I first ran into Behaviorism in child psychology classes I took for my Early Childhood Education credential (ECE). It was developed by a renowned psychologist named John B. Watson and formed into the Theory of Behaviorism by another famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner. The technical definition they provide is:
“…scientific and objective methods of investigation concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors; all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment.”
They used the infamous example of Pavlov’s Dogs. No surprise, with this gobbledegook definition that used dog training as the example, I laughed, rejected it, and then forgot it.
Fast forward a decade, to a time when I was studying for my teaching credential. One of my classes reviewed education pedagogies such as Purpose-driven Learning, the Socratic Method, Depth of Knowledge, Unschooling, and Behaviorism. Applied to education, Behaviorism focuses on:
“… conditioning student behavior with various types of reinforcements and consequences…”
I still cringe at words like “conditioning” and “consequences”, but in the fullness of the class, I came to understand that whether teachers know it or not, they use Behaviorism as an effective, reliable teaching tool. I’ll get back to that later but first, I want to deconstruct how a theory that started with training dogs is now a cornerstone in education pedagogy.
I remember report card days as a child, me sitting outside on a brick wall, scared to death as my mother met with the teacher and received the (always bad) news about how I wasn’t doing. It never motivated me to try harder, didn’t make me like school better, and angered me at everyone involved.
Fast forward to me as a K-5 teacher. I love report card days now because this is when I get to meet parents. Often, it is the only time I see those who don’t drop in with questions or email me about concerns. Even before it became protocol, I invited students to join the conversation. I wanted to let parent and child know I considered the three of us a partnership in the student’s success.
Today, that inclusive approach is integral to student-led conferences.
What is a student-led conference?
A student–led conference is where students between kindergarten and 12th grade meet with parents (with the teacher quietly at the side) to share the work they completed during the grading period and their progress toward overall goals. Simply stated, student-led conferences are about process not product. Where traditional conferences seek to delineate how students rank academically at a point in time, student-led conferences revolve around the work students have produced. They are less about grading than measuring learning. In fact, the grades earned are secondary to how students understand what happened in the lesson.
The philosophy behind student-led conferences
If we were teaching writing skills, the philosophy would be called “show don’t tell”. In student-led conferences, this means that students demonstrate their acquired knowledge not by a grade but by communicating their progress. For student work to be relevant, students must be engaged, responsible for the learning and involved in reporting that to stakeholders.
Of all the gifts students receive from education, passion is the greatest. If students are taught that learning is difficult, that math and science are boring, that history is a waste of time, they miss out on life’s most exciting, most meaningful motivator: passion.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs
Why passion is important for students
Sometimes called Passion-based Learning, a focus on the student’s passion is a clear path to helping kids excel. By doing what they love, students learn to try hard, take risks, overcome obstacles, and never quit no matter the frustration. Passion makes learning fun which can drive success.
For educators, passion offers one of our most effective tools for engaging otherwise unengaged students. If kids can focus on something they love (say football), goals (like, say, trying to get into Notre Dame’s football program) become achievable. That juxtaposition may inspire students to commit to the study, homework, and test prep necessary to succeed.
A final reason why passion is important in the school setting is that its pursuit can teach students to get along with others. It is enormously powerful for kids to share ideas, experiences, and stories with those who reciprocate the interest. In its own way, this confirms that the student is valued. Finding those with similar interests is especially important in middle school where fitting in takes on an even higher priority to many than learning.
Every year, education finds new ways to make learning more inclusive and diversified. The latest change agent is Artificial Intelligence (AI), now being used in classes to focus learning, simplify redundant tasks, and infuse lesson plans. Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Kamy Anderson has eight practical ways to use AI in learning:
Artificial intelligence (AI) is disrupting the education industry. Traditional classrooms may not go extinct anytime soon, but edtech will certainly change the way we learn and think about learning. It’s already challenging us, as educators, to revisit our role as sole providers of formal knowledge and professional L&D. And we must admit, AI is making things better and easier.
These are the eight practical ways to use AI in learning:
1. Smarter Content
The primary ability of AI is to collect and analyze data. Not only is this technology designed to sift through massive amounts of information but it is also ingrained with powerful curation capabilities. As a result, AI helps create smart educational content that’s being used in both classrooms and online courses. Using AI, we can deliver textbooks, lesson summaries, and flashcards that are highly focused, relevant, and applicable. Moreover, AI-empowered edtech can keep updating content with the latest findings from leading academic researchers and scientists.
If you watch the news, tolerance seems to be a lost art. College kids shout down speakers. Mobs throw chairs through windows. Hordes of hooligans loot stores. It’s not that we don’t try. The Kindness Movement is more popular than ever. TeachingTolerance.org even uses Black Lives Matter as a model for tolerance education. Martin Luther King Day is always chockful of admonitions against prejudice and intolerance.
But how do you teach it in the confines of a classroom? Another lesson plan? A movie about Mahatma Gandhi? Quotes like this from Helen Keller:
The highest result of education is tolerance.
These have all been done and by many measures, America and the world are more intolerant than ever. So what do you do in your classroom to get this important attitude across? Here are some fresh ideas that you may not have tried:
Model tolerant behavior
Words don’t stem the tide of intolerance. No matter how many times we say, “See the other’s perspective,” or “Be kind,” these words are meaningless to a dedicated zealot who feels the end justifies the means. Sometimes, the best way is simply to model tolerance. In writing, this is a powerful storytelling device called “show don’t tell”. It means instead of talking about tolerance, be tolerant. When a student gets angry over a grade, explain where they fell short or how to improve a grade.
Admittedly, in the current social media world, words are today’s doing. People join hashtag campaigns like #Nevergiveup or #Bringhomeourgirls. While these may raise public awareness, they don’t deliver the tolerance necessary to change the outcome. Don’t hashtag a sentiment; find an action for the words.
Last year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.
What is MBL
Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:
“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.”
Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.
Life is much simpler when you — as a parent or teacher — can point to one solution for a problem, solve it, and everything is golden. Success in school was like that when grades were the barometer and studying harder was the tool. Now, we know academic achievement is much more complicated.
“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education” –John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic
Today’s educators realize learning has as much to do with academics as how students get along with themselves and others. This is called “Social Emotional Learning” or SEL. It’s akin to the importance of play in teaching preschool kids to socialize with others, develop tenacity, and learn respect for those around them. If you’re not convinced of the importance of SEL, here’s what students say:
“Students and young adults believe SEL schools would create a more positive social and learning environment” — report by the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
A positive attitude about themselves and others is linked to not only academic success but correlated to lessening the negative impact of future-ending problems such as drug use. It should surprise no one that as of mid-2018, two states have passed SEL measures, sixteen SEL-related bills and resolutions have been introduced, and twenty-three states are working on SEL standards.
Assessing student learning traditionally is accomplished with tests. The problem teachers have with this approach is managing them. If they’re short answer or essay — the preferred way to check understanding — grading takes a long time. And unless assessments are frequent, it’s easy to miss the student who is lost or just doesn’t get it. Even with the advances technology offers in responding directly to students, it can be too time-consuming for large classes.
A solution that has become popular is peer feedback. This isn’t new; in fact, it is prevalent in universities. What exactly is peer feedback and how is it being applied to lower grades?
What is peer feedback?
When used as an assessment strategy, peer feedback is much more than casual comments shared between classmates. It is the logical evaluation of one student’s work by another using predetermined characteristics and measures. Through the implementation of a prescribed rubric, a student’s classmate looks at their work and determines if it satisfies the goals of the lesson, the Essential Questions, and the Big Ideas.
One important difference from teacher evaluations is that students don’t grade each other.
Why peer feedback?
Peer feedback has become popular as teachers move to a “teacher-guide” model of education rather than a “teacher-lecturer”. When the time comes in a lesson to assess student learning, instead of a formal test in a quiet room with a clock ticking, teachers employ a system of peer feedback. For many, this is more effective, less stressful, and maintains the goal of encouraging lifelong learners. Sometimes, this is an excellent way to address school budget cuts, large classes, and the burden of too many pieces to be graded. Other times, teachers employ this method because not only the one being reviewed benefits but so too does the reviewer as they must know what the lesson is about to effectively review classmates. As a pedagogical strategy, it teaches critical thinking, one of those traits that is hard to teach but essential to being a productive adult.
I haven’t written much about IoT (the Internet of Things–see the end of this article for more resources on IoT) and education. I do talk about it in my Digital Citizenship grad school class (if you click the link, it’s MTI 557) but haven’t turned those ideas into blogs yet. Thank you, Jane, Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, for writing a quick overview of that topic’s intersection with education.
Even though 86% of universities currently educate students with disabilities, only 24% of the schools say that they offer those students assistance “to a major extent.” The schools that do place emphasis on the needs of their students often have programs that encourage accessibility as well as accessible classrooms. Smart technology that is connected by the Internet of Things (IoT), however, is beginning to change all of this by making classrooms and campuses around the country more accessible while crafting a better learning environment for every student.
Crafting Smart, Accessible Learning Environments
Students with physical disabilities that affect their mobility can often find it hard to access learning spaces. Integrating smart, connected technology into college campuses is a way to prevent these issues from affecting disabled students or those with lower mobility. Mobility-friendly stairlifts and motion-sensitive doors, for example, are ways in which smart technology is used to allow students with disabilities to easily access buildings and classrooms. Using smart technology to accomplish this is nothing new. Other industries that cater to the elderly population, people with limited mobility due to obesity and the housing sector already utilizing technology to improve health and increase accessibility. All of these solutions have come to fruition based on, first, the concept of universal design and, second, the idea that technology can be used in innovative ways to enhance life in practically any way possible.
Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno to summarize the philosophy that each learner’s inner strengths can be unlocked by focusing with purpose and drive. By following the guidelines for Purpose Driven Learning, teachers avoid the biggest pitfall in many lesson plans — that they are theoretic without meaning in the real world. With PDL, resources are relevant, lessons are personalized, and real-life connections are placed under a bright light. In the end, learning is changed from pedantic to powerful and students learn to reliably connect academic studies to the world outside the schoolhouse.
The Goal of PDL
In a phrase:
…the goal of Purpose Driven Learning is NOT about a curriculum that lasts a year. It’s about creating life-long learners who fuel their future passionately with knowledge.
This applies to both 1) education pursued with the goal of college or career, and 2) the critical preparation of students to succeed in life. Purpose Driven Learning, faithfully delivered with buy-in from students, will result in students willingly participating in even the boring lesson pieces (like worksheets or podcasts) as well as exciting applications like simulations and student-devised projects.
Problems implementing Purpose Driven Learning
Engaging PDL in your classroom is seen by some as teaching students what they want to learn at the expense of what they need to learn but this isn’t true. Done right, students come to understand that real knowledge relies on a solid foundation of data upon which they build their personal interests. For example, students who want to join America’s proposed Space Force must first be grounded in the basics of science and math.
Educators who wish to use PDL often run into three roadblocks:
School Standards. Because state and national standards are often devised to serve the majority of students, they may not well-serve your students. But they do provide a necessary foundation without which the goals of your particular group can’t be met. That means that standards are taught first and additional learning is scaffolded afterward. Standards are in fact the foundation that underpins your students’ ability to achieve their PDL goals.