact that the effort they put forth directly affects the outcome that they receive. I have found that when students have the inability to realize this they suffer from and "I don't care" and "This doesn't matter" syndrome.
    My students take a state test three times each year called the "MAP" test. The MAP test shows students, using a score, of how well they are progressing through the year in Math and English Language Arts. We, as teachers, give every student a goal that we would like for them reach by the end of the year. If the student reaches their goal they get a prize and a certificate of achievement.
    I feel that homework and practice are the most important parts of helping students learn material. Yes, there is a time and place to have fun lessons and have students actively involved. However, students must complete homework and practice the skills in order to create a deep understanding of what they are learning.
    Heather Price

  2. I agree teachers need to show the importance of homework. It needs to have a purpose and teachers need to address the homework in some form. If students make an effort to complete homework but the teacher never goes over it and checks for understanding then students will lose interest in completing assignments. If left unchecked it can also lead to misconceptions that can lead to failure. Our students today like immediate feedback and want to know how they are doing. When they perform well they want the praise. When they do not succeed, they often will respond better to some form of positive reinforcement over a negative one because they generally feel bad already themselves. They are familiar with the negative comments that have been made in the past. I agree with you, as educators we need to make an effort to be more positive towards students because they tend to respond well when we use negative remarks.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Heather!

    That's interesting to hear how your school utilizes an assessment to chart students' progress throughout the school year. I was wondering how the teachers go about setting a goal for each of their students. That is a great incentive for reinforcing good study habits - such as homework and practice. I also agree with the statement you made about there being a time and a place for those "WOW" lessons, but if students do not get the practice they do desperately need on a daily basis, the "wow" will ultimately be lost. Yes, students need to practice in order to truly understand the topic, skill, or concept presented and learned.

    ~ Malissa Sauciunas

  4. Thanks for the comment, Judy!

    You're right, the homework needs to be checked for understanding. What if the student practices, or completes the homework assignment, but went about the concept all wrong. The teacher - and the student - would never know what to correct if the assignment has not been checked for understanding. That has happened in my math class. After I've gone over homework, I have had students catch their mistakes. Then they ask me if it would be okay if they could correct their work - absolutely! Now, students are interested in understanding the concept. I do not collect homework the next day so that students can catch their mistakes and correct them before handing in the next day. Now, I see more of a "want" from the students to practice what they have learned and to correct their errors along the way.

    ~ Malissa Sauciunas