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Humanism vs. Behaviorism in the Classroom

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Brittany Borcherdt EDU 4100; Tuesday 3:30-­‐6:30 MIDTERM ASSIGNMENT, PART 1 November 6, 2011

The humanistic approach to teaching is rooted in the philosophy that a student’s emotional state of being is inextricable from his or her cognitive state. Therefore, a constructive learning environment addresses the student’s emotional and physical needs. The goal of humanistic teaching is to cultivate self-­‐sufficient learners who desire to learn, maintain respect for themselves and their peers, and can connect learning inside the classroom to real situations outside of it. This model promotes divergent thinking and creativity, and it aims to foster confidence and self-­‐efficacy in students. The humanistic model poses the teacher as a facilitator role rather than a critic and disciplinarian, and it promotes questioning strategies to reinforce learning through active decision-­‐making and critical thinking. Philosophers of this movement include Rudolf Steiner, who founded the Waldorf schools, and Abraham Maslow, who defined the Hierarchy of Needs to illustrate man’s desire for achieving self-­‐actualization.

The behavioral model is based on the idea of determinism -­‐ the scientific concept that everything has a cause and effect. This philosophy assumes the learning process as a pragmatic science, wherein students are viewed as reactive organisms for which behaviors can be shaped through conditioning. One such technique is operant conditioning, wherein students are rewarded for good behaviors and punished or ignored for undesirable behaviors. This conditioning is formalized through continuous reinforcement of these reactions. Once the students begin to internalize his or her learned behaviors, the teacher will wean them off of rewards and punishments (intermittent reinforcement). In a stark contrast to the humanistic model, the behavioral model negates the concept of free will, and therefore its practice decreases intrinsic motivation and critical thinking in the student. Theorists who shaped this model include Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist who formalized the concept of conditioned reflexes, and B.F. Skinner, who founded radical behaviorism. As an educator, I intend to integrate more of a humanistic approach in my teaching style. I wholeheartedly believe in the positive implications of recognizing and fostering free will in my students. I believe that this is a more sustainable approach to inspiring the learning process in students and will result in cultivating life-­‐long scholars. My methods of humanistic teaching will include integrating Socratic Dialogue into curriculum, wherein I will consistently propose questions to my students rather than feed them information. In allowing them to struggle a bit to find the answer, I hope to foster critical thinking that is imperative to their success beyond the classroom environment. I also intend to implement student-­‐centered activities that are “hands-­‐ on” and relevant to their lives. For example, I recently adapted a written character study project for my Sophomore English class into a social media activity; instead of writing a journal, students created an online blog and facebook page to convey information about their character and character’s relationships. Lastly, I would like to incorporate self-­‐evaluation into my classroom. Although it will be impossible to get rid of grading altogether, students will evaluate drafts of their work in-­‐class prior to turning in their final assignment. Students will also maintain an ongoing portfolio of their work, and will periodically assess their own progress throughout the year. Although I could only hope for a Utopian classroom in which students are self-­‐regulated, I do think that behavioral approaches to teaching will be necessary when considering behavior management. The students must realize there are consequences to negative behaviors, including being tardy, disrespecting others and creating distractions. To address such behaviors, I intend to set up a classroom contract wherein the students will decide upon the rules and consequences by which they operate.

Humanism / Behaviorism

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