Reflection, Attitude, and Efficacy

I’ve been rereading journal entries from August to reflect on the growth of children I coach to learn algebra.  The point of this particular journal entry was to help assess disposition.    

Can we effect their growth in algebra AND their growth as learners? Can changing our assessment practices and our approach to learning help them learn to embrace the struggle, to see that a “failure” is an opportunity to learn?  Does success breed success?  Does success change your confidence, efficacy, and disposition?

How can we help failure-avoidant students grow to become success-oriented learners?  And, is it really that black and white?  Are most learners both success-oriented and failure-avoidant with a strong preference for one or the other?

Wait, I choose to revise my question.  How can we promote success-oriented behaviors to foster learning and self-efficacy?

What do you think? 
Is QB success oriented, failure avoidant, or both?

 
The reason why I chose a picture of a person repelling or climbing a mountain is because math is a mountain for me. A mountain is an object that you cannot go through or around. The only way to get to the top of the mountain is by climbing. Math for me is a mountain. I can only climb my way to the top. There will be slips and falls along the way but, that is the only way to get to the top of the mountain. Every step I take teaches me something about that mountain. When you climb to the top of the mountain you can look back and say all those little slips and falls taught me something about that mountain, but now I can see all those tiny steps added up.”

Every step I take teaches me something about that mountain. When you climb to the top of the mountain you can look back and say all those little slips and falls taught me something about that mountain, but now I can see all those tiny steps added up.”

I love this child; he spends many hours with me learning and improving.  We have two classes together, and he chooses to work with me after school several days each week.  When I read his journal on the first day of class, I put him in the success-oriented category.  As I have worked with him this semester, I have seen him on a rollercoaster ride, struggling to not lapse into failure-avoidant behaviors.  I believe it is my job is to be his cheer-master, his coach, and his support.  I want to coach him to find his strenghts and successes.

The same day, CL wrote:

I think this picture best describes my experiences in math for a lot of reasons. If you look at the girl’s face, it seems like she doesn’t know what she is doing. But if you look at her body, she seems to be doing the right thing. This is like me in math in a way. A lot of times I am doing the right steps, but I still think I am wrong. Like the girl in the photo, I don’t believe I am doing the right steps (or moves in her case). My feelings toward math are basic. I don’t love math, but I don’t hate it. Math also doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work hard at something until I really understand it. I am more interested in math that we use every day than just random lessons. I also like to know the why in things. Like “Why do we use this trick?”. The why and how are keys words for me in learning math. I think my job in math is to learn new things, listed to the students and other students and the teachers, and to help others learn. I believe math is very helpful in everyday situations. I also believe math is hard, but if you work hard enough you will understand it. I want to learn from my mistakes in math. I also need different techniques to learn from if one doesn’t work. Lastly, my goal this year in math is to maintain a high grade by fully understanding the material.  

 How often do we make curricular decisions based on what we think we see?  Are we looking at the face or the body?  How often do we assume that our students are learning?  Do we check for evidence of learning – not grade – really check for proof?   When we see the body doing the right things, do we ignore the face?  Do we check for confidence?  I fear that we may promote failure-avoidant behaviors if we are not careful.

CL wrote:

If you look at the girl’s face, it seems like she doesn’t know what she is doing. But if you look at her body, she seems to be doing the right thing.”  

How do we give our learners enough feedback so that they know that they are doing the right work?  How do we build up their confidence so that they will either feel successful or know that it is safe (and encouraged) to ask questions to learn and grow?  How do we reward effort and willingness to struggle to learn without giving students a false impression of their achievement?

CL: 

I want to learn from my mistakes in math. I also need different techniques to learn from if one doesn’t work.

Me too!  If we don’t assess learning and offer feedback in the midst of the experience, how will we know if we are promoting learning for all?  How will we know if some (or all) need a different approach? Again, we must be careful to promote success-oriented behaviors.

I also think that my team and I spend a fair amount of time in CL’s shoes. 

A lot of times I am doing the right steps, but I still think I am wrong. Like the girl in the photo, I don’t believe I am doing the right steps (or moves in her case).

Am I doing the right things for my students?  My assessment plan is so different than what they will probably experience next year.  When I listen to others who are uncomfortable with this “radical” change, I question if I’m doing the right steps.  From what I read and study, I believe that I am doing the right things to help them learn and grow.  

CL’s words where I have replaced math with assessment:

I don’t love assessment, but I don’t hate it. Assessment also doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work hard at something until I really understand it.

My team experiments with me. Are we failure-avoidant teachers or success-oriented learners?  We collect data and ask questions; We refine our hypothesis and try again. We are learning by doing; we are making assessment and grading decisions based on what the data indicates.  Are we confident about our assessment work 100% of the time?  No…Does it cause us to ask questions, think deeply, risk, learn?  Yes… 

It is certainly a work in progress. 

_________________________

I dare you to go back and read both journal articles on this page replacing the word math with assessment or whatever you are struggling to learn right now.  Out of the mouth of babes…

12 thoughts on “Reflection, Attitude, and Efficacy”

  1. Excellent post – how wonderful that you return to the August “preflections” of your students to gain greater insights about the learning and dispositions of your students. Kudos to you and your team for promoting success-oriented learning and for modeling the process of questioning, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, and refining. Efficacy is built from the cyclical process of trying, tweaking, and learning. Practice with feedback can lead to success, for sure.

    So, besides “assessment,” what word did you put in the blank for math? [6-6-6-5-5-5-(5)]

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  2. Hmm…I will want to give this more thought, but initially I replace math with inquiry, student-centered learning, differentiation, differentiated assessment, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and more. Learning and teaching with you has helped my learning and confidence, but there is so much to learn and improve. In algebra, I want to apply more of these ideas with my team.

    What about you? What word did you put in the blank for math?

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  3. I failed at inserting the actual TED talk, so I engaged in deep practice, learned from my failure and figured out how to embed the actual player…not just the (relatively) boring link.

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  4. I was completely in teacher mode when I answered your first comment. Writing is so personal (and terrifying) to me. I did say that I would have to think about it. I agree that writing, for me, is probably the most important word that I could replace math with in both journals shared in my post.

    Writing is a mountain for me. A mountain is an object that you cannot go through or around. The only way to get to the top of the mountain is by climbing. Writing for me is a mountain. I can only climb my way to the top. There will be slips and falls along the way but, that is the only way to get to the top of the mountain. Every step I take teaches me something about that mountain. When you climb to the top of the mountain you can look back and say all those little slips and falls taught me something about that mountain, but now I can see all those tiny steps added up.

    If you look at the girl’s face, it seems like she doesn’t know what she is doing. But if you look at her body, she seems to be doing the right thing. This is like me with writing in a way. A lot of times I am doing the right steps, but I still think I am wrong.

    Like the girl in the photo, I don’t believe I am doing the right steps (or moves in her case).

    Writing also doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work hard at something until I really understand it.

    Wow! Thanks for challenging me!

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  5. I love this journal assignment. Having kids reflect on a set of photos is a great idea, and it might be very interesting to have the kids themselves go back and look at those preflections and see how they’ve changed. I’m going to adopt something like this for my mid-year reflection process…

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  6. I’m torn about what to do in January. Do I have them read their Day One reflection, journal about their progress to date, and set a new goal? Do I have them repeat the journal entry for first semester and then read their previous journal to see how they compare? I’d love to see some of your journal prompts.

    Oh, one other thing…If none of my predetermined pictures spoke to a student, they could submit their own picture. About 5% choose to select a different image.

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  7. I think we need to ask students to explain topics and concepts, both verbally and in writing, much more than we do. I am fond of stating (only half-jokingly) that I have had most of my best ideas with my mouth open. My understanding grows tremendously by attempting to explain, and it is often easier to try out explanations verbally before attempting to commit them to paper.

    Many of my students did not take kindly to my asking them to write about math, and saw it as a waste of time. However, it takes time to get students to think about and explain *why* something works as it does… instead of merely writing about *how* to do it (which is their normal first inclination).

    The process of “attempting to explain” can be very frustrating for students, and I find that most students have a low tolerance for frustration. So, I spend time talking about how frustration is part of the learning experience, and asking them to think back to when they were learning something “difficult” last year… what happened? Did they eventually learn it? Did the frustration go away as they gradually mastered the topic? Was that followed by more frustration on the next topic, which they also mastered in time? The answer is usually “yes”. Students often forget about the frustration along the way.

    By getting students to think about their own learning process, and realize the frustration is a normal part of it, then learn about how to break a difficult task down into smaller parts each of which can be mastered by itself before attempting to put everything back into a whole again, I hope to build their tolerance for a certain level of frustration when they tackle new topics. Don’t get frustrated by your frustration!

    http://mathmaine.wordpress.com

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  8. Thanks for your comment, Whit. I use the phrase “Embrace the struggle” from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Some of my students are very good at writing about their understanding, while others “grunt” on paper. My thought is that they need to see samples of quality writing in math.

    I collected “the good, the bad, and the ugly” journal responses from last year and asked my current students to “grade” the journals based on the writing traits rubric used in their English classes. I also asked them to “grade” it for the quality of math found in the journal. It has helped some of my borderline students to improve.

    Building up tolerance for frustration when encountering new topics is a great goal – think about it in terms of weightlifting.

    I always say…”Embrace the struggle.” I will now add “Don’t get frustrated by your frustration!”

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