Teachers and Behaviorism

    Teachers who accept the behavioral perspective believe that the behavior of students is a response to their past and present environments and that all behavior is learned.  According to behaviorists,  behavior modification is a form of learning, and it should be the teacher's responsibility to create an environment in which only appropriate behavior is being reinforced.  Inappropriate behaviors can be modified using behavior modification techniques.  Check out your own philosphy of learning and see if you are a "Skinnerian" at heart.  Although a teacher may discover that his/her own personal theory of learning doesn't exactly match any of the current, popular theories, it is in the best interests of all educators to create and assess a personal learning theory. Educators need to continually be aware of new research in the area of learning theories and how it applies to our instruction. If learning is indeed the goal in any classroom, educators need to create an environment that is conducive to learning.
    As a behaviorist Skinner describes the application of behaviorism to education in this way:

     The application of operant conditioning to education is simple and direct. Teaching is the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement under which students learn.  They learn without teaching in their natural environments, but teachers arrange special contingencies which expedite learning, hastening the appearance of behavior which would otherwise be acquired slowly or making sure of the appearnce of behavior which otherwise would never occur. (Skinner, 1968, pg. 64)

Behaviorism is in practice throughout our schools.  If one employs behaviorism in the classroom, it is imperative that it be used correctly. Skinnerian teachers would avoid the use of punishment. Research indicates that reinforcing  appropriate classroom behaviors, such as paying attention and treating classmates well, decreases misbehavior (Elliot & Busse, 1991), and behaviorist classroom management techniques are often effective when others are not. Behavioral teaching and learning tends to focus on skills that will be used later.  You learn certain facts about American history because it is assumed that you will make a better adult citizen because of that knowledge.  Behavioral learning does not usually demand that a learner be able to put the skills or knowledge to use in a "real" or "authentic" situation.  It is simply believed that the learner will be able to do so because he/she has the correct knowledge or skills needed for such a situation. The breaking down of complex tasks into smaller, more manageable subskills, such as the teaching of reading or mathematics, is very common in American schools today.  Behavioral instruction is primarily "teacher-centered" as opposed to "learner-driven."  The true behaviorist teacher believes that learning is passive and that students must learn the correct response.  The reinforcement for that correct response must be swift and appropriate.  Knowledge according to a behaviorist teacher is a matter of remembering rather than acquiring information.  Understanding on the part of the learner would simply be a matter of recognizing existing patterns.  The concept of behaviorism has been around the educational circles for many years.  Some of its philosophy has proven to be very useful to educators in terms of behavior modification techniques and the place they have in classroom manangement.

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