Introduction behavior and learning of the students. Behaviorist

Introduction

 

In this work, I will analyse my knowledge of two key
learning theories- behaviorism and constructivism- as well as my own
understanding of how students learn. I will link these two together with
particular reference to the development and learning of two students.

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Behaviorism

 

The
basis of the behaviorist theory is that learning is a passive process in where
learning is defined as “what people do in response to external
stimuli” (Elliot, 2007, pg. 46). Learning is therefore the procurement of
new behaviors. According to Skinner, knowledge is not used to guide human
actions; it is the action itself (Skinner 1976. p152). Behaviorism suggests
that in order to learn, the learner needs an active engagement and needs to be
reinforced with instant rewards (Sotto, 2007: 35). The more satisfying the
reward to the learner, the more the behavior of the learner is strengthened,
leading to more comprehensive learning (Skinner 1974 cited in Elliott 2007 pg.
48). The idea is that if a child is rewarded for their desirable behavior, they
will be more likely to repeat that behavior. Skinner suggested that educators
should primarily focus on positive reinforcements and the success of the
learner rather than punishing poor behavior as this weakens the behavior
portrayed by the learner (Pritchard, p11). This suggests that a schools
rewards/ behavior system is extremely important to a student’s development, as
the way the school looks at rewards and punishments can affect the behavior and
learning of the students.

 

Behaviorist
learning breaks down tasks into small, progressive sequences where continuous
positive reinforcement is given. The theory suggests that without positive
reinforcement, the learned responses will be forgotten. The theory relies on
continuous repetition and use of the “skill and drill” exercise. It has been
suggested that the point of education was to present the learner with an
appropriate collection of responses to specific skills (or stimuli) by
constantly repeating said behavior which is reinforced by rewards (Skinner
1976) as this is the most reliable way of processing and retaining information.

 

The
issue with this theory is that, although the learners are actively doing tasks,
they are receiving the information passively, as the teacher is the transmitter
of the knowledge to the learner, rather than actively looking and deciphering
information for themselves. Farnham-Diggory (1981, p60) criticized the theory
for the “lack of understanding” of what individual learners own learning really
involves. Pritchard argued that although positive reinforcement is an
acceptable way to practice skills for some learners, for other learners, they
may not be motivated by rewards or they may not understand the logic behind it
(Pritchard, pg11).

 

In a
behaviorist environment, students are required to do the same activity and work
at the same pace as the rest of the class, and don’t have the option of
choosing their activities or topics. Although this cuts down on the amount of
planning a teacher has do to, as they can focus on one topic thoroughly, it can
also cause issues with regards to differentiation. When planning and delivering
lessons, a teacher needs to make sure that the lessons are at the right level
of understanding for each student in the class, which may influence teaching
and learning as a whole (Kyriacou, p79).

 

Some
critics claim that by constantly rewarding positive behavior and learning, it
could cause some children to lose interest in their own learning (Pritchard
pg10). He carries this on further by mentioning that using a reward system
could have a damaging effect on students if the focus of the positive
reinforcement is on only a few students, rather than the many (Pritchard,
pg10). Moreover, positive responses from students following on from praise by
the teacher may not be established every time, so the desired behavior may take
some time to be established, or not at all in some cases. (Sotto, 2007, pg35.)

Constructivism

 

Jean
Piaget led a new approach which was a complete contrast to the ideas of the
behaviourist theory, which had a higher focus on mental processes rather than
behaviours that could be easily observed. This was due to the fact that he
thought that mental processes couldn’t be accurately explained by behavioural
principles (Schunk, 1991). Piaget’s theory was that the “thought
process… an action that has been internalised in the sense that it can be
‘thought’ and is reversible in the sense that it can be ‘unthought'”
(Lefrancois,1995, pg. 342).  In this
view, knowledge is generated by physical activities which creates ‘schemas’ (or
mental maps) which are constantly developing as the student gains more
experience.

 

Piaget
proposed that exposure to new experiences is vital in the development and
construction of knowledge. In order to thoroughly learn, individuals need to be
active and not passive in their own development (Woolfolk, 1993). In order to
develop this knowledge, children should be given the opportunity to explore and
experience activities for themselves. There are two important processes in
Piaget’s theory which lend themselves to the development of knowledge;
‘accommodation’ and ‘assimilation’ which combined creates equilibrium.
Accommodation can be defined as the “modification of an activity or
ability in the face of environmental demands” whereas assimilation can be defined as the
“act of incorporating objects or aspects of objects into learned
activities” (Lefrancois, 1995, pg. 329-330). A result of the accommodation
process is the ‘organisation’ and ‘adaptation’ phase where new information is
absorbed and adapted into the existing schema, resulting in skills and
strategies changing and improving (Bee, p151). The culmination of
accommodation and assimilation, ‘equilibration’, results in a more effective
way of processing information from an individuals surrounding environment. This
process has been described as the way “people maintain a balance between
assimilation (using old learning) and accommodation (changing behavior;
learning new things)” (Lefrancois, 1995, pg. 335). Equilibration has been
described as “a creative process of invention”, whereupon Piaget was trying to
argue that instruction may deteriorate a child’s exploration and inhibit their
understanding (newman et al. 1989, p92).

 

Piaget
ascertained that children developed their knowledge through four stages of
cognitive development. By the end of each particular stage, the children are
expected to achieve that stages milestone. This meant each stage of a child’s
development has to match their current level of understanding. (C. Wood et al.,
2006, pg 202). Piaget’s theory was that each child progressed through each
stage in an ‘invariance sequence’ (Sutherland,1992). The four stages were split
into sensori-motor, concrete operational and formal operations.

 

The
first stage is sensori-motor (where children aged 0-2 are categorised in). In
this stage, infants are beginning to understand their environment through
movement and touch and co-ordination between hands and mouth starts to be
established. This stage is broken down into six sub-stages.

 

The
first sub-stage is ‘Reflective Actions’ which affects infants 0-1 months. This
is characterised as “mere mechanical responses to outside stimuli”
according to Piaget (Sutherland,1992:9). The second sub-stage is ‘Primary
Circular Reactions’ which affects infants 1-4 months. By this point in their
development. The child has primitive responses to their environment, which
Piaget termed as ‘circular’ due to their repetitive nature. Circular reactions
are not reflexes but actual actions that are repeated due to their pleasantness
to the child. These actions are important in the accommodation process as these
activities become embedded in the brain. This has been described as “the
dawning of memory” (Sutherland, 992:9). The third sub-stage is
‘Secondary Circular Reactions’ which affects infants 4-8 months. Piaget calls
this stage Recognitory assimilation as the infant is beginning to recognise
objects and their actions are more deliberate and with a goal in mind.
‘Co-ordination of Secondary Circular Reactions’ (8-12 months) is the fourth
sub-stage, in which the infant is able to anticipate outcomes in play, however
isn not capable of looking for hidden objects. Piaget termed this as ‘objective
permanence’. This is followed on by ‘Tertiary Circular Reactions’ (12-18
months). Piaget was able to illustrate the massive leap forward in cognitive
development that ‘object permanence’ brings. He was able to show that this
development allows understanding that unseen objects will still exist when the
infant is not able to see it. Trial and error is starting to be used to solve
problems. In the final stage, ‘Inventive Abilities via Mental Combinations’
(18-24 months), the infant is now able to mentally represent themselves. At
this stage his imagination is running wild, and the child is able to invent
their own play. Play in itself becomes key to learning. Cognition starts to
move beyond sensorimotor and more towards preconceptual thought. Piaget
referred to this as ‘Post-sensorimotor representational intelligence’
(Sutherland, 1992).

 

The
next few stages start building up ‘Operational Intelligence’ which was a key
concept for Piaget. He defined it at as an internalised activity subjected to
rules of logic (Lefrancois,1995). It is categorised by: pre-conceptial
thinking, concentration and language acquitsition to name a few.

 

Pre-operational
thought (2-7 years) is the next stage in Piaget’s theory. It has been seen as a
very egocentric stage, as the child only thinks of the world from their own
perspective and don’t think of others. At this point, they are also developing
their language, which leads to their imagination begin developed also.

 

This
stage is also divided up into sub-stages. The first sub-stage is ‘preconceptual
thinking’ (2-4 years), where similar objects are classified as the same thing
and the child can’t hierarchically discriminate, for example all men must be
‘Daddy’. ‘Intuitive thinking’ (4-7 years) is the second sub-stage, where
thinking is more logical as the child has started to become more perceptive.
Some of Piaget’s experiments suggested that at this stage, a child is easily
tricked by dominant and immediate perceptions- egocentrism dominates the
thinking of the child, as they are still not able to understand another persons
point of view.

 

In
the third stage ‘Concrete Operations (7-11/12 years), the child starts to
develop an understanding of abstract idea, as well as more logical thought
about physical operations. The child has also started to gain the ability to
multitask- able to hold ideas in their head as well as solve problems.
Lefrancois (1995, pg. 214) categorises this as the transition from
“prelogical, egocentric, perception dominated kind of thinking to a more
rule-regulated thinking.”

 

The final stage is ‘Formal
Operations’ (11/12- Adulthood). At this stage, children are able to think in
the abstract as well as the hypothetical, and have the ability to manipulate
ideas, speculate and reason. Piaget called this ‘hypothetico-deductive’.
Sutherland (1992) states that thinking “is no longer limited to reality or
personal experience” (p.19) as the child has enough knowledge to go
through in a process of combinational analysis (Lefrancois,1995).