Learning Theories that “Ring a Bell”~

EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning–Blog  for Week 5

Reading this week’s Chapter 8: Learning Theory: Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner,  in William Crain’s book entitled, Theories of Development—prompted (or shall I say “elicited”) a bit of a
trip down memory lane for me, being that thirty years ago—I completed B.A. degrees in Psychology and Special Education. Additionally, the year-long teaching internship did that same year was conducted within a district and program which fully embraced the behaviorist model of teaching and learning. A review of the material truly did “ring a bell” for me~ 🙂

Just for fun—(as a mom whose daughter recently gave birth to our third grandchild, and is still in the middle of that “newborn fog”)—I chose to read the article by McMullen (2010), Confronting the baby blues: A social constructivist reflects on time spent in a behaviorist infant classroom.  The author describes her experience of observing four different “sites in laboratory schools or university-affiliated programs that had reputations for excellence in their communities and for which there was evidence that the caregivers engaged in the field’s “best,”
“recommended,” or research-based practices with infants”(McMullen,  p.1).  Within her journals, the author records her observations of one particular setting which focused on “training and entertaining” infants as the “caregivers” “taught” the basic milestones of child development. McMullen very clearly conveys in the article, her bias against such a strongly
behaviorist setting. Babies are left to cry without being held—until they have stopped crying on their own for 2-3 minutes. Only then are these children picked up and “reinforced” for their good behavior. Each day—five days a week, for eight hours a day—time is broken down into 15 minute increments of mandatory activities as the infants are systematically rotated around the room to the different mats with corresponding bins of toys. On schedule, babies are fed, changed, and “rotated” throughout each day, every day.

As I read through the article, I too, was appalled at the lack of balance present in that setting and agreed with the author who stated, “In my opinion, the behaviorist environment did not contribute to their social-emotional growth or to their rights to be happy and enjoy their lives as productive, contributing members of the classroom. Now that is something to cry about” (McMullen).

The saddest thing for me personally, however, was that—although to a much lesser degree—it reminded me of my internship in a highly behavioristic preschool, working with 3-5 year-olds. We were instructed to take DATA on everything, all day long. Data is wonderful and useful, although an over-emphasis without a sense of balance can lead to a highly stressful environment for teachers, students and parents. I recall one particular preschool student and his parent really “bonding” with me, presumably because I instinctively chose to deviate a bit from the rigid expectations of his “program goals” and be “real” in my interactions. Years later, I had the privilege of having this young man in my high school Learning Strategies class,
and then attending his graduation.  Balance, I believe, is vital.

Throughout this week, there seemed to be few other colleagues who selected the same article to read, however, the those who submitted responses to my post, seemed to agree that “data is indeed necessary” and that it can be challenging to find ways to collect data in an “authentic”
manner that is useful to the teacher without taking away from forming a positive teacher/student relationship.

References:

Crain, W. C. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and
applications. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

McMullen, M. (2010). Confronting the baby blues: A social
constructivist reflects on time spent in a behaviorist infant classroom. Early
Childhood Research & Practice, 12(1), Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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