Monday, November 25, 2013

Improving the Educational Odds

As a whole, we teachers are constantly working on our craft because we know that a successful educational experience can be life changing for our students and is a critical element for success in their lives.  In his book Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie shares some wonderful insights that I personally align with wholeheartedly. Hattie has conducted one of the most comprehensive meta-analysis in education. He has studied the results of nearly every possible educational intervention and then compares their impact on student achievement.  He finds that the two most significant factors in student success are the student’s self-expectation of and the effectiveness of teachers.
How can we help students develop a positive image – an expectation – of accomplishment and mastery? Carol Dweck (2006) proposes that it may be a simple matter of mindset.  A growth mindset (which posits that intelligence can be continually developed) leads to a desire to learn, embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, sees effort as a path to mastery, learns from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. A fixed mindset (which conversely adheres to the belief that intelligence is static) leads to a desire to only “look smart” and therefore leads to a tendency to avoid challenge, become defensive or give up, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful or negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others.   A positive, growth oriented mindset must be fostered.

So, how do we do that?  The expectancy x value model (Barkley 2010) can be used to define student motivation.   She states, “The effort people are willing to expend on a task is the product of the degree to which they expect to be able to perform the task successfully (expectancy) and the degree to which they value the rewards as well as the opportunity to engage in performing the task itself (value).”  In other words, students must be interested and must believe that they can be successful if they only try. A “can do” attitude is more important to success than ability or difficulty of the task. So how do we get students interested and willing to try? Enter the teacher.

Strategies that provide extrinsic rewards such as high grades, praise or bonus points may increase motivation for the short term but may inhibit students from developing the intrinsic motivation to experience truly engaged learning.  (Barkley 2010) Our goal should be to create opportunities for deep intrinsic motivation (deep engagement) or flow. When the interest and success expectancy of students are sparked, they become so absorbed in the task that it becomes work worth doing for its own sake. (Csikszentmihalyi  1997)  Students are no longer simply attempting to complete a task.  They are on a mission.
To foster a sense of flow teachers need to provide a safe, positive environment,  clear goals, sufficient feedback to communicate how well students are doing but not before they have opportunities to think and problem solve independently.  Tasks should stretch students just beyond their existing capabilities, but not be overwhelming.

To improve the odds of educational success, teachers must work to foster a positive learning mindset in their students and teach with intention and purpose.

Hattie, John. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Dweck, Carol S.. Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
Barkley, Elizabeth F.. Student engagement techniques: a handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and effective teaching; A flow analysis. In Bess, James L.. Teaching well and liking it: motivating faculty to teach effectively. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.