Some student come to us with a love a learning. Hattie calls them the self-motivated (Visible Learning for Teachers, p. 42-46) and talks about their goal to develop increased competence. He compares them with two motivated teachers see everyday: the student who tries just to out-perform peers and those students who are mostly concerned about their social interaction. Of those three self-motivations, only one has genuine self-efficacy. The students who really want to learn are the students that ever teacher loves, even if the other two “motivated” types may do the work. Those intrinsically motivated, love learning student aren’t discipline problems, they get excited about ideas and they try even when the work is hard. We’d all like to have more of them. The good news is we can.
Hattie goes on to discuss the self-attributes a student brings to a lesson that can deeply demotivate them, including dependence on the teacher, dismissing all praise, perfectionism and learned helplessness. As teachers, we see these traits far more often than we would like to, and we know they prevent learning. As teachers, one of our main frustrations is students who are actually preventing themselves from learning. However, we don’t need to feel hopeless. Like those who have extrinsic motivations, those who are demotivated can change – we just aren’t using the right tools to help them get there.
Over the years, we’ve tried lots of things to deal with students that don’t own their learning. We’ve taken away marks, removed them from class, called home and given them more work. Each of these punishments has the possibility of changing behavior, but it doesn’t create true efficacy. You can teach a student to own his or her learning, but you don’t do it with punishment. True self-efficacy is always the result of skills, confidence and power over yourself.
According to Fisher and Frey (Better Learning through Structured Teaching, p. 28-29, there are 4 questions that we can teach students to ask themselves to grow their skills in making their own learning happen:
- What am I trying to accomplish?
- What strategies am I using?
- How well am I using those strategies?
- What else could I do?
Teachers who grow student skills always ensure students know the learning destination and have clear criteria for success. They also teach student to own their learning by explicitly teaching strategies that students select from to improve. Using the 4 questions and explicitly teach strategies improves both achievement and engagement for all types of student, from those who learn for learning’s sake to those who know it’s all hopeless and they should just give up.
Confidence comes from doing things that are just the right amount of hard. Not too hard so you just fail, but not so easy that you didn’t have to learn new skills to do the task. Researchers call this the Zone of Proximal Development. Teachers who check where students are at each day in the lesson and then respond increase the confidence and skills of every student in the room. A teacher who routinely does these things is much more effective at ensuring students learn the content, but the improvements students see in confidence are just as significant. When students are justified in feeling they can do things that are hard for them, they are much more likely to own their own learning. We can reduce the self-handicapping students do just by reducing uncertainty about learning outcomes and explicitly teaching students to monitor their own learning as they are improving (Hattie, 2012).
A student has more power over his or her learning every time a teacher allows choice. Teachers can provide choice by allowing students to work in areas or personal strength, by allowing students to choose the method of assessment and by allowing student to personalize their spaces or working structures. Increasing the power students have in the classroom has a direct relationship to their engagement, but it also improves their ownership. You can read more about the power of choice and see an example in Tuned Out by Hume, p. 70-74)
10 things you can do to teach all students to own their learning:
- Explicitly teach content skills and soft skills (like breaking a goal into manageable chunks)
- Provide specific, descriptive feedback about successes and failures
- Reward trying hard and failing
- Reduce opportunities for students to compare themselves to other students
- Check where students are at, and respond so all students are being challenged appropriately
- Give many more opportunities to practice than chances to get marked
- Make sure each student understands the learning intentions and success criteria
- Require goal setting and teach self-monitoring during and after learning
- Focus your praise on improved skills and trying hard
- Teach everyone (including yourself) to get and give feedback that moves the learning forward