The leading theorist of the Behaviourist approach was James Watson. So -called the ‘father of Behaviourism’, he formulated the principles of the Behaviourist model. His work and ideas were supplemented by the work of Thorndike. His contribution to Behaviourism was the formulation of ‘laws’ which could be used to summarise the principles that underpin the Behaviourist approach to classroom management. Behaviourist models of learning suggest that living creatures, including humans, learn by building up associations or ‘bonds’ between their experience, their thinking and their behaviour.
(Chambers, G, 2004) This belief was clarified by Thorndike’s laws, in which he gave a practical explanation of their application and introduced the notions of positive reinforcement and punishment. In practice the Law of exercise led to emphasis on whole class teaching, intensive practice and drill as commonly seen in schools during the first half of the 20th century. The main consequences of this approach are that the learner is forced into taking a passive role, with the focus for the duration and content of the lesson placed firmly upon the teacher.
The Law of effect was designed to support the law of exercise, in a way that rewarded those that were successful in their ‘rope learning’, whilst introducing punishment to the pupils who failed to ‘learn’. In effect it was interpreted through an elaborate reward and punishment system. In practice however, it would appear that the learning was expected to occur, and therefore tended to be based on more severe punishments when the required learning did not take place.
As the content of lessons delivered through the law of exercise was generally not differentiated or interactive, techniques that we now take for granted, the law of effect was necessary to keep children on task. In terms of managing the class behaviour the children did ‘behave’, but in terms of a modern definition of classroom management, it is arguable that an effective teaching and learning environment was created.
The main benefit of managing a classroom through the Behaviourist approach is the focus on subject knowledge and skills. The whole class teaching facilitates subject matter being taught in a logical manner. However, this is essentially a basic and outdated method, with the learning experience restricted to knowledge ; experience of teacher and few opportunities for social interaction, something that was considered vital by Vgotsky. “For Vogotsky, co-operatively achieved success lies at the foundation of
learning and development” G. Chambers (2004) Furthermore, the whole class approach makes no allowance for differentiation and the different learning styles that are recognised within education today. Molnar and Lindquist’s (see appendix 1) working in the late eighties supported the notion that a rigid Behaviourist approach does not create the most effective environment for learning. Their research recognises the need for challenging work, but with differentiation to ensure the tasks set do not threaten.
Skinner’s ideas are important when considering the relevance of Behaviourism in the 20th century. Working in the 1960’s, he recognised the dated approach of Thorndike and adapted what were essentially the same ideas to make them more relevant in the classroom. He criticised the use of punishment, and instead placed the emphasis on positive reinforcement or reward, believing like Pavlov that an action that proved fruitful was more likely to be repeated. Skinner made a considered move towards the Constructivist ideas.