Behaviorism is the theory that states that people can be taught through the use of reward and/or punishment (Prida, 2008). This theory often involves the use of drill-and-practice as the main form of instruction (Prida, 2008). The philosophy of the behavioral approach focuses on understanding observable and measurable behaviors. It looks to see what people do- how they act, not what they think or feel. This approach outlines instructional goals in specific, behavioral, observable terms. Using drill-and-practice, the ultimate goal is immediate, recognizable changes in behavior. This is the basic premise behind Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). The instructor’s role is to present structured material and to formally assess student’s understanding of it. The instructor is the focus of presentation and interaction. Work assigned is also generally structured in nature, mostly from textbooks, leaving little room for deviation. Individual work is submitted directly to the instructor for review. Structured assignments are directly linked to learning objectives and there is little or no cohort discussion. In regards to assessment, individual tests and performances are given to demonstrate mastery of units, activities, and processes. Emphasis is on a few summative products and performances.
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Constructivism is the educational theory that views children as “little individual scientists” (Prida, 2011). With constructivism, students are allowed to explore their environment, interact with it, and learn from it. The constructivist teacher is there for students to go to when they are in need, not the leader that strictly directs and everyone must follow. Constructivism acknowledges the differences amongst children and their individual needs; not everyone learns the same things at the same speed or with the same ease. Each child may learn something different or develop a different view from the same experience. Learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) are even taken into account with the constructivist approach. It is important for teachers to acknowledge the different learning styles and allow the opportunity for students to utilize them as much as possible. The constructivist approach encourages learners to gain knowledge and meaning of the world through their own unique experiences. The instructor’s role is to construct a learning environment and assist and support students as they explore it. Meaningful activities are what create lasting learning and experiences. Interaction, reflection and collaboration among groups of learners is strongly encouraged. The student’s role is to explore the learning environment along with other students and to create meaning from learning experiences and to apply knowledge in personally meaningful contexts. There is great emphasis on discussion and collaboration among groups of students. Assignments reflect more of a “real world” environment as opposed to strictly textbook. Reports (verbal or written) on active experiences or activities are commonly used to assess learning. Assessment is integrated throughout the curriculum rather than in final or standardized methods.
I personally feel that both the behaviorist and constructivist approach can be beneficial, given the individual needs of each student. I would personally gear my classroom more towards a constructivist approach because it involves student interaction, which gets the students actively engaged in learning. This approach acknowledges that not all students learn in the same manner and often learn from various interactions. The constructivist approach also utilizes various tools, such as technology, books and manipulatives. This approach also fosters real-world experiences in learning rather than just focusing on “scripted text” from a textbook. I believe the constructivist approach really encourages and fosters students to be able to relate interpersonally.
On the other hand, I think the behaviorist approach can be beneficial to students with behavioral issues, who need more stringent guidelines and not as much freedom in their learning due to the drill-and-practice nature (as well as positive and negative reinforcement) of this form of instruction. In behaviorism, it is believed that behavior is learned, and because of that, all behavior can be unlearned and new behaviors learned in its place. Behaviorism views development as a continuous process in which children play a fairly inactive role. Behaviorists believe that the only things that are real are the things we can see and observe. We cannot see the mind, but we can see how people act, react and behave. However, I do believe in some cases that the behavior can be stemming from a more physiological (i.e., Autism) as opposed to external cause (child abuse). Behavior does impact learning and a great deal can be learned about a child through their behavior. The Behaviorist philosophy has also developed many excellent means of disciplinary approaches and classroom management techniques. Many theories and perspectives have emerged from the behaviorist approach, but I believe it would be most conducive to students with special needs, whether it is autism or a student suffering from some kind of abuse or lack of parenting. Behaviorism aims to approach lower level abilities before higher level abilities, so in a way, I feel that behaviorism reduces a student’s true abilities.
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This is a very fine line for me to be partial to either one of the two theories because I am going for my Masters in Early Childhood and Special Education to do Early Intervention Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, which is a form of Behaviorism. So, I do have a special interest in this philosophy. However, if I were to teach a general education classroom, I would absolutely use the constructivist approach.
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