It’s All About Perspective: Behaviorism and Cognitive Perspectives

One of our modules in class focuses on different perspectives of learning; mainly behaviorism and cognitivism. This particular module made little sense at first, but after diving deeper into the concepts, I essentially came to this conclusion: behaviorism focuses on the ‘what’ that we expect or anticipate from our student and cognitivism focuses on the ‘how’ in terms of processing decisions and choices. The biggest difference between the two perspectives is the idea of predisposition. While the behaviorist standpoint adheres to a more ‘blank slate’ approach to learning and development, the cognitive perspective focuses on the idea that every student has a certain capacity to learn.

So what?

Well, the importance of this difference lies in our own values as educators, the way we interact with our students, and the material we present. If we, as teachers, feel as though our students are little minds waiting to be molded by our gift of knowledge, it shapes how we view reinforcement. If we believe that each child has the capacity to learn regardless of intellectual level, then we plan a lesson based on discovery, expansion and some self-guidance. The ideas of Vygotsky and Bandura are the two that I immediately sided with in terms of knowledge fluidity and self-efficacy. After going into the depths of Youtube to find a video that better aids to my audio/visual learning style, I came across this ( although slightly dry) useful and point-driven video on the differences in learning perspectives based on teaching.

How do I know which to use?

That’s a loaded question. In theory, we like to think (in terms of curriculum and execution) that everything is completely streamlined, efficient, and foolproof. In reality, that’s never truly the case. Concept and style mixtures happen and for good effect! To me, not every child is the same (which demonstrates my values in perspective). We must understand that while some students need a more behaviorist approach to adhere to standards in the class and to receive a baseline of information they may not have received before, some students can run on self-guidance and discovery. Learning perspectives should not be viewed as concepts that we need to adhere to, but more as references for what we want to accomplish in our classrooms.


Woolfolk, A. (2014). Educational psychology: active learning edition. Boston: Pearson.

Knowledge Means We Don’t Know Everything

Knowledge and the influences of one’s environment were the topics of this module. Urie Bronfenbrenner was the biggest conceptual contributor to our discussions with his Bioecological model of development, which demonstrates the influential levels of relationships by way of environmental systems (micro-, meso-, exo-, and macro-) and the people in them.

What does this have to do with teaching?
Understanding your students is key for connection and communication. As a future teacher, if I’m not able to build a rapport with them, how am I going to run a successful class? The image above is Bronfenbrenner’s model that shows all of the influences of a child. While school is in the first degree of separation in terms of influence, it is only one of many that has the ability to impact a child. We must recognize the other factors in order to be successful, especially if two or more of those contradict one another. Recognizing and mediating inner animosity in a child can be the key to getting through to him/her.
In class discussion, we also brought up parenting style concepts (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglect) and cultural influences. KNowing these as a teacher will help immensely, if not purely for the relationship of parenting and teaching, then for the background knowledge to establish a deeper connection with students. The effects of an authoritative parent can be vastly different on a child than that of a neglectful parenting style. While the scholastic expectations are the same for either student., the outcome can be dictated by that parenting relationship in regards to ability to communicate, feelings of parental investment (kids know when you care!) and not only permission, but encouragement to express themselves.
Never assume the worst!
Both of the psychological models are awesomely beneficial in terms of giving instructors a baseline for relationship establishment with students, however, they have some drawbacks. Neither takes intrinsic motivation of the child into account. While we all are a product of our environment in some way, we have the power and autonomy to reach our own goals that may not be positively influenced by our home-life. It is our responsibility as educators to invest in and encourage that intrinsic resilience in our students to do well.

Diversity: Are you ever prepared enough?

As educators, we are faced not only to take on the job as generators of motivation and knowledge, but to be mediators in the classroom for cultural and socio-economic differences. It is our responsibility to level the playing field as much as possible to ensure that our students get as much as possible out of their educational experiences. In order to do this, we must recognize these crucial points:
-Background variety and cultural stigmas
– Need for a focal point in school-invested environment for all students to participate in so that they have a common connection/investment
-Communication and parental involvement barriers due to race and SES (socio-economic status)
– Our ability to foster resilience
Preparation for a culturally diverse class community is a foundation for success; however that process is not a perfect science. Even if the class is has a curriculum that makes cultural inclusion the forefront, there is always room for miscommunication and dissonant/contrasting values. In order to (at the very least) prepare for a culturally inclusive and academia-based environment, we need to attempt to focus students on the investment in education and create an intrinsic sense of school pride/participation, along with pulling on our own positive experiences with diversity to demonstrate that variety of culture is a strength, not a hindrance.
Due to history in the US regarding race, immigration and civil rights, a teacher needs to be aware of subcultural influence. As a future PE and Health educator, I need to be aware of the cultural backgrounds of my students in regards to their exposure and practice of certain motor skills, access to resources and materials, and family/peer influence on the importance of physical fitness and activity. A study done by Jarron Saint Onge and Patrick Krueger demonstrates that education and race-ethnicity are important markers for social position in the US that have established relationships with physical activity. Compared to whites and more educated individuals, blacks, Hispanics, and less educated individuals exercise less often (US Dept. of Health and Human services 2000). Educators in certain districts need to understand the impact of socio-economic status and racial influence in order to teach and assist accordingly in their students’ educational well-being in health and wellness. In the video, ‘A Girl Like Me’, the young women and girls speak on the internal struggles of acceptance among the culture that they consider their own. Due to exposure to this, the concept of creating an environment that is culturally accepting to all and education-invested is imperative for students to feel like a full participant in their education. This is where fostering resilience comes into play. Some of the students that we teach will not have control over their levels of support, so it is our responsibility to attempt to instill that intrinsic motivation to do well for the sake of their academic and overall success.

Sources for this blog:

Saint Onge, J. M., & Krueger, P. M. (2011). Education and racial-ethnic differences in types of exercise in the United States. Journal Of Health And Social Behavior, 52(2), 197-211. doi:10.1177/0022146510394862