Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Week 8 Reads: Learning vs Performance Goals

Reading: Carol Dweck (2000): Self-Theories (Chapters 1-3)

Right off the bat, Dweck challenges four common beliefs about motivation and school success.

1. The belief that students with high ability are more likely to display mastery
oriented qualities.
2. The belief that success in school directly fosters mastery-oriented qualities.
3. The belief that praise, particularly praising a student's' intelligence, encourages mastery-oriented qualities.
4. The belief that students' confidence in their intelligence is the key to mastery-oriented qualities.

I can practically hear the boisterous choirs of non-believers and the cacophony of the unimpressed. Traditionalists will claim students must be showered with heaps of praise and need the self-confidence of constant assurance of intelligence. It seems so straight forward, if one thinks they are smart, they will be successful.

Au contraire.

We must think about how we define intelligence in schools. One is called smart when they work fast, never make mistakes, and get high marks. In essence, we call people smart if they can master the menial skills of the education system. If one feels that intelligence is fixed and any mistake is a sign of weakness, what will they do when challenged? What will they do if given a task outside of the traditional school drudgery? What if they are given a challenge that calls for perseverance, trial and error, and creative thinking? Dweck shows that these people, who are praised as inherently smart and intelligent, may crumble and believe there is something internally wrong with them. They may believe their very intelligence is in question.

Others may be motivated by learning or understanding a concept better. To these people, challenges are exciting and part of the learning process. Easy, menial tasks usually associated with school intelligence may be uninteresting or boring. This group of people may be better equipped for mastery as they can overcome obstacles, display wonderful resilience, and think divergently.

Can teachers instill this venerability in students?

The simple answer is yes. In order to do this, teachers must move away from performance goals and instead stress learning goals. Dweck talks at length to the difference between the two, but this chart provided by Natalie Rush in her session notes from week 8 explains them nicely. If we want our students to be persistent, lifelong, and creative learners, learning goals are essential.

*Citation for this chart is found in the figure.

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