Intentional Teaching, Operant Conditioning and Extrinsic Motivation

A teacher is the most crucial person in the learning setup as she facilitates knowledge acquisition and behavior change. The intentional teacher interviewed is Ashley, and she teaches in high school. The qualities of intentional teachers include supporting identity development, connectedness, well-being, active learning, and communication (Slavin, 2019). Operant conditioning is a learning method credited to BF Skinner, which involves using the consequences of behavior to influence whether it is repeated or not. Reinforced actions are often repeated, while the punished ones are less likely to reoccur. Through her responses and classroom behavior, Ashley is an intentional teacher who uses operant conditioning and offers extrinsic motivation to learners to encourage behavior change.

Ashley understands and often utilizes extrinsic motivation in her classroom. In her response, she explained that motivating learners extrinsically is an effective method but needs wisdom in selecting the tasks and rewards (Serin, 2018). Ashley believes that extrinsic motivation can bear negative results, especially in tasks involving creativity and those requiring problem-solving skills. She described an illustration where the teacher uses extrinsic motivation in activities such as poster designing, preparing presentations, or tackling multistep problems (Serin, 2018). Using extrinsic rewards in these tasks drives creativity away, and the child is more focused on rewards than tasks, causing more harm than good.

When asked what the best activities were for which she uses extrinsic motivators, Ashley described the tasks as requiring less creative skills, using algorithms, and having few correct answers. The most straightforward examples, she says, are multiple-choice questions and matching tests. There are few answers to these tasks, so creativity is not much required. Ashley was also skeptical about using candy in the classroom for extrinsic motivation, arguing that it largely fails (Slavin, 2019). When asked what she uses in her classroom, Ashley listed tests stickers, computer time, pencils, extra credit or homework passes, and activities like having lunch with the teacher as more effective than candies (Serin, 2018). Ashley quickly mentioned that high school students are in their teenage years, and the teacher can use that fact to her advantage in utilizing intrinsic motivation. For example, she uses the students’ need for choices to provide the autonomy reward by allowing each to select a presentation method (Slavin, 2019). Ashley says that some students use PowerPoint presentations, videos, and pamphlets.

Ashley’s responses agree with scholars’ recommendations on using extrinsic motivation in the classroom. Serin (2018) notes that many educators criticize extrinsic motivators for weakening intrinsic motivation. He, however, explains that research studies have not confirmed the criticism, having not found any detrimental influence on learners. Therefore, Ashley’s use of extrinsic motivation is acceptable in the classroom and supported by research. Additionally, some students lack internal motivation to learn, and extrinsic motivators help them to achieve academic goals (Serin, 2018). By balancing both internal and external motivation, Ashley can become the intentional teacher who creates an enabling environment for goals achievement.

When beginning the operant conditioning section, Ashley showed excitement while noting that although many teachers understand the method, only a few actively use it in classrooms. Ashley was asked, ‘what is your understanding of Skinner’s operant conditioning?’ Her response was precise yet definitive: ‘using positive or negative reinforcement to strengthen or weaken classroom behavior.’ Therefore, Ashley knows what operant conditioning involves and utilizes it to help students achieve. As an intentional teacher, she must use conditioning to encourage positive and desired behavior and discourage unwanted conduct. Ashley often uses praise to reinforce positive conduct and sometimes ignores students exhibiting negative behavior to prevent giving them attention. This technique is proved by research to be more effective than practically punishing unwanted conduct (Zajda, 2021). Negative punishment has a slow response rate, but its effects last for a long time. While Ashley focuses on a broader view of operant conditioning, Skinner’s method mainly emphasizes positive reinforcement. Students differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate conduct from the consequences.

Alongside praises, Ashley uses physical rewards and punishment to reinforce good behavior. However, she explained that rewards could be a trap for teachers, and caution must be taken in administering them (Zajda, 2021). She recounted an episode in which a student who had attained the fifth position in class demanded a reward. The occurrence awakened Ashley to the fact that learners might become dependent on rewards and lose their internal drive. She had to learn how to schedule rewards to avoid creating an entitlement perception. Cherry (2019) identifies five reinforcement schedules while explaining how and when each is effective in the classroom. When continuous reinforcement is used, the student will learn quickly, exhibit low response, and forget the behavior when the reward is withdrawn. Ashley had consistently rewarded her top five students with various prizes the end of the year. Hence, the students competed for these spots through improved performance, expecting some physical. Ashley had stopped giving rewards during the term when the specific student had moved from position nine to five.

The interesting episode described guided the following interview questions about Ashley’s teaching style. She detailed how she proceeded to study the schedules, choosing the most effective in her classroom. Ashley found that each schedule had a response and extinction rate, setting them apart in their effectiveness. She selected to use two to three schedules combined to reap optimal benefits. One of the practices she implements until today is rewarding the most improved students of the year only if they move at least three positions ahead. According to Cherry (2019), this reward system describes a fixed ratio reinforcement because a specific number is required to receive the reward. The schedule has a fast response rate (how hard the students work) and a medium extinction rate (how soon students lose motivation after rewards are withdrawn), making it suitable for encouraging education achievement. Therefore, Ashley felt that the fixed ratio schedule effectively sustains hard work than continuous rewards.

During the interview, Ashley mentioned that providing feedback is crucial for high school students. The feedback must be timely and include approval, affirmation, encouragement, or compliments. She uses variable ratios when introducing a new activity or topic to the class (Slavin, 2019). For example, when beginning a geometry class, Ashley frequently praises the students who attempt to answer questions and solve problems on the board regardless of their responses’ correctness. However, in the following lessons, she would reduce the frequency of feedback, and once everyone had learned the basic skills, she only praised exceptional performance. According to Zajda (2021), the variable ratio schedule is proven to have a fast response level and slow extinction rate. Therefore, Ashley uses it to reinforce skills performance and encourage ongoing learning.

When asked about the intentional teacher, Ashley insists that she consciously maintains that status. For example, she constantly evaluates herself to ensure that she meets course outcomes and attains the required levels of skill development (Slavin, 2019). Ashley also studies her students to identify their individual needs and find practical ways to help each one learn. Whenever she looks at course objectives, Ashley asks herself, ‘do I have the content, strategies, and motivation to take the class through these goals?’ she also gathers learning resources, and sources for technology and seeks all the assistance that would support her content delivery. In addition, she has set up a student feedback mechanism to receive anonymous recommendations and suggestions from learners. These facilitate the improvement of her instruction delivery, content mastery, and student-teacher relationship. All these efforts indicate that Ashley has the essential features of a good teacher.

In conclusion, Ashley espouses most qualities of an intentional teacher. She is well educated on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and Skinner’s operant conditioning method. An essential aspect of her teaching ability is the self-evaluation strategy she applies to ensure that learning is taking place. For example, Ashley has tried several conditioning and motivation methods, differentiating between the least and most influential in skill development. An intentional teacher reinvents herself to maintain relevance and make the learning process fun and engaging. Throughout the interview, Ashley has shown her capacity to change teaching and reinforcement approaches to maintain students’ interests in skill development. For example, she constantly changed how she applied operant conditioning in the classroom to prevent it from backfiring and causing negative influences on students. Ashley’s intentionality in applying teaching methods to reality in the class is commendable and positions her as an astounding teacher in the education system.


Cherry, K. (2019). What is operant conditioning, and how does it work? Verywell Mind. Web.

Serin, H. (2018). The use of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to enhance student achievement in educational settings. International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies, 5(1), 191-194. Web.

Slavin, R. E. (2019). Educational psychology: Theory and practice. Allyn & Bacon.

Zajda, J. (2021). Motivation in the classroom: Creating effective learning environments. In J. Zadja, Globalisation and Education Reforms (pp. 17-34). Springer.

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ChalkyPapers. "Intentional Teaching, Operant Conditioning and Extrinsic Motivation." April 15, 2023.