Behaviourist theory is a type of teaching approach that can be used by a teacher within a classroom in the form of rote learning. This will be discussed throughout this essay with the benefits and drawbacks. I will briefly discuss reinforcement as a behaviourist approach too. Behaviourism is the idea that everyone responds to a stimulus. Pritchard believed that behaviourism is based on the idea that learning is a change in behaviour and that changes in behaviour occur as a response to a stimulus of one kind or another’ (Pritchard 2005:11).
Children’s behavioural response is influenced by the stimulus. Skinner is a psychologist who analysed children’s behavioural responses and came up with the theory of operant conditioning: This concept shows ‘how behaviours are learned through reinforcers and punishment’ (Hughes 2001:22). The behaviour response is dependent on how the child reacts to the stimulus. A reinforcer is something that increases their behavioural response whereas punishment decreases their behavioural response.
If the behaviour is followed by a reward then it will occur again but if the behaviour is followed by a punishing stimulus then it will less likely to occur as the child will have to change their behaviour to get a reward. Skinner proved this by experimenting with animals. He placed rats in a box and wanted to see how they would respond to the given stimulus which was the trap. ‘He found that an organism will tend to repeat a response that has been reinforced and will suppress a response that has been punished’ (Papilia 2002:31).
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Positive reinforcement was shown on placement as the teacher positively reinforced the child by saying ‘well done’. This praise meant that their behaviour occurred again. This reinforcement allows the child to keep engaged in their learning and focused on the tasks ahead. Another example was where the teacher gave out stickers to the children who helped tidy away after play which meant they would repeat this behaviour again next time. Rote learning is an example of a behaviourist approach that involves a child learning key information through the use of repetition. This can be in the form of facts, numbers or the alphabet.
Short relevant information allows the children to process information enabling them to recall it when needed. The child doesn’t necessarily understand the learning but knows when to use it. It is commonly used at the early stages of child development as it allows the children to process small amounts of information. The use of rote learning was massively seen whilst I was on placement in a number of forms. The children had to say the order of the numbers from one to fifty repeatedly. The use of repetition allowed the children to process this information and allow them to learn the order.
Another example that ties in nicely is where the teacher asked the children to go through the different parts of a book. This allowed the children to reflect on their past understanding and recall the parts of the book showing the learning process of knowing the different parts: front page, back page, spine. Timetables are another example that the teacher used to reinforce the information the child already knew. It allows them to be familiar with the tables and when they have to use them. ‘Behaviourism apparently doesn’t provide a complete account of development’ (Berk 2006:20).
Rote learning through behaviourism doesn’t allow the child to develop a full understanding of the topic involved and stops the child from increasing their knowledge therefore a lack of understanding doesn’t allow the child to fully develop their learning. This means the child is unable to move onto more complex learning. It has been criticized for ‘neglecting children’s contributions to their own development’ (Berk 2006:20). It doesn’t allow the child to contribute to their learning as the information is thrown at them and all they have to do is learn it. This doesn’t allow the child to explore new things and be creative.
Rote learning is useful for the start of child development as it allows children to just know the information and they don’t have to apply knowledge as they are still at a young age and still developing. The child doesn’t necessarily need to understand the concept of what they are learning. This approach is very beneficial for a child because the information can be used in further stages of learning once the child has progressed onto more advanced learning. Rote learning is the basis of learning and the information received can be expanded once they develop more understanding.
It’s ideal for younger children because they don’t have to go into in depth thinking therefore it doesn’t put any strain on the brain allowing them to take in the information. On the other hand rote learning isn’t an ideal teaching method to use from the point of view of psychologist Richard Mayor as he believes that rote learning doesn’t allow you to gain knowledge and be able to transfer that knowledge to solve new problems therefore the child is unable to use the information memorised. (Mayor 2002:2). As a result of the child being unable to put their learning into practice this type of learning doesn’t benefit the child in anyway.
No knowledge means the child cannot use in depth thinking and create new ideas to new situations. As the child gets older they need to come away from the idea of rote learning as they need to be able to fully understand what they have just learnt and be able to gain knowledge and apply this knowledge and understanding to different situations. (Mayor 2002:2). The use of repetition through rote learning allows the child to process the information and use it when needed in lessons. ‘Repetitive experiences allow children to construct and consolidate meaning’ (Ward 2008:155).
This puts a lot of empathy on the child’s learning and shows how the use of repetition helps the child’s learning. For example, learning the alphabet means that they can construct some meaning from the letters and be able to apply the alphabet to class situations. I believe that rote learning is the best teaching approach to use at the early stages of learning for a child as they only need to know the information they are provided with. Rote learning provides the child with the basis and therefore once they progress they are able to use the information learnt through rote to expand their learning.
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