Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Combining Effort, Behaviorism, and Technology in Our Classrooms

Effort is typically a very difficult item to measure. Each person has a different self-measure of their amount of effort, and the corresponding result of that effort. A student may truly feel like they did all they possibly could to study for a test, but still score poorly. Another student, who scored higher, may not feel like their effort was enough. If it is possible to tangibly measure both efforts, it might just result that the student who believed they studied a lot had lower effort than the other student. Making the intangible effort measureable may be difficult; however, an example rubric of effort might be used to acclimate each student to the various levels of effort. Along with the use of a spreadsheet to record and track the efforts over a period of time brings the overt effort measurement along with a covert technology skill into the classroom. Students can track and then see the correlation between effort and test scores. Although the rubric only works if the students are honest and forthcoming in their self-analysis, some anonymous graphs would be a great starting point.
One section of the effort spreadsheet is homework. I assign homework from Monday through Thursday, and it should take an average of about 20 minutes to complete. Some nights will take longer, other nights might be quicker. The effort rubric breaks down the homework into four categories, the highest described as "I attempt all problems on every homework assignment, even if I think some of my answers might be incorrect. I refer to my class notes while doing homework". The lowest category, which by no means reflects the lowest possible effort, reads "I miss many homework assignments and skip many answers, particularly those problems that appear long or difficult. I almost never refer to my class notes when doing homework" (Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K.,2007). These guidelines add some actual examples of what to do and what not to do in order for the students to accurately judge themselves. The response from a student that they really tried can then be challenged, and corrections made to increase and improve the effort.
Effort should not be wasted on repetitive activity. The classroom of our past may have been one of endless worksheets and drills. It may have been tedious and boring, but most adults remember their multiplication tables because of the system of rewards that was in place. Accurate memorization resulted in high tests scores, which led to a better education. Failure to memorize led down a more serious and negative path. Educators in the past knew, and practiced behaviorism. They rewarded the good - good behavior, good grades, good citizenship; and punished the bad. In today's classrooms behaviorism still exists, although the teachers and students may not realize it is actually happening. Teachers use the approach of positive punishment to address uncooperative students, even when using contracts, listing rules, and stating consequences. This enables the students to act, and the teacher to react in the appropriate manner to the student behavior. Ironically, it seems like the students are providing the stimulus and the teachers follow with the result. A student calls out or gets out of their seat, so the teacher addresses them. It is the tail wagging the dog. Contrary to this practice, unwanted behavior that goes unrewarded will eventually be extinguished (Orey, 2001). The students receive no attention, so they may eventually stop the unwanted acts.
Technology, according to Orey, is used too often to remediate rather than to discover (Laureate, 2011). Computer tutorials may be fine to learn a program, but many educational programs do not develop knowledge, they simply reinforce. I have watched students use computer programs which repeat questions until they are answered correctly. The students might acquire the knowledge, but repetition occurs and the students learn to correctly answer the question from remembering the correct answer when they got it wrong on a previous attempt. There are software programs that require non-repetitive skills to reach a goal, which may be more of a challenge by requiring application of the knowledge for success. Other technology tools can be useful to vary the way knowledge is received. The use of videos, responders, laptops, and Smartboards all serve to keep the level of student engagement at a high level, which obviously enhances the learning process. However, a Smartboard that is used to show multiple problems quickly becomes a high priced white board.
Returning to repetition, homework and its place in the modern classroom, I think that repetition is sometimes necessary, especially when the introduction of the knowledge is weak. Although the drilling approach to learning may have a place, it ceases to be effective when overused. The repetition must also be creative and in varied contexts to necessitate the learning (Smith, 1999). Some knowledge is difficult to engrain, and students do need to develop and memorize, when it is in an appropriate context and on a limited basis. This may be why our parents had multiplication tables drilled into their minds until the knowledge became second nature. Varying the approach to teaching, with discovery, engagement, and appropriate repetition to secure the knowledge is an effective manner of transferring knowledge.
I hope you get a slight amount of insight into my classroom. Thanks for reading!

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program four: Behaviorist learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

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.
Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from

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