Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behaviorism in Practice

My mother once said, “You don’t wake up and head off to a busy day at work without an incentive…called a paycheck”.  What an incredibly true statement.  It is human nature to perform better when there are positive reinforcements involved.  If only we taught our students the way in which we learn or perform best ourselves. 
As stated in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, many of us attribute our success or failure to external factors.  With conferences right around the corner, I am preparing myself once again to hear the majority of my parents play the blame game on all the external factors they can come up with attempting to explain why their child is struggling.  When reading the variety of suggestions for reinforcing effort, I continuously pondered the thought of incorporating my parents into the process.  A day does not go by that a parent writes a note explaining why they were unable to get homework completed.  Understandably a couple of my parents struggle themselves academically, but others are providing the wrong message to their children.  Many of my students lack perseverance due to the fact they feel as though they will never understand.  I relate this to effort, which quickly creates a sense of frustration both among me and my students.  I definitely would like to use an effort rubric with my students and their families.  I have created rubrics before using a site I consider very user friendly; 
What I know from experience with my students as well as my own family is positive everything goes a lot further than negative anything.  Again relating this topic to myself, I prefer to always be spoken to in a positive way, even if I am being constructively criticized.  Behaviorism exists in everyday activities and definitely in the classroom.  I am able to use technology to reinforce the skills I am teaching.  Currently my students have created a waiting list a mile long to receive computer time to practice their multiplication facts.  Just as any electronic game, kids get instant gratification from them.  My students have been consistently using the computers for about three weeks now.  By the end of March I will assess whether my students have instant recall of their facts.  Throughout the year we have charted their progress on learning their multiplication facts.  So far my students have simply not put in the extra effort to learn them and I reverted to punishment.  Believe it or not; it’s not working!  Since winter break I have held my class in every morning recess, yet only six students are able to pass the weekly quiz.  Ashamed to say, yet again another teacher has fallen into bad habits even when we know better.   
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., &Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom
instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


  1. Hi KDMac,

    I would like to comment about this point, “parents play the blame game”. When I need to e-mail or call parents I attempt to do the talking first to “set the stage”. I always start with something positive about their child. Next I always say, “I feel that it is time for the students to stand on their own two feet, we need to prepare them for the future. If I accept (whatever the issue is) I am not preparing your child for their future”. The last thing I do is ask the parent for some help and mention how I am also a parent, that I have been in their shoes, and this is normal for this to happen at this age. This works 99% of the time.


  2. I have a similar situation with my fourth graders and their multiplication facts. We have been practicing taking timed tests each day. If my kids pass the test, they get a piece of bubble gum. The child who passes all the tests first wins a gum ball machine filled with gum. It allows the kids to get competitive and get a simple reward when they are finished.

  3. I agree with what you said about positive working better than negative. I am a huge advocate of behaviorism. I'm just not exactly sure how a classroom would function without it. I'm waiting for someone to challenge me and tell me how to run a classroom (successfully) without behaviorism. With that said, nothing works 100 percent of the time when you're dealing with kids. My teenagers were told the very first time they worked in pairs this year that if I didn't get all assignments turned in, they would work alone the rest of the semester (I'm not a huge fan of group work, but they love it--I thought surely this would work). Little did I know I'd still be giving individual assignments in March. Unfortunately I'm punishing the whole class, many of whom could benefit from group work. Punishment just doesn't always work with everyone. As teachers, we have to learn from our mistakes. I am a firm believer in punishment, however. I've said this before-If I speed, I'm getting a ticket. Now some people keep on speeding over and over again. But the majority of people try to avoid punishment. Using punishment works in many cases I think. And it definitely prepares our students for the real world.

  4. Positive anything goes a lot further then negative anything, what a great statement. As educators we know that we are the front lines for structuring the future and fight many daily battles. I agree that if we can communicate in a positive nature students are more apt to listening and making a change. When dealing with punishment I alway take the sandwich shop approach of: a slice of positive, a layer of punishment, followed up by the layer positive expectation. On the contrary I also believe that we cannot sugar coat everything. Sometimes students need to be minded that their actions were uncalled for and that as their are negative consequences for their behavior. When dealing with a poor effort I make sure to chose my words carefully. Words that carry meaning, for instance disappointed and ashamed. As you mentioned everyone likes positive anything and nobody likes negative anything. I have found that when using these words they hold more meaning in communicating my expectations.