Skinner said, “The things we call pleasant have an energizing or strengthening effect on behavior” (Orey, 2001). Learners are pleased to see the consequences of their effort expressed as academic achievement, and they are then energized and strengthened to repeat the effort. Technology makes instructional strategies that utilize immediate feedback, data-gathering, and data analysis possible, allowing students to visualize their academic growth (Pitler, Hubbell, & Kuhn, 2012). Therefore, technology plays an important role in the application of behaviorist learning theory, positively reinforcing the relationship between the operant, effort, and the reward, academic achievement.
Pitler, Hubbell, and Kuhn (2012) explain that of all the factors impacting achievement, reinforcing effort is paramount. They recommend strategies using technology tools to explicitly teach students the cause and effect relationship between effort and achievement. For example, educators can help students input effort data and the resulting academic achievement data into a spreadsheet to produce graphs that concretely show students the connection between them. The graph itself acts as either a positive reinforcement of students’ efforts or as a positive punishment of students’ lack of effort (Orey, 2001). Behaviorist learning theory predicts that in these cases the positive reinforcement will increase student effort in the future, whereas the positive punishment will decrease student lack of effort.
In my classroom, I currently do not use technology very often to reinforce effort, but I do incorporate behaviorist-based instructional strategies. To help students see that their efforts in decoding and frequent oral reading are paying off, I provide them with a data sheet on which they track by hand results of fluency tests, specifically administrations of AIMSWeb Reading Curriculum-Based Measurement (Pearson, Inc., n.d.). To promote reading stamina, I post a bar graph chart that shows students how many minutes per day the whole class was on-task reading to themselves. To help students become better writers, I provide feedback in the form of printed rubrics that include hand-written comments.
One technology application that students use for immediate feedback in my classroom is SpellingCity.com (VocabularySpellingCity, n.d.). Here students practice their spelling and vocabulary words and receive immediate feedback. However, their studying effort is not accounted for in the data, and the feedback they do receive is not graphed in a way that shows progress over time.
Another technology that I use for reinforcement of writing skills is adding comments to students’ work in Google Docs. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2016), this use of technology to evaluate learning fulfills ISTE Teacher Standard 2, “Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.”
I have recently begun to use Socrative, a classroom response system, to give students instant feedback on their factual knowledge of literary genre terms (Mastery Connect, 2017). Socrative not only provides instant feedback to individual students, but also uses graphs to show students what percentage of the class has achieved mastery of each term. However, like the other technology I currently use, there is not mechanism for students to see how their effort is paying off over time.
In the future, I would like to incorporate an online survey platform where students could anonymously provide feedback to each other on their writing. This would fulfill ISTE (2007) Student Standard 1, “Empowered Learner.” As a writing teacher, I find the turn-around time from when students complete their written work to when I can return it to them with comments to be too slow. Allowing peers to provide feedback to writing would be worth the initial time it would take to train the students how to provide valuable feedback, in that eventually students would be able to provide feedback to each other in a much more timely fashion than when I evaluate all of their written pieces myself.
In recent research, I have discovered applied concepts of behaviorist learning theory among Responsive Classroom (2017), a video blog summary of Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment (Blue Sofa Media, 2014), and an article by Johnson (2015) detailing approaches to improve student learning during classroom activities. In my classroom management, I integrate behaviorist learning theory aspects of Responsive Classroom (2017) when I use positive language to help students reflect on their behaviors that lead to academic achievement. Next week, when I begin to roll out Genius Hour, use of positive language will be important in helping my students stay on task as they research a topic of their choice. Blue Sofa Media’s (2014) video blog points out that research shows my evaluative comments on students’ Genius Hour work will result in more academic improvement than just giving grades. Moreover, Johnson (2015) describes research showing that completing research like that incorporated in Genius Hour in class, an activity that in the past was commonly assigned as homework, allows for more peer feedback, resulting in more learning.
The positive reinforcement provided by positive language, evaluative comments, and peer feedback should result in student behavior conducive to learning during our Genius Hour activities. Technology can support these strategies. For example, I can prepare short audio clips using positive language and email these to students instead of interrupting student learning with direct verbal praise. Students who choose to create electronic products as part of their Genius Hour projects can receive evaluative comments from me electronically, either embedded in their Google Docs or in the comments section of their blog. To expedite peer feedback, I can create a web showcase of Genius Hours projects on our class web site, model to students how to give valuable feedback, and then allow them to comment on their peers’ work. All of these technologies transform what previously may have been brief oral communications into permanent written feedback that students can refer back to as needed.
In conclusion, technology supports learning strategies that align with behaviorist learning theories. Using such strategies results in changes in student behavior, particularly in students’ application of effort, and ultimately in their increased learning.
Blue Sofa Media. (2014, January 21). Grades vs. feedback [Video podcast]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/xjZ87Pai_5M
International Society for Technology in Education. (2007). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-students
International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers
Johnson, K. (2015). Behavioral education in the 21st century. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 35(1/2), 135-150. doi:10.1080/01608061.2015.1036152
Mastery Connect. (2017). Socrative. Retrieved from https://socrative.com/
Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Main_Page
Pearson, Inc. (n.d.). Aimsweb Overview. Retrieved from http://www.aimsweb.com/overview
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Responsive Classroom. (2017). Naming What Children Can Do. Retrieved from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/naming-what-children-can-do/?utm_content=buffer9dc11&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
VocabularySpellingCity. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from http://www.spellingcity.com/about-us.html