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Psychology and Students

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Teaching and learning process in classroom basically applies one of the four learning theories, which are behaviourism, cognitivism, social constructivism and humanism. Based on the lesson that I have observed in the classroom, the teacher practiced the behavioursm learning theory. Behaviourism is actually the earliest learning theory that is being applied in the lesson. According to Tracey & Morrow (2012), behaviourism is theoretical perspective on learning that focuses on observable changes in behaviour (pg. 194). In other words, learning is involved whenever there is change in behaviour. Behaviourists believe that “learning is any more or less permanent change in behaviour which is the result of experience” (Jarvis, Holford & Griffin, 2003, pg. 25). Behaviourism concerns any form of response to a stimulus that can be measured. For example, behaviourists believe that intelligence can be measured by tests and examinations. Therefore, from the observation that I have made, behaviourism is about repetition, reinforcement and teacher-centered orientation.

First thing first, in the teaching and learning process which applied behaviourism theory, drilling or repetition is being emphasized the most. Repetition is very efficient in helping students “to transfer knowledge from their short term to long-term memories” (Harmer, 2007, pg. 56). Therefore, the more the students encounter the drilling process, the higher the opportunity for them to remember and they might be able to use it more often. Skinner (1968) said that “learning needs to be trained in the same way as muscles are trained, which means all learning behaviour has to be trained frequently through repetition, drill and rote learning to reach positive effects” (pg. 1). As in the classroom, teachers often ask students to repeat what they utter for many times in production of drilling process.

It happened in Madam Kamari’s class when she preferred to repeat again and again every sentence that she wrote on the blackboard. Even though it is a kind of traditional method in learning, it works for the students since after repeating for a few times, students could read all the sentences and spell every word very well. For example, most of the students in Madam Kamari’s class could not spell the word ‘leaves’ for the very first time, but after spelling it again and again for at least five times, they finally could spell it unassisted by their teacher. It is shown that repetition or drilling has always been a key mechanism in scaffolding for students to acquire language (Philp, Oliver & Mackey, 2008, pg. 282-283). Hence, repetition in the second language classroom is actually one of the essential features in behaviourist’s teaching and learning process.

Next, in language learning, behaviourism is evident when students are given immediate reward or reinforcement for every response. The reinforcement either positive or negative will increase the students’ behaviours. Freyberg (2006) stated that Skinner (1968) found “three variables for reinforcement to take place, which are an occasion upon which behaviour occurs, the behaviour itself and lastly the consequences of the behaviour” (pg. 4). It means that for every stimulus that occur on the students, there will be responses and this will result either positive or negative reinforcement. Learning takes place when students have the opportunity to practice making the correct response to a given stimulus no matter how many times they have to repeat it. Students will “receive positive reinforcement if they response to the correct language and negative reinforcement if it is incorrect” (Ellis, 1997, pg. 31).

In the experiment made by Skinner, “when a light goes on (the stimulus) a rat goes up to a bar and presses it (response) and is rewarded by the dropping of a tasty food (reinforcement)” (Harmer, 2007, pg. 51). In this behaviourist view of learning, a similar stimulus-response-reinforcement pattern also occurs in acquiring the language. For example, in the classroom, one of the students was given a chance to voluntarily read the sentences on the blackboard in front of his friends (stimulus). Then, he could read all of them very well (response), thereupon, he was praised by Madam Kamari, his teacher (reinforcement).

Skinner (1968) also believed that “both positive and negative reinforcement strengthen the behaviour and makes it more likely to occur again” (pg. 18). Reinforcement should be given immediately and consistently so that habit formation is established. Positive reinforcement could either be in the form of praises, rewards or attention. As in Madam Kamari’s class, every student who got correct for all the questions given in the exercises would be given ‘stars’. In contrast, the negative reinforcement could be in the form of nagging, avoidance or sarcasm. Negative reinforcement is not a punishment, but it is actually the removal of aversive stimuli in order to increase the probability of a behaviour being repeated (Smith, 2011). Thus, in teaching and learning process, behaviourists still believe that reinforcement is very significant in order for students to acquire language.

Lastly, in the teaching and learning process, the behaviourism learning theory is being applied since it focuses on teacher-centered orientation. Behaviourists believe that a teacher’s job is to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the passive learner (Duffy & Cunningham, 1998). It means that teacher is the one who supplies the knowledge, provides practices and students only receive the knowledge through stimulus-response mechanism. During teaching and learning process, teacher plays the active role while students play the passive role or the audience, which means, the teacher controls all the teaching and learning activities in the classroom. According to Mok (2008), the teacher-centered strategy is a “one-way interaction and communication between teacher and students” (pg. 131). In the classroom, teacher talks a lot while the students listen carefully to every word that comes out from the teacher’s mouth.

This kind of orientation could be seen in Madam Kamari’s class. For instance, Madam Kamari read the sentences on the blackboard and the students obediently follow her. The students were not given any opportunity to voice out their opinion or even ask questions. By using autocratic teaching style, Madam Kamari became the authority, gave instructions to students and she was the one who controlled the whole class. In addition, students are required to memorize the material that teacher has presented to prove they have learnt something. Stover (2006) quoted the words from Delanshere (2002), “students are expected to learn material as presented by the teacher and are assessed on their ability to demonstrate that they remember the material as presented”. As teacher controls the class, the result of teaching and learning could be seen when students could do the exercises very well, follow teacher’s instruction and teacher also could achieve the learning objectives.

In conclusion, it is clear that behaviourism learning theory is a matter of conditioning by means of repetition or drilling, practice, reinforcement, teacher-centered orientation and habituation. All of these are very important in acquiring the language, especially for the second language acquisition. In language teaching area, behaviourism establishes the basic background of exercises and most of the teachers nowadays still apply this kind of theory. Therefore, it shows that teachers still believe in behaviourism theory.

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