In our current Educational Psychology module, we are discussing the different theories of learning and their uses within the classroom. In this blog post, I will outline the differences between Behaviorism and Cognitivism, as well as their limitations and criticisms, how I personally can use them in my future teaching career, and where my own beliefs fall.
According to Woolfolk (2014) “Behaviorism is a learning theory that focuses on external events as the cause of changes in observational learning” (G-12). In short, behaviorism hinges on the “nurture” of the “Nature vs. Nurture” discussion. The Behaviorist Movement began from the text, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” written by John Watson, in 1913. According to behaviorism, learning is passive, which can be constructed through positive and negative reinforcement. Two known proponents of the Behaviorist theory are Skinner and Pavlov, who’s experiments work with conditioning in order to generate a desired outcome, though Skinner is considered to be an extreme Behaviorist.
A criticism of this theory is how it can negatively impact a child. When a student becomes accustomed to receiving extrinsic rewards or motivation, the student may loose interest without it. Another criticism of this theory is in regards to ethics; whether or not it is ethical to modify and control behavior. Also, punishments if given incorrectly, can harm the child or have lasting effect.
According to Woolfolk (2014) “Cognitivism is a general approach that views learning as an active mental process of acquiring, remembering, and using knowledge,” (G-2). The Cognitivist Theory came about to replace behaviorism. Contrary to Behaviorism, Cognitivism believes that learning is an active process, rather than passive. This theory involves the idea of complex memory structures that require attention and rehearsal, as well as continual usage in order to create and maintain memory. “Changes in behavior are observed, but only as an indication of what is occurring in the learner’s head. Cognitivism uses the metaphor of the mind as computer: information comes in, is being processed, and leads to certain outcomes.” (Merill, 2017)
The largest criticism of the cognitivist theory is that it refers to processes we can’t directly observe and it ignores biological factors.
Why is it necessary to apply these perspectives to learning instruction?
Understanding the behaviorist theory is imperative when looking to understanding certain aspects of one’s students. As it is proven that many behaviors are learned, certain behaviors that are displayed in the classroom can be understood to have been imitated from an outside influence, such as their parents, other family, or peers. If a student sees their parents display positive work ethics and a respect for authority, likely the student will also display those traits. Conversely, the same could be expected. If the child is not responding well within the classroom, their behaviors may be difficult to correct or alter due to those learned behaviors. Also, when applying Cognitivism in the classroom, the teacher takes on the responsibility of helping students actively engage with the information they are learning. The teacher is also modeling behaviors the students should replicate. For example, demonstrations during labs or art projects and discussing with the class examples of both good and bad writing, what makes them so, and how said examples can guide the students’ future writing.
A way to utilize behaviorism in the classroom could be through positive or negative reinforcement. If (a) students perform a desired behavior, a reward can be given to encourage that behavior in the future. For example, students who perform their classroom jobs correctly can be given a sticker. When enough stickers are accumulated, they can be traded in for a reward, such as a book or a positive note to take home for their parents. Students will have an extrinsic motivator to perform positively in the classroom.
A way to apply Cognitivism in the class is to create in depth flash cards to review material. Flash cards would include a word, the definition, a sketch or picture and a scenario. Visual cues as well as scenes a student can visualize can create a more well rounded understanding of the concept trying to be learned and remembered. Keeping and reviewing flashcards over the course of the semester or school year promotes deep learning and long-term memory formation.
Where Do I Fit? Which views reside within your beliefs in regards to the role of teacher peers and students?
On the spectrum, I do believe that I fall more into the Cognitivism category. I understand the benefits of Behaviorism and its uses within the classroom, but I prefer the idea of active learning rather than passive. I definitely see the question of ethics coming into play when dealing with changing or modifying behaviors to suit the needs of the classroom, rather than individually looking at the needs of the students to promote positive behavior. I also think that allowing students to do hands on work rather than rote memorization is far more beneficial when trying to make lasting long-term memories of information being learned. When looking at the chart, I don’t believe either Behaviorism or Cognitivism gives the role peers play the recognition it deserves when it comes to learning. I personally think they play a much larger role, as outlined by Constructivists and Social Cognitivists. Overall, I think that somewhere between Social Cognitivism and Social Constructivism falls most in line with my own beliefs on teaching and the roles of the parent, teacher, student, and peers.
“Cognitive development refers to changes in thinking, reasoning, and decision making.” (Woolfolk p34)
Notable psychologists (Piaget, Erikson, and Vygotsky) have each developed widely accepted theories to explain cognitive development which teachers can utilize within their own classroom when dealing with students, though each come with their own benefits and limitations.
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development introduces four stages with specific characteristics and their respective age approximation. The four stages are sensorimotor, which occurs between birth and two years of age, preoperational, which occurs between 2-7 years old, concrete operational, which occurs between 7-11 years old, and formal operational which occurs between 12 years old through adulthood. The stages range between gaining object permanence, early speech, understanding conservation, and advanced reasoning. The basis for this theory is that people gain understanding through experience and maturation. According to Woolfolk, criticisms of this theory is the underestimation of children. Piaget believed that children had to grow in order to advance through the stages- that is, they could not be taught to do so.
Erikson’s theory of development focused more on different sets of “crises.” As they progress through childhood, kids experience different developmental crises that will have either positive or negative resolutions. These resolutions can have lasting effects into adulthood. The eight crises are basic trust vs basic mistrust, autonomy vs shame or doubt, initiative vs guilt, industry vs inferiority, identity vs role confusion, intimacy vs isolation, generativity vs stagnation, and ego integrity vs despair. The first stage, also defined as birth to age two, occurs as the infant forms a relationship with their caregiver.
Vygotsky introduces the zone of proximal development. This is the idea that for children, engaging information falls between that which is too easy and too difficult. The middle zone is information that “the child is just on the verge of being able to solve.” (Woolfolk p.66) There is a heavy focus on an outside influence being able to progress development. This is in contrast to Piaget, and also a limitation cited by Woolfolk. While outside influences can effect development, much of a child’s influence occurs before direct instruction.
When a teacher is aware of these different theories and concepts, they can be implemented when working with diverse students within the classroom. Since each child develops at a different rate, having an understanding of where their students fall can allow the teacher to adjust curriculum and strategies to accommodate the gaps in development. Since development is typically orderly, based on classroom performance, a teacher can assess where the student falls in their developmental stage and predict their upcoming stages and how it can function within the class. Development is also gradual, which can be accommodated by the implementation of scaffolding. Since not all students will be at the same level of development, beginning with basic information can later be built upon with the help of supports. Those supports may include students who are further along to help those who are struggling.
Along with the psychological and physical development a child experiences, family, friends, and media also have a direct impact in a child’s development. There are four major parenting styles according to Diane Baumrind. There are authoritative parents (high warmth, high control), authoritarian parents (low warmth, high control), permissive parents (high warmth, low control), and rejecting or neglectful parents (low warmth, low control).(Woolfolk p89) According to the article by Gwen Dewer, “Kids raised by authoritative parents are more likely to become independent, self-reliant, socially accepted, academically successful, and well-behaved.” On the opposite side of the spectrum, according to the article “The Effects of Early Neglect on Cognitive, Language, and Behavioral Functioning in Childhood,” children who experienced neglectful parenting were much more likely to experience behavioral problems and lower cognitive functioning. During the class activity, I explored the effects of neglectful parenting on the fictional Gallagher family in the television show shameless. In comparison to their peers, the Gallagher children were much more likely to act out violently or participate in illegal activity. The children also performed at a much lower level academically, as one of the children repeated the same grade three years in a row. Personally, I experienced a parenting style that fell between authoritative and authoritarian. Peers also influence development. A child’s peer group can influence self-esteem as well as mutual interests, as they are “central to students’ lives.” (Woolfolk p93) Peers have a large effect on the day to day experiences such as academic and social competency. These can either be positive or negative based on the level of support they receive.
Dewer, G., Dr. (2013, March). The authoritative parenting style: Warmth, rationality, and high standards. Retrieved from http://www.parentingscience.com/authoritative-parenting-style.html
Infants, Toddlers and Television. (2016, April 4). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/articles/policy-briefs/infants-toddlers-and-television
Hoy, A. W. (2017). Educational psychology: active learning edition (12th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Spratt, E. G., Friedenberg, S. L., Swenson, C. C., LaRosa, A., Bellis, M. D., Macias, M. M., . . . Brady, K. T. (2012, February 01). The Effects of Early Neglect on Cognitive, Language, and Behavioral Functioning in Childhood. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652241/
Many very effective assignments given to students require outside research. Furthermore, if the teacher assigning the homework is proficient in finding information and related data, they are more likely to engage with their students about how best to do so as well which, in turn, will lead to better informed students.
With the vast amount of information available to us, as teachers, we have the ability to always incorporate fresh content and appeal to different points of view. A teacher who is consistently researching new methods and pedagogy is less likely to fall into a rut or stale routine. Teaching students with current events and new information mixed into classic methods can also allow students to make real-world connections with new knowledge acquired in class.
Another benefit of having information available to teachers is the wide support network. Problems within the classroom likely have been written about and have a plethora of workable solutions. There are many forums where professionals can write about and discuss experiences and issues they encountered and the ways in which they were handled.
Part Two: Homework Discussion
In doing research for my bibliography assignment, I have concluded that assigned homework may or may not be effective for a number of reasons.
These reasons aside, I don’t believe that removing homework completely is the best course of action either. I believe that ensuring that students are being assigned quality work, can still benefit the student. By avoiding what students may believe to be “busy work” and keeping assignments short and to the point could also work to keep engagement and ensure completion for a wider range of students.
My name is Karina Schlagel. I am currently a senior here at UW-Whitewater. I am an English Education major, with a creative writing minor (former art minor) and in the future I hope to teach freshman and sophomore courses in high school. Overall, the influential teachers I had along with my high school experiences propelled me toward an educational profession.
I come from a medium sized high school which is probably what I would prefer to teach at as well. I had the opportunity to learn in a high school where the teachers knew my name and my classmates knew each other but it was a large enough facility that it didn’t have the “clique-y” feeling that smaller groups often have. The most memorable teachers I had came from the Art and English departments.
I was very fortunate to have been able to attend a high school with such a strong art program. We had three full time art teachers that occupied neighboring classrooms connected by joint doorways. Each had their own unique and very quirky way of teaching the related subject. Mersch, Dercks and Miller were- and are- some of the most inspiring, funny and enthusiastic people I have met. Being able to attend similar courses taught in completely different ways was very beneficial, as it demonstrated the many possibilities a subject can have and how heavily a teacher can influence what is being taught.
My high school English course experiences were also completely different. I had both incredible, passionate teachers as well as teachers who I can’t say even appeared like they wanted to be there each day. Sophomore year, I was in the basic required English course which was being taught by one of the younger staff members. Though it was apparent that he had little taste for Romeo and Juliet, he made the information accessible and enjoyable through his humorous and candid teaching style.
Later on, during my junior year, I had a tenured, should-have-retired-years-ago-and-let’s-you-know-it, kind of teacher. She allowed no room for opinions other than her own, did not promote class discussion, and had little interest in the content she was teaching; which was made apparent by the fact that she out-right told us she hadn’t read the books for a few years.
Finally, my senior year, I opted to take an elective English course taught by N. Curtis, who is by far one of the most interesting people I know. The course was “21st Century Communications,” which included sections on Ethics, public speaking, close reading and debate. Along with the course content, this teacher was able to relate back to current events and pop culture as well as mix in relevant personal stories that were entertaining and engaging. The class revolved around group discussions and the sharing of ideas to engage with the assigned material.
The takeaway from my experiences have helped me understand what I believe makes a good teacher. A good teacher is one that can take course content and work with it in different ways to achieve success with a range of students and their learning styles. A good teacher should be enthusiastic about what they’re teaching and honest about subject matter. Not everyone is going to like all of the material to be covered over a semester- and that’s okay, but being able to take that topic and still keep students engaged and on task is an important trait for teachers to posses. In that respect, being familiar with assigned coursework and actively promoting the sharing of ideas in the classroom to further academic study is essential. In my opinion though, one of the most important aspects of being a good teacher is having the ability to relate to students and create working relationships within the classroom. “When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways. (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).”
Gallagher, E. (n.d.). Department of Applied Psychology. Retrieved January, 2017, from http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher
Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.