- What are the major assumptions, principles, and methods of behaviorism as a theory of learning?
Behaviorism seems to imply that learning is a conditioned process. Like Pavlov’s dogs, who through repetition and reward internalize a behavior of salivation, students will build connections in their brain through repetition and reward and this is learning. I can see how operant conditioning works in basketball. My girls practice shooting over and over again with correction, and their reward is that the ball goes in the hoop. When their form is not correct, generally the ball does not go in, and so they are not rewarded. I think that behaviorism is an interesting theory of education when more rote tasks are involved such as acquisition of knowledge through memorization. I do not think, however, that it applies as well to higher types of cognitive tasks since they require a behaviors (thinking) that are not rewarded with the end result, even if successful. This reminds me a lot of Daniel Pink’s ideas about motivation.
- How is cognitivism or cognitive science as a theory of learning (described in Willingham) similar to and different from behaviorism?
Cognitivism seems to take up where Behaviorism leaves off in my opinion. Willingham references that the brain does not like thinking because it is hard (aka, there is no reward for thinking itself) but that people are curious and take pleasure in solving problems (the end result of thinking, where the reward occurs). Behaviorism and Cognitivism seem to both revolve around the fact that humans will learn when there is a positive stimulus at the end of the journey. Willingham’s article also reminds me about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Willingham writes, ” If we get a little burst of pleasure from solving a problem, then there’s no point in working on a problem that is too easy– there’ll be no pleasure when it’s solved because it didn’t feel like much of a problem in the first place. Then too, when you size up a problem as very difficult, you are judging that you’re unlikely to solve it, and therefore unlikely to get the satisfaction that comes with the solution.” People are motivated to think when they are appropriately challenged.
- How do students think about successes and failures if they have the fixed mindset? How do students think about successes and failures if they have the malleable (growth) mindset?
This article was the one that has had the most impact on me. I read Carol Dweck’s book about growth mindsets a year ago, and it floored me.
Fixed mindset thinkers believe that intelligence is static. They are “given” a certain amount at birth, and by luck of the draw they may be “smart” or “dumb.” Therefore, if they succeed at a learning task, it must be because they’re smart. Clearly, they’re also attaching some of their self worth to this title. If they fail at the task, it is because they’re “dumb” or not smart enough to solve it, so of course they won’t try. Dweck’s idea relates a bit to the theories of behaviorism and cogntivism in that the reward for success plays a role in how a person learns. With a fixed mindset, the students think every failure demonstrates a permanent road block.
With a growth mindset, students believe they need to work harder or try a different strategy. They never doubt their ability to achieve the “reward” for success, they just know that it will not come immediately. Fixed mindset students seem to have a wider Zone of Proximal Development because they will be willing to keep working at challenging problems that they do not first succeed in because they know that with work and new strategies they can succeed. For a growth mindset student, success or failure do not determine his self worth, rather they are a reflection of his effort.
- How can teachers design learning environments in order to help students operate with a malleable (growth) mindset?
1) Teachers must allow students who haven’t quite gotten it to KEEP WORKING! Just because a unit is “over,” does not mean that the student who earned a D is done. That child must be prompted with new strategies for the area in which he struggles and then encouraged with time to continue to learn and work.
2) Teachers must be mindful of the praise they give their students. Praising effort instead of “smartness.” We can also encourage parents to do the same in order to help reinforce a growth mindset.
3) We cannot accept failure from our students. When we let students stop with an F or a 0, we are reinforcing to them the idea that that is all they can do. At my school, we have let the Zero “die” so to speak. No teachers are allowed to give zeros. I think this has especially helped with students’ mindsets. If they don’t turn in a homework assignment on time, they don’t get zeros, rather, they earn an incomplete. The work must be done. We do not let students settle for failure. They must keep working until they get it right!
4) Our policies about grades need to change both in the way that we report them and in the way that we let them be “permanent.” If a student turns in a paper and earns a C, if she revises it and the new paper is an A paper, will you average the two papers to give her a B (thereby punishing her for her prior mistakes?) or will you change the C to an A because she has demonstrated through effort and hard work her capabilities?
Moreover, if I had my way, I’d get rid of grades. Students, especially those with a fixed mindset, often say “I’m an A student, or I’m a C student.” This implies that they will forever be as such. Personally, I love what I heard from George Couros who has eradicated all grades at his elementary school. Instead of grades, the teachers’ feedback contains two elements: 1) where the students’ strengths are shown in the particular assignment, and 2) where the student can continue to build the skills needed for the assignment. Now THAT will promote a growth mindset!