Changing Students’ Beliefs about Learning
Foster the belief that competence or ability is a changeable, controllable aspect of development.
The vast majority of the knowledge and skills that are taught in K–12 schools can be learned by all children. Naturally some children will take longer to master the knowledge or skills than others, but there are very few inherent limitations that are stable traits of students. If students understand that they can master the material with some effort, they will be more likely to work at it. The teacher needs to communicate this type of positive high expectation for all students regardless of age, ability level, gender, and ethnicity.
At the beginning of this chapter, three students were talking about their self-perceptions of competence for social studies. Kevin had high competence beliefs, whereas both Rachel and Jacob had lower beliefs about their capabilities for social studies. Mrs. Eastman has many students in her classroom who have the same level of beliefs as Rachel and Jacob. She holds a class discussion about how students study for social studies tests. During the discussion her students mention different types of learning strategies that others do not know about. Different levels of effort and amount of time studying are mentioned as factors that influence test performance. Mrs. Eastman then uses the ideas generated in the discussion to help all of the students in the class see that performing well on social studies tests is something that they all can learn to do. She reemphasizes the importance of effort, the amount of time spent studying, and the use of different learning strategies. In addition, she expresses her belief that all students can learn to do well in social studies. Her points communicate to students that she has high expectations for all of them and that learning in social studies is not a stable ability or trait that some students have and others lack.
Decrease the amount of relative ability information that is publicly available to students.
Some teachers facilitate social comparison by posting students’ scores and grades in the room or by having students call out their test scores in class while writing them down in the grade book. These types of practices increase the amount of social comparison information available to children and help to lower some children’s (those doing less well) self-perceptions of competence.
Ms. Morgan, a mathematics teacher, has one bulletin board in her room that lists all of the assignments for her class and all of the students’ grades for each assignment. She likes having the information posted so that everyone can see it. It helps her keep track of what students have done and it helps the students see what assignments they have finished and which ones they still need to complete. In particular, she finds that it is a very effective management tool because when students are done with their assignment for the day, they can check the board and see what else they have to do without bothering her. Since she started using this system, she is not constantly being asked by students what they should do next. This freedom allows her to work closely with small groups or individuals without too many interruptions.
Ms. Morgan found as the semester progressed, however, that there are always a few students who fall behind in their work, get poor grades, and seem to give up. When she asks them what is going on, they often point to the board and say things like, “Look what I have to do. There’s too much. I’m too far behind. What’s the use?” or “I’m too stupid to do math. Every day I come in here, some of the nerds make fun of me. They point to the low grades I got on the board and laugh. I really hate math and anyone who is good at it is just a nerd anyway.” These comments upset Ms. Morgan because she wants her students to do well and also to enjoy math.
Ms. Morgan’s bulletin board seems to be undermining some students’ perceptions of their competence. The students who are not doing well are having negative interactions with some other students and making negative social comparisons about their abilities. The board presents to all students in the class, in a highly public manner, everyone’s tests and assignment scores. Ms. Morgan should try to avoid these types of public practices that heighten the differences between students. She could keep the grading information private and use it in assigning final class grades, but it may not be that helpful for all students to have public access to it. If she still wants to use the public bulletin board for management purposes, simple check marks for completion may serve just as well as the public posting of grades. There may be more individualized and more private ways (e.g., individual student folders or portfolios) to keep track of her students’ completed work.
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