Applying Goal-Orientation Theory in the Classroom
Students tend to adopt the goal orientations that are stressed in their classrooms. Given that the research is clear that approach mastery goal orientations are related to better motivational and cognitive outcomes, the following suggestions should help to facilitate the adoption of mastery goals. In light of the debate and unresolved issues regarding the adaptive nature of approach performance goals, we do not offer any strategies to foster performance goals.
Focus on meaningful aspects of learning activities.
Teachers should stress how academic tasks are relevant to the world outside of school. Mr. Alvarez, a tenth-grade biology teacher, has students involved in a project on local water quality. Students collect water samples from local streams and the main river in the area, perform tests for water quality, and then discuss the implications of their findings for water use in terms of drinking, sanitation, and pollution.
Design tasks for novelty, variety, diversity, and interest.
Teachers should attempt to provide a wide variety of tasks for students to engage in and ensure that the tasks have some novel, interesting, or surprising features that will engage the students. Ms. Donovan, a third-grade teacher, uses computers to help students practice their arithmetic skills. She has acquired a number of different software programs that embed arithmetic skills in games and fantasy-like environments. Even though they are basically drill-and-practice activities on a computer, she finds that her children really enjoy working on the computer much more than doing worksheets.
Design tasks that are challenging but reasonable in terms of students’ capabilities.
Ms. Nelson, a sixth-grade English teacher in a middle school, teaches the whole class reading and writing skills. All students have some core projects, papers, and assignments that have to be in their individual portfolios. However, she individualizes by providing a range of extra required assignments that must be included in the students’ portfolios. These extra assignments include creative writing tasks as well as basic grammar and spelling assignments. Students can choose which of these extra tasks they are going to work on, but Ms. Nelson guides students to work on areas where they can improve. Accordingly, some children have more grammar assignments in their portfolios, whereas others have more reading comprehension assignments. This system also allows Ms. Nelson to give reading and writing tasks that are at different levels without using highly public within-classroom grouping practices.
Provide opportunities for students to have some choice and control over the activities in the classroom.
Mr. Peres, a junior high social studies teacher, allows students some choice in topics for reports or papers. He constrains the general topic (e.g., the era of the American Revolution) and students’ papers have to fit within one of the general themes of the unit (e.g., military, economic, political, social, cultural, geographical), but the students are allowed to pursue their own interests within these constraints.
Focus on individual improvement, learning, progress, and mastery.
Ms. Vekiri, a fourth-grade teacher, provides individual feedback to students on worksheets and their daily work that focuses on how they are mastering the skills or knowledge required and their improvement from previous days or weeks. In addition, she has students compile their work in folders that she periodically reviews with them individually. In these conferences she tries to help the students see how they are progressing.
Strive to make evaluation private, not public.
Although it is impossible to make all evaluation private (classrooms are public places), teachers can minimize public evaluations. Mr. Martin, a seventh-grade English teacher, used to have students call out their spelling test scores to save time, but he eventually found that it promoted a lot of social comparison and contests among students because it provided public information about who is doing well and who is not. The students who did well seemed to thrive on the competition, but after a while the students who did not perform well began to resist taking the tests. They would be slow to get ready for the test, they would often drift off and stare out the window when Mr. Martin was calling out the words, and they would not even try to write them down. He also used a big bulletin board to display all of the students’ grades on all assignments, tests, and papers that everyone could see. Although these management procedures were helpful to him, Mr. Martin found that they led to some negative feedback and teasing from the higher-achieving students toward the students who were not doing so well. At the end of the first marking period, he stopped using both of these procedures and had students turn in their papers to him. He kept all grades in a record-keeping spreadsheet on his computer. He printed individual student records and gave each student his or her copy.
Recognize student effort.
Although effort should not be the sole criterion for judgments regarding the quality of work, there are ways to build effort into the evaluation. Ms. Danos, a high school English teacher, gives separate scores or grades for content and effort on major papers. She tries to help her students see that the effort they put in is linked to the overall quality of the paper, but also recognizes that there still may be differences in content due to knowledge and skills. Nevertheless, she wants to encourage students who are trying hard by giving them a high mark for effort, although they may need more work on their grammar and writing.
Help students see mistakes as opportunities for learning.
Ms. Yin, a high school algebra teacher, has students work problems on the board. She sends up teams of two or three students to work on different problems and the whole class works at the board during this time. When the students are done they return to their seats, and then each team goes up individually and explains how the team worked the problem. Ms. Yin and the students can ask the teams questions about their methods to see if there are difficulties and where they are in the problem solution. Errors are treated as a way to learn as the class sees and discusses the process by which the team came to use the method they chose for the problem. In addition, because the students work in teams of two or three, no one student ever feels that he or she is solely responsible for the problem.
Use heterogeneous cooperative groups to foster peer interaction; use individual work to convey progress.
Mr. Myers, a fifth-grade teacher, uses cooperative grouping for all of his social studies and science units. He changes groups with each unit, making an effort to group students according to abilities and talents related to the skills and creativity needed to complete the selected activities. Students are encouraged to participate actively by being given responsibilities. At the conclusion of each unit, students are graded on their performance on the mastery test and their participation in group activities.
Adjust time on task requirements for students having trouble completing work; allow students to plan work schedules and time lines for progress.
Ms. Chambers had several students with learning problems in her class. Initially, the students had difficulty completing assigned work in the allotted time. Ms. Chambers met with each student and together they adjusted the amount of work to complete for each assignment. She told students that she expected them to eventually be able to complete all of the work. She met with each student and allowed each of them to set goals for the amount of work to complete each day, with the overall goal being total completion at the end of 6 weeks.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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