Behaviorism TIPR

How does the teacher use behaviorist techniques (e.g., shaping, Premack principle, token economy, etc.) to help students learn? Cite specific examples and be sure to include a reference in your response. How do students respond to this instructional method? This question refers to learning rather than motivation.

I have observed Mrs. G. use multiple behaviorist techniques to help her students learn, including positive practice, fading, shaping, and other techniques. Her students changed their behavior as a result of these techniques, and in terms of the behaviorist’s definition, they learned more because their behavior changed.

Positive Practice

I observed Mrs. G. use positive practice on more than one occasion with her 10th grade students to help them improve their writing skills. Positive practice is sometimes associated only with classroom procedures, but Mrs. G. used it to help students learn her content. Students turned in a book report, and many of them did not properly cite their sources and inadvertently plagiarized. Rather than grading these reports, Mrs. G. gave them back to the students. She provided a lesson on properly summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and citing sources before giving students the chance to do their reports again correctly.

In this instance, Mrs. G. followed the formula for positive practice explained by Tom Drummond: “Positive practice . . . is to stop everything immediately after a mistake is made, provide an example of the correct or more appropriate thing to do or say in that setting, and invite . . . repetitions before going on with life. No anger. No disapproval. Full support.”

Mrs. G. stopped grading the incorrect reports, gave examples of the right way to quote and cite sources, and then allowed students to repeat the report. She didn’t punish them for doing it wrong, or take points away from students who had to re-submit the report. She also reinforced the correct behavior. This example of positive practice helped students learn the target behavior and to submit their reports more correctly in the future.

Students responded positively to this technique. Many of them revised their reports after this, and turned them in again the following week. The revised reports contained fewer errors, and students got higher grades on them. In terms of the behaviorist’s definition of learning, the student’s behavior changed and improved based on the positive practice.


I observed Mrs. G. use the technique of fading to teach students both content and a classroom procedure. At the beginning of each class, Mrs. G. has students to a bellwork assignment where they correct grammar, punctuation, and syntax in a series of sentences. In the beginning, a lot of reinforcement would have been needed to help students learn the target procedure and the content. She wanted students to come into class, take out their materials, and start working on the bellwork when the bell rings, so at the beginning of the year, some reinforcement would have been needed for students to learn this procedure. In January when I began observing, students did not need very much reinforcement for them to follow this procedure; they came into class, took out their notebooks, and started working on the bellwork. Occasionally Mrs. G. needed to reinforce behavior using positive reinforcement—she would verbally remind them what to be doing. This was an example of positive reinforcement because she was adding a stimulus—a verbal warning—in an effort to increase the target behavior—following the procedure.

She also used fading to help students learn the grammar principles contained in the bellwork. By the time I began observing, students needed less positive reinforcement to catch all the grammar mistakes. During one class period, the bellwork included a grammar concept students had not seen before. After Mrs. G. taught the concept, she used more reinforcement as students identified other examples of the concept. As the term progressed, less reinforcement was needed for students to correctly identify that particular concept.

Students have responded well to fading as well. By the end of my observation in March, I was observing Mrs. G. giving fewer verbal warnings and reminders regarding the procedure, and students were correctly identifying more grammar concepts than they were in January. As a result of the technique, students’ target behaviors improved.


I observed Mrs. G. use shaping to teach her 12th grade students about different essay types. In this case, the target behavior was for the students to be able to write 3 different types of essays with correct structures and purposes. She started this process with the simplest essay type, giving lots of reinforcement to students. Gradually she introduced more nuances and techniques with this essay type, and continued reinforcement. Then she introduced the next essay type, and finally the third essay type, reinforcing each step of the way until students were able to master all three essay structures.

Students responded well to the shaping technique. At the beginning of my observation, I helped grade some student essays where they had written an example of all 3 essay structures—synthesis, argument, and rhetorical analysis. When they had written these essays, they had only learned about the synthesis essay, so their argument and rhetorical analysis essays were not as strong. At the end of my observation, students had learned about argument and rhetorical analysis, and their essays were much stronger with better structure and support. Based on their writing, they learned all three essay types as Mrs. G. provided lots of reinforcement and gradually increased the level of difficulty.


Based on academic behavior alone, students responded positively to the behaviorist techniques that Mrs. G. employed in her classroom. Since a lot of school is based on demonstrating what you know, behaviorism seems like a good theory to employ because it can result in students better demonstrating their knowledge, especially with the prevalence of standardized testing. Behaviorism, though, ignores how students think and feel about school, and since all students are different, the stimulus that is a positive reinforcement for one student can actually be a presentation punishment for another student. Of course I will use behaviorist techniques in my classroom, though I will probably pair them with other strategies to help educate my students, rather than teaching my subject.


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