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Delivering Critical Messages

January 5, 2010 2 comments

As we approach the end of the first semester and anticipate the beginning of second semester, it is important to make sure that we continue to cultivate a We-Expect-Success attitude with our students. Some of our students are beginning to look for excuses to explain their failure. We must keep sending the message that their efforts are important and that their efforts will impact their performance.

Robert Marzano (2003), in his meta-analysis of research on motivation, identifies five lines of research that explain our motivation to learn. One line of research is attribution theory, which focuses on what students perceive to be the cause of their success or failure, such as ability, effort, luck, task difficulty, etc. Of the factors named, Marzano concludes that effort is the most useful because a strong belief in effort as a cause of success can translate into a willingness to engage in complex tasks and to persist.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel weighed in on the importance of an effort-based belief system in the 2008 report Foundations for Success. The report states:

“Children’s goals and beliefs about learning are related to their mathematics performance. Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes: When children believe that their efforts to learn make them “smarter” they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.”

Jonathan Saphier is another of the many researchers who writes about the role of beliefs and effort-based ability. He concluded that a student’s belief in his or her efforts rather than his or her innate ability is the most important determinant of student learning. He also stated that these beliefs can enable all students to do rigorous academic work at high standards. According to Saphier, schools that recognize and celebrate effort-based ability communicate three critical messages to all students:

1. What we are doing here is important.

2. You can do it.

3. I’m not going to give up on you—even if you give up on yourself (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, pp. 89-90).

What message are we sending to our students if we communicate to the class, either explicitly or implicitly, that we expect final grades to follow the bell curve?


Many students will interpret this message as, “Only a few of you can expect to get A’s in this class.” This is hardly a We-Expect-Success message.

Contrast this example to the message that students receive when a teacher announces that he or she expects grades to cluster at the lower end of the grading scale at the beginning of instruction, approach normal distribution as different students master content and skills at different times, and follow the “J” curve, with most students earning high scores by the time summative grades are posted.

By using the formative assessment strategies that we are learning during our professional development, we can continue to show students that their efforts are directly correlated to their academic success. Formative assessment is another means to communicate the message that we expect success.

Thank you for your willingness to send critical messages to our kids that communicate the importance of their effort and our belief in them.  Recognizing and celebrating the fact that the effort that they put in will result in their academic success will not only help our students become more motivated but also help them realize that they can be successful.

References

Westerberg, T. R. (2009). Cultivating a we expect success attitude. Becoming a great high school: 6 strategies and 1 attitude that make a difference (pp. 7-10). Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.