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Behavioral and Cognitive Development Theory in Teaching

Behavioral and Cognitive Development Theory in Teaching | ITTT | TEFL Blog

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Behavioral and Cognitive Development Theory in Teaching

“Teachers must learn how to teach… they need only to be taught more effective ways of teaching”, (B. F. Skinner 1972). Understanding how these theories of learning suggested by philosophers can bring or has brought about a change in teaching helps teachers to be very effective in the classroom as they aid in shaping the lives of young men and women for the future. Two great theories of learning that have impacted teaching are Behaviorism and Cognitive development theory.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Samantha D.

Why Behavioral and Cognitive Development Theory is Important?

Using behavioral theory in the classroom can be rewarding for both students and teachers. Behavioral change occurs for a reason, students work for things that bring them positive feelings, and for approval from people they admire. They change behaviors to satisfy the desires they have learned to value. They generally avoid behaviors they associate with unpleasantness and develop habitual behaviors from those that are repeated often (Parkay & Hass, 2000).

Behavioral theory effects teaching by forming the foundation for methodologies. Teaching by its mode requires cause and effect; effort and result, hence knowing and understanding basic response forms the basic tenet for teaching and learning to take place. Case in point, if students cannot grasp concepts, then a study of their behavior and their inclination will leave one to prepare to be able to administer effectively and productively. Patterns, as emanated by students, have been successfully intercepted for their benefit. Predictions can be made in the realm of learning and teachers can effectively do lesson planning with predicted outcomes as a direct result of analyzing behaviors in students.

Through the Behavioral theory, many techniques can be employed in education to promote behavior that is desirable and discourage that which is not. Some of the techniques that can be used in the classroom to effective teaching are positive and negative reinforcements, punishment, contracts, consequences, extinction, modeling, shaping, cueing and behavior modification. Other methods include a question (stimulus) and answer (response) frameworks in which questions are of gradually increasing difficulty; guided practice; and regular reviews of material.

Also read: The Most Useful Corrections Techniques in the EFL Classroom

How Teachers Can Use This Theory?

Behavioral theory can be applied to teachers who reward or punish student behaviors. For teachers Behaviorism effects teaching as it gives the learner immediate feedback. It breaks down the task into smaller steps known as chaining. Behaviorism helps the teacher to understand the learner’s behavior and adjust accordingly as well as repeat the directions as many times as possible. It works for the most simple to the most complex task and gives positive reinforcement.

Skinner believed that positive reinforcement is more effective in changing behavior than punishment (Skinner 1972). Consistently ignoring an undesirable behavior will go far toward eliminating it. When the teacher does not respond angrily, the problem is forced back to its source-the student. Behavioral learning theory is not only important in achieving desired behavior in mainstream education; special education teachers have classroom behavior modification plans to implement for their students. These plans assure success for these students in and out of school.

Behavioral and Cognitive Development Theory for Students

For student behaviorism effects teaching as it helps them to respond to reinforcement. They are able to pace themselves in an assignment to work from the most basic to the more complicated concepts. Students are able to ask questions for more clarity in directions and get feedback. The behaviorist theory can motivate students to do well in terms of schedules of positive and negative reinforcement. Good behavioral practices cause learners to make the desired connections between specific stimuli and the appropriate responses. For example, a student who receives verbal praise and good grades for correct answers (positive reinforcement) is likely to learn those answers effectively; one who receives little or no positive feedback for the same answers (negative reinforcement) is less likely to learn them as effectively. Likewise, learners tend to avoid responses that are associated with punishment or unpleasant consequences such as poor grades or adverse feedback.

Every experience and interaction has an impact on development in early childhood. Jean Piaget recognized this when he studied and researched his own theories of cognitive development. Some of his research led to the belief that every interaction establishes cognitive structure in children. This is especially important in the classroom environment.

How Does It Work?

Teachers can provide children with guidance so that the child can imitate in cognitive development. In the teaching session, students can be provided with explanations and positive feedback and this gives learners more control of the task. If a child is not at the same developmental stage in a class this will affects the child's ability to learn if his peers are ahead or behind him in his stage of development and thus affects the young children's task of achieving mastery. As a result of the cognitive development theory, it stands to reason that knowing the stages and their inclination can empower a teacher to cater to the needs of the students or children effectively. It makes no sense to pitch above their ability or to waste time forming the foundation that they have surpassed a long time. By pitching directly within their grasp, maximum learning can take place in the minimum time, leading to less frustration to both teachers and students alike. It facilitates direct penetration and registers success that can only bolster the achievement of all in the learning process.

Also read: An Overview of the Popular ESA Teaching Methodology

Consequences of The Theory

Cognitive theory can affect teaching as it helps teachers identifying types of learning outcome (memorization, conceptualization, application, problem-solving, etc.) The teacher's focus is on what is in the learner's head coupled with the behavior, i.e. the learning processes that take place in the learner's mind such as attention span, reception of information, perception, short-term and long term memory as well as prior knowledge and experience. The teacher is able to deduce the external processes/conditions of learning (the environmental support for the internal processes of learning) such as attracting student attention and setting an expectation. The teacher can also assist learners to recall prior knowledge and experiences.

Cognitive development theory can affect teaching in the classroom as it encourages teachers to use concrete props and visual aids whenever possible (appealing the tangible and visual learning development of students). It helps them to make instructions relatively short, using actions as well as words. It prepares the teacher not to expect the students to consistently see the world from someone else's point of view. It prepares the teacher to be sensitive to the possibility that students may have different meanings for the same word or different words for the same meaning. Students may also expect everyone to understand words they have invented.

Cognitive theory can affect teaching by equipping teachers to assist the learner's application of the proper learning strategies while making the learner active in the learning process. Cognitive learning teachers view errors as unsuccessful attempts to understand order and act upon their environment in ways that make sense to them. In the classroom, teachers often act as a guide for students. In mathematics, being proficient requires being able to use prior knowledge from one situation and to apply it in another. In open-ended story problems, students must have the ability to know which math function (addition, subtraction, etc.) to use and how to apply a strategy to solve the problem.

Skills Children Develop

For students, this theory can be aided in children getting a great deal of hands-on practice with the skills that serve as building blocks for more complex skills like reading comprehension. Thorough knowledge of this theory teachers understand the need to expose students to a wide range of experiences in order to build a foundation for concept learning and language. It assists the learners to develop learning strategies and control their own learning processes (metacognition) as well as perform a self-assessment that provides informative feedback.

Both the behaviorism and cognitive theory offer important aspects of learning. It is important to have the knowledge and apply both theories as is needed. When deciding which strategies to utilize, it is crucial to consider the level of knowledge of the learners and the cognitive processing demands. The nature of the learning task and proficiency level of the learners should both be considered when incorporating strategies.

Are you ready to teach ESL students?

Knowledge of teaching theories and techniques can definitely help you especially in the beginning of the teaching career. There is a common thinking that being a native English speaker is enough to teach well. However, in real life it doesn't work this way and if a teacher doesn't want to dig deeper, he or she doesn't consider teaching as a long-term career.

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