The future depends on what we do in the present. - Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Behaviorism in Practice

In my course reading this week, I read about two instructional strategies that relate to the behaviorist theory. The two strategies are called “Reinforcing Effort" and "Homework and Practice." Both these strategies integrate technology in the learning process, to give students more avenues to achieve learning and be motivate to excel.

"Reinforcing effort" is a method I already use in one of my classes. The class in which I apply this strategy in is Word processing. Students will complete various assignments and turn them in for a grade. IF a student wants to improve the grades received on their work, I allow them to redo the assignment for a better grade. I make it very clear to students that they will only receive the additional point if the rework is 100% correct the second time, and they can only earn half the points they lost the first time. (ie: receive an 84, redo the assignment correctly and receive a 92) by allowing them to do this, they are learning the concepts, getting a better grade, and it is still fair to those students who got everything right the first time around. In the text "Using Technology with classroom Instruction that Works" written by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski,(2007) the authors state that "effort is the wisest choice for someone who intends to achieve success or maintain it, as it is within an individual's control, and is the most important factor in achievement." (2007, p155) By allowing students the opportunity to have a choice in the outcome of their success, gives them the incentive to do well. They put effort into fixing their errors, and get immediate results by getting a better grade. At the same time they are given a second opportunity to learn the skill correctly and form good working habits.

Orey states, (2001) all "behaviors can be unlearned and replaced by new behaviors." Therefore, by allowing students to take ownership in their achievement and success, this allows students to generate new positive behaviors and promote intrinsic motivation. It teaches them that when someone really does put forth genuine effort, it pays off. Additionally, I use this strategy as a data collection tool. It allows me to be able to pinpoint specific weaknesses students may have if they repeat the assignment for a better grade and still do not get it right. I then take measures to ensure that those students get the additional instruction they need to achieve that particular skill.

In regards to the “Homework and practice” strategy, my school district has formed a committee to review how much homework is given out to students, whether it is manageable, and if it should be reduced. I feel that some degree of homework is good. Homework allows students to "review and apply what they have learned" (Pitler et al., 2007, p.187) outside of class. In some cases when homework is given the night before, it allows students the opportunity to get acquainted with the material, so when they come to class the next day they have been exposed to the material and are less likely to be lost during class discussions and lecture. Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski,(2007) provide a wealth of ideas using technology in chapter 10 of their book that can aide students in doing homework. The authors provide lists of websites, software applications such as word and excel, and multimedia that students can utilize to reinforce skills and concepts. Methods of technology such as these, facilitate and increases learning in a creative and engaging way.

The key point to the strategies mentioned above and how they relate to behaviorism is to create lessons, supported by technology, that students will find value in and will be motivated to complete. Technology offers educators the means to engage students, differentiate lessons, and track their learning. At the same time, technology provides students with a means to work on skills that best meets their individual needs by using a variety of activities and tools " (Pitler et al., 2007, p.196)

Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

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


  1. By allowing students to redo you are giving them good feedback and reinforcing their desire to learn the material correctly. That is truly what learning is about: finding out the correct answer and assimilating that knowledge for their own benefit.

    The concept of homework seems to be falling by the wayside. I hear teachers talking about how long it takes to get through a unit because students don't do homework. Everything needs to be done in class. We struggle to find a positive thing to say to parents when we set up our parent meetings. Thank God we love our job and we truly care about the future of our students.

  2. Hi Marcella,

    Your technique for encouraging students to redo their work seems like a great way for students to ensure better grades and move towards mastery of the content. Do you see a reduction of students needing this type of intervention as the year progresses? I ask because in my sixth grade mathematics classes, we do not allow retesting opportunities. I realize that you are talking about homework, but we do not grade homework. The fifth grade teachers allow a student to retest to get an 80 on their tests and quizzes. When they move up to our grade, students and parents expect second chances at the assessments. The behavior that was reinforced along with the curriculum was that the first assessment doesn't count if you are not happy with the score. This behavior is quickly extinguished after the negative reinforcement of a bad grade. (Before you worry, we inform our students and parents of our policy at the start of the school year.)

    What patterns have you seen emerge from this technique? Have some students begun to rely on the second chance? I think that you likely weed most of this out by only allowing students to earn back half of the points, but I was wondering if you had any trouble with that?

    Our school needs to learn something from your school/district and really review our homework policy. I do believe that homework has a place in our schools, but I also believe that some modification is needed. Your mention of "pre-teaching" homework sounds like a wonderful way to allow for more meaningful discussions in classes, especially at the secondary level.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!



  3. Response to Marcella,

    I really like how you have your students exceed their effort in the classroom. Your two criteria are very important too. I like how the recopy must not have any errors and that they can only earn half the points. I never liked giving retests in the classroom. I do not think it is fair for the students that tried hard and studied all night. Then do you take the better grade as a teacher? Do you average the two together? Do you always keep the option open for any test to become a retest? Your system seems to work well. Do you have many students take advantage of your policy?

    -Nick Renninger

  4. Gini, Nancy and Nick,

    I am happy to say that students do NOT take advantage of having the opportunity to redo book assingments. I do not give homework as this is word processing and we do not have enough books for all the classes to use and an take home, so all books need to stay in class. In addition, some students may either not have Microsoft 2007 or a working computer at home.

    I do not have student redo exams....they only get to improve thier in class exercise work as I am trying to get them prepared for an online certification exam at the end of the semester. I also explain to them that just because I allow them to do this, it doesn't mean they can expect this benefit in any of their other classes.

    Students seem to get better and better as the semester goes by, and I see less need for rework. They know that I will catch them on detail, and they learn real quick once they have been caught doing something incorrectly, to not do it again. Students do not rely on this either, because when I see students not making any attempt at turning something worthwhile in they get a "0" and they if they redo it they get only half the points which is a 50. So, its in their best interest to try to get it right the first time around.

    Thanks for the great questions! This process does work really well.