Thinking a Bit More About Teaching and Learning

Published on August 21st, 2016

Much thought and energy is exercised by teachers as they seek the best possible way to deliver content.  In fact, earlier research germane to teaching draws correlates between teachers’ actions and student achievement (Beattie, 1995).  And, teachers soon emulated the practices of other teachers recognized as successful teachers and embraced the educational theory and educational models described as good teaching.  This is not new research or thought.

With the advent of cognitive psychology beginning in the mid-1980s though, the educational literature now includes research on how teachers think and what they believe good teaching is.  Teachers are less likely to ascribe to a particular teaching model, practice, strategy or theory simply because another teacher endorses and uses as common practice.  Seeking to find out how teachers think and believe about teaching as opposed to following a particular action or behavior propels forward an understanding by teachers about why instructional decisions are made and reasons for making such educational choices (Clark & Peterson, 1986).

As you seek new ideas and different approaches, let me suggest five constructs for reflection:

Intrinsic Motivation:

Motivation that drives students to pursue their dreams, complete assignments, and complete projects begins from within because children and young adults have an innate need for competence and control of their environments (de Charms, 1968; Deci, 1975). Let me further suggest that motivation of such magnitude can and will not be manufactured by external rewards or outside recognition.  Such external factors, like gold stars, stickers, prizes, and others as helpful as they are, will only aid the teaching and learning for a short time.  Intrinsically motivated students are driven to succeed because the act of learning itself is the reward (Ostroff, 2016).  Teachers intuitively know this.  You strive constantly to adjust your teaching practices as well as the medley of activities, projects, and teaching approaches to peek your students’ curiosity and interest.

Growth & Fixed Mindsets:

There is good research comparing fixed and growth mindsets and the influence each mindset has on teaching and learning.  A fixed mindset is a belief that people are born with certain skills and abilities, and those skills, or levels of intelligence, are relatively fixed and will not change over time (Ostroff, 2016).  A growth mindset is a belief that one’s innate ability or skills can be cultivated and enhanced through hard work, encouragement, and effort (Dweck, 2006).

How might mindsets influence learning?   Mindsets influence whether one is more or less willing to tackle problems and challenges and more or less willing to remain steadfast through a particular assignment or task.  Students with fixed mindsets are more likely to remain interested only if they achieve immediate success whereas students with growth mindsets bring a different perspective to learning. For those students with a belief toward that of a growth mindset, their motivation is sparked by the complexity and challenge brought forth by the task itself (Dweck, 2006).

Mindsets also impact teaching!  Praise will focus more on the outcome and less on the process. So, teachers must be cautious when and how often they offer praise.  Rather than always praising students for their finished product or final grade, it may be in teachers’ interest to affirm and acknowledge their students’ work effort and seek out ways to extend one’s effort with follow up questions.  Dweck (2006) portends that teachers who embrace a growth mindset will more likely generate comments and follow up questions like, “You really worked hard to accomplish this task.”  And, “How did you do that?”  The emphasis is on learning itself and mistakes are more likely to become pathways for achievement.

Praise and Encouragement

All of us want our students to grow up, be successful, be independent, and make good choices along the way.  Yet, so often, we don’t foster this attitude from little on.  As teachers, we must be careful that our actions and words do not become overly judgmental and critical.  And, we should have a balance between praise and encouragement.

Encouragement and praise are different words and portray different messages to different students.   Encouragement attends to the process and not the outcome.  For example, “I sure like your drawing; please tell me what you are working on.”  Encouragement allows your students to draw their own conclusions about their talents.  Praise accentuates outcome rather than effort:  “Wow, you poured your milk without spilling it.”  Praise acknowledges your approval.  As a teacher, it is good practice to use the words appropriately and genuinely.

Meta-cognition:

Meta-cognition is the analysis of one’s thought process, the thinking about the way you process your thought.  When you verbally express the steps in solving a math problem, verbally explain how to balance chemical equations, or speak outwardly about the specific steps taken by a character that leads to an action or resolution in a story, meta-cognition happens and invites your students into your very own thinking and reasoning. Meta-cognition enhances the classroom experience.

Students’ Mistakes:

Don’t be afraid to value mistakes made by your students.  That doesn’t mean your students can continually make the same mistake again and again.  Nor does it mean that actions are absent of consequences.  Teachers do need to confront poor judgment and teach their students to accept and remedy the mistake.  It is rewarding for your students to know that a mistake is an opportunity to make a better choice.  Research indicates children are more unwilling to take a risk if every mistake is reprimanded and exposed in a demeaning manner.

Conclusion:

Love your students for who they are.  They are redeemed children of God.  In 1 John 3:1, John states in one of his letters to the people of Rome, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  You constantly need to remind your students that their esteem doesn’t come from what they have done; rather, our esteem comes directly from what Christ has done for them on the cross.  Through God’s unconditional love for all of us, Jesus suffered, died, and rose again.  Each student is a unique creation, redeemed by Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

May God continue to bless your teaching today and into the future!

Resources:

  • Ostroff, Wendy L. (2016). Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. (New Release)
  • Fisher, Douglas, Frey, Nancy, & Pumpian, Ian. (2012). How to Create a Culture of Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.