Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Behaviorism in Today's Classroom

According to Lever-Duffy and McDonald (2008), behaviorists believe learners gain knowledge and skills as a result of receiving rewards and punishments. Lever-Duffy and McDonald (2008) also suggest that behaviorists, such as Ivan Pavlov, John Watson and B.F. Skinner, believe rewards provide positive reinforcements for learning and it will result in students repeating the desired behaviors in hopes of gaining more positive reinforcements. With that in mind, behaviorist learning can correlate well with instructional strategies used in the classroom as long as the instructional strategies used provide plenty of positive reinforcements for students achieving the desired responses or behaviors. For instance, Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski (2007) provide instructional strategies for reinforcing student efforts in order to promote higher student achievements and increase positive student attitudes about learning. More specifically, Pitler et al. (2007) suggest that teachers produce an electronic spreadsheet that shows students what effort looks like and how their effort can relate to their test scores in school. Hopefully, students will feel positive reinforcements for putting forth great effort and producing excellent grades. Subsequently, students should feel negative reinforcement for not putting for great effort and therefore making inadequate grades and low achievement in school.

When I think about my own students and the types of instructional strategies I use to provide positive reinforcement to promote student achievement, I immediately think about the table rewards students receive for paying attention in class and contributing in a positive, thoughtful way during our class discussions. When students answer challenging questions correctly or show great efforts with their thinking, even if they’re answers turn out to be incorrect, I reward the students with school coins or dollars for their tables. At the end of the week, the table of students to reach a certain amount or highest amount of money win a special treat from our treasure box. In this sense, I have demonstrated behaviorist learning because the students receive rewards for their attentiveness and great efforts shown in class. Although I do not give out rewards every time students exhibit desired behaviors or responses because I still want to promote their intrinsic motivation, I am sure that it is very self-satisfying and reassuring for students to receive acknowledgement for their hard work and efforts shown in class.


Lever-Duffy, J. & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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


  1. Jewel,

    I enjoyed reading your idea about “table rewards”. I really like the fact that you give students money, even if the answer isn’t correct! That’s a great incentive for them to answer questions and not have to worry about being correct. I’m always looking for ways to reward students for effort. I work with below average students and they often don’t answer questions, fearing they are wrong.

  2. Jewel,
    I like the concept of the "table rewards." This would have been beneficial for me as a student because I was afraid of answering incorrectly and looking silly in front of the class. I will pass this concept on to other teachers in my school building.

  3. I started using table rewards as a way to build team work as well. Also, as second grade students, they have to learn how to count coins, trade coins and make change from up to $5. So, I've used this as a way to reinforce some of the curriculum that they are responsible for learning as well. The students have enjoyed these "tabel rewards" and I would definitely recommend it to other teachers.

  4. Megan,I've found that using table rewards as a token of appreciation for students trying to answer difficult questions has worked very well. I've also found that when students get table rewards or a complimentary comment for giving their best effort, then they are more likely to answer the next tough question with much more confidence and accuracy. A little encouragement goes a long way.