Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Marzano and Behaviorist Theory

In both the districts I have worked in, Reeths-Puffer and now Port Huron, I have had the opportunity to explore Robert Marzano and his book, Classroom Instruction That Works through professional development sessions.  Now, enrolled in Master’s classes through Walden, I am interacting with Marzano strategies through a different text by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski called, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works.  In the foreword of the book Marzano states, “This book shows teachers how to think about using technology to help their students practice concepts, engage in higher-order thinking, and problem solve. In other words, it helps teachers help their students hone skills and knowledge that will serve them for the rest of their lives” (2007).   The book takes the research-based strategies that are proven to be successful and illustrates how to direct them in a 21st century manner through technology.

Coupled with these strategies, the course is reviewing major learning theories.  After an in depth review of the theory, we are investigating how certain Marzano strategies may correlate with the learning theory of that week.  This week we have focused mainly on the behaviorist learning theory and two strategies, Reinforcing Effort and Homework and Practice.

Behaviorist, Edward Thorndike developed the stimulus-response theory.  This concept was developed further by BF Skinner and is well known to educators as operant conditioning-“reinforcing what you want people to do again; ignoring or punishing what you want people to stop doing”  (Smith, 1999).  With regard to learning, James Hartley, another behaviorist, outlined four key principles:
·      “Activity is important. Learning is better when the learner is active rather than passive”
·      “Repetition, generalization and discrimination are important notions.  Frequent practice, and practice in varied contexts-is necessary for learning to take place.”
·      “Reinforcement is the cardinal motivator”
·      “Learning is helped when the objectives are clear”
                                                                        (Smith, 1999)

Marzano’s strategy of ‘Homework and Practice’ share many similarities with the behaviorist theory.  First of all, Pitler, quotes Marzano as saying, “Students need about 24 practice sessions with a skill in order to achieve 80-percent competency” (2007).  This neatly ties in with Hartley’s principle of repetition or frequent practice.
Pitler et al also goes on to recommend, “homework assignments should have a clearly articulated purpose and outcome” (2007).   Hartley’s fourth principle focuses on the importance of clear objectives.   In additional support of practice, Pitler et al quote McREL’s research as an opportunity for students to adapt and shape what they have learned (2007).  This is coupled with the recommendation that homework should be commented on in a variety of forms of feedback (Pitler, 2007).   In terms of behaviorist theory, the feedback, which should be as immediate as possible, plays the role of reinforcement and helps the students to adapt what they have learned.

Comparing ‘Reinforcing Effort’ to the behaviorist theory is an easier connection to illustrate.  In simplest terms, Reinforcing Effort means to “help students understand the relationship between effort and achievement” (2007).  The most visual way to do this is to help the students track their successes and failures in relation to the amount of effort they exhausted towards specific activities.  This task allows the students to see immediate feedback or reinforcement, positive or otherwise, as it pertains to the results of the activity.  The goal would be for the student to see the positive results associated with elevated effort and shape their behaviors to continue that trend.  Tracking several activities not only provides a stronger, longitudinal relationship between effort and achievement but also provides the frequent practice mentioned above.     

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., Kuhn, M., Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology With
Classroom Instruction That Works. Denver, CO: ASCD

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of
informal education. Retrieved from


  1. This is a wonderful post, and you very clearly show the connections you saw with behaviorism and the two strategies. I had very similar thoughts about the connection of Reinforcing Effort to behaviorism. Having students see positive results due to higher amounts of effort could prove to be a very effective use of behaviorism in the classroom. One point you made about the relation to Homework and Practice that was really good and I had not thought about or realized was the principle of repetition and how this can be crucial for higher amounts of accuracy. This behaviorist thought is used in classrooms by way of homework and practice in school. The important thing to remember, just as Dr. Orey mentions when discussing Programmed Instruction and tutorials, is make sure that it is not detracted from meaningful instruction and not overused (Laureate Education, 2010). The points in your post show that behaviorism, used correctly, does have a place in today's classrooms.

    Nicole deMoll

    Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Bridging learning theory, instruction, and technology [Webcast]. Behaviorist Learning Theory. Baltimore: Executive Producer.

  2. Thank you for your comment Nicole. You are right. As with everything, this type of practice or tutorial needs to be used in moderation and never as the primary mode of learning. Relying solely on this sort of practice gets stale for the students after a while and the learning gets lost.