INFOGRAPHIC 1. BEHAVIORISM
The teacher says, “Before we start, I will collect your home essays,” and then goes to each student and picks up his or her paper. Having collected them, he says, “Thank you. Now let’s talk about grammatical changes in Spanish adjectives. Please open your textbooks on page 93 for grammar reference.” Students open their textbooks and the teacher asks a female student to read the rule. She reads it, and then the teacher comes up to the blackboard, takes a piece of chalk and asks, “What’s the Spanish for ‘hard-working’?” Some students raise their hands, the teacher chooses one of them. One student translates: “Trabajador,” and the teacher replies, “Correct, very good!” He writes this Spanish word on the blackboard and spells out all forms of this adjective (singular/plural, masculine/feminine). He underlines the endings of adjectives and says, “Do you see the difference? This is what happens to an adjective depending on the noun that it describes”. He then asks, “Does anybody have questions?” The students shake their heads in the negative. He repeats the same activity with two other adjectives.
He then says, “Okay, now I want you to work in pairs of two and complete exercise 3.6 on page 94, where you have to insert the correct form of adjectives. We will then check answers together in 5 minutes.” Students work in groups of two. They discuss, some turn the textbook page back to the grammar reference in order to re-read the rule, and then discuss again. After 5 minutes the teacher says, “Alright, now let’s check this exercise together. Who wants to read sentence one?” A student rises his hand and reads the whole sentence with the correct form of the adjective. The teacher then says, “Correct,” and proceeds to another sentence. If a student is incorrect, he says, “This sentence is a bit tricky. It should be [and gives the correct answer].” When the exercise is over, the teacher asks, “Is everything clear to everybody? Any questions?” Some students say no, others just sit and watch. The teacher then says, “Okay then, it’s easy, right? [Smiles.] You will practice more in your homework tonight.”
Let’s take a look at this learning situation from the point of view of behaviorism.
In a nutshell, the learning situation is a series of stimulus-response relationships. Most of the times a teacher’s question or task is a stimulus, whereas student’s answers (whether by raising their hands or by actual answers) are the desired responses. The instructor always uses non-material positive reinforcement in the form of social praise. Hence, he uses continual reinforcement ratio pattern for expected answers. By repeating the act of inflecting Spanish adjectives, he not only demonstrates the rule before the same is expected from students but he is shaping the behavior, which is also the case when he asks to do an exercises in a group of two people. Finally, if a students answers incorrectly, the teacher corrects him or her and tells the correct answer instantly, which is an example of instant feedback which is a type of the reinforcement.
Behaviorist observation check-list consists of 10 observation areas that are broken down into 34 smaller observation bullet points. To view the checklist, please click to open the enclosed document below:
The behaviorism theory is very alluring to me after studying it for a few weeks. It helped elicit the aspects we see in present-day education system and explain why they are there. For example, grading system is behaviorism in its core. What is it if not a token system? Whether it is candies, or gold stars, or score points for children—or actual grades for students (alphabetical or numerical), they serve as stimulus: the higher grade one gets for his work, the more one is encouraged to keep working hard. Behaviorism does not look into the mental processes that happen in somebody’s mind, it only wants to say that relatively constant changes in behavior are indicators that learning happens. If you can measure the change, then there is progress.
Initially, I thought of behaviorism as something that was a spectrum of the past century, something that faded away in the 1960s never to resurrect. It turned out, it never died, and whoever claims otherwise probably is not cognizant enough of the methodology that behaviorism provides educators, or instructional designers for our purposes, to facilitate learning. Because behaviorism focuses a lot on the environment in which learning occurs, it is not hard to conclude that the better environment one arranges, the more effective learning can become.
I am thankful to behaviorism in the sense that it explained to me why certain punishments do not work. I remember distinctly how I was “punished” by my German teacher in advance. I had to miss two classes in a row for personal reasons and after the class I approached her to notify her. She said that I would have to keep up with the homework and added, “Oh wait! Here are some other activities you should make. Take this, this, and this”—she gave three big written assignments. She never explained why she thought it was appropriate. It was shocking. First, why would you give me extra work in addition to what I already have to do? Why do you assume that if I do not come to class, then I will have more free time? Why did I come to notify you in the first place? Until now, her approach jars me, because in my head it looked like this: I am responsible, I want to be transparent with my teachers, and I get punished for it. It was Week 1 of classes, and it was enough for me to be demotivated.
I believe the idea of setting objectives that are tangible is a very productive one. After all, upon completing a course, I want to be sure that I will have structured knowledge and acquire skills I have not had before. I have never thought about objective previously. I would think: Oh, but I have a goal, who cares how I get to that goal. It turns out, objectives mirror outcomes, and it is pivotal to know them beforehand and work in that direction, not losing energy and time on unnecessary things.
In the process of making assignments for the Knowledge Base, I revised the material from the Ormrod’s textbook and liked again every sentence that she wrote about behaviorism—especially useful were the parts where she was talking about how to break bad habits based on classical conditioning findings and how to decrease undesirable behavior based on instrumental conditioning findings. Behaviorism is appealing in the sense that it claims that there are universal ways in which a wide range of species on this planet learn, both human and non-human. It reminds me of physics in which laws are ubiquitous in all universe. Perhaps it creates a sense of unity and convinces me that it is probably the truth. I honestly do not know if a cognitive theory or social learning theory will convince me that they have something more appealing to use.
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Master’s Program in IDD&E (2015–2016)
School of Education, Syracuse University
Email: YPavlov@syr.edu Syracuse, NY, USA (UTC –4)