Saturday, March 8, 2014

The four types of learners and what we can do for them

This week I am traveling to the Illinois Reading Council's annual conference in Springfield to learn and to teach.  My esteemed colleague Karen and I have put together a presentation that includes information on why motivation should be considered a  key component in reading instruction and what we can do to turn our unmotivated learners around.  So after completing the slides for the presentation, I was mortified to find that, after counting up the number of minutes we would likely spend on each slide, that we had about 140 minutes of material to pack into a sixty minute slot!  We then began whittling down the material, in hopes that we wouldn't leave out the really important points.

Late in our research, we came across an interesting bit of information taken from another presentation on a similar topic.  After digging around for a few days, we discovered that this piece of research was duplicated several times, including being detailed by Dr. Valerie Rice, a researcher at the US Army Research Laboratory, Human Research and Engineering Directorate.  This parallel research is best illustrated by the graphic shown to the right.  As you can see, Dr. Rice's theory is that there are four types of students: the failure accepters, failure avoiders, optimists, and over-strivers.  According to Dr. Rice, the optimists are those who worry little about failure and desire success.  Brain research tells us that heightened anxiety can impede learning, so if you put low fear of failure and high desire of success together, it appears as if the optimists will have the highest rate of successful skillbuilding and, ultimately, the highest views of self.

Over-strivers are more motivated by their fear of failure than the optimists.  To help these students continue to make progress, we can aid them in planning for times when they might fail and come up with strategies to help them cope and deal with failure if it does happen.  This will give those students more of a sense of control and will hopefully boost their concept of self.  Going back to what Dr. Ross Greene says in, "Kids to Well if They Can," cited in a previous blog on student motivation, giving these students the skills they need to move past their blocks will allow them to learn and gain more control, making them more teachable.

As a reading specialist, the failure avoiders are the most difficult to bring to light. They will often fly under the radar because they work so hard.  My job is to look at data first, then the individual, and sometimes the data that I see doesn't reflect what we see in school.  It is then my job to figure out why, and what I often find is that we have a lot of kids who struggle and never say anything or show that they are struggling until it is too late!  A common generic example of this is when I am looking at reading comprehension data for a student, and I mention a specific student to a group of eighth grade teachers or the Tier 3 team.  When they look at me like I'm crazy, I know what is coming next.  "But she's getting Bs and Cs!" is often what I hear.  I then reflect back on Rick Wormeli's talk last week where he discusses the long-standing grading system of points, percentages, and letter grades and the glaring absurdities with how it is being used.  

Just because a student "earns" an A in a class, doesn't mean he is not struggling with reading comprehension.  In fact, in a the book Student Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement (Irvin, et. al, 2007), teachers were found to, with good intention, support those who appeared to struggle by loading those students with information verbally or visually (Yay!  Trying other learning styles!) or sometimes even copying teacher-notes or giving "cloze notes" to students who struggle - even in language arts!  While this helps the student in the content area, it does nothing to help our kiddos build reading skills, and therefore they succeed, as evidenced by the letter grade achieved for the quarter in that content area.  The reason is two-fold: teachers find ways around their deficiencies, and those students fear failure so much that they work hard enough to pass with decent grades.  I also know that these kiddos tend to resist interventions because they feel like if the grades show success, why would they need help.  

Most often, it is my latino students who struggle with this the most, as cited in Bridging Cultures Between Home and School: a Guide for Teachers (Trumball, et. al, 2001).  Many of them come from a more collectivist culture, where behavior and academics are often seen as reflective of each other.  As a reading specialist, part of my duty is to help parents accept reading intervention positively so that their children feel comfortable accepting it. It is also our job, as educators, to help these students put together some strategies to help them through failure so that they can face tasks with a mind that is more prepared to internalize instead of being in a constant state of fear.  Can we also plan ways to show these kiddos how they are making successes?  So often they don't see their successes because they are so worried that they will fail.  Just the idea that their hard work is paying off in their grades is one place to start, but giving them tasks where they can begin tracking smaller successes may give them the tools to feel more confident in their ability to grow and build a growth mindset.

Finally, our failure accepters.  We all know these students too well.  They are the ones who, after exhausting everything possible, we chalk up to a kid who is just "unmotivated".  A no-can-do in my book, and Dr. Ross Greene would agree with me.  There is something we are missing with these kiddos, and the graphic shows that first we need to give them tasks that make them feel competent and then provide feedback that is prescriptive and productive. Chances are, these kids have felt incompetent for so long, that they have forgotten the feeling of success.  Anything.  Even our relationships with these students could give them enough boost in confidence to give some of their school work a try.  Dr. Rice says it.  Rick Wormeli says it (see last week's blog on giving feedback after attending a Rick Wormeli seminar).  Dr. Greene says it.  This idea of feedback is such a powerful one, that it cannot be overlooked.

One thing that Karen and I wish we could have found was some sort of questionnaire or screening test that helped us to identify which of our students are which type of learner.  We searched and searched, but we were unable to locate one.  But as you are teaching this week, and as you interact with your students, contemplate which students might fall in which categories.  What would really be interesting is if all teachers of the same student were asked to place one student.  Would all of these teachers place the student into the same quadrant?  That, my friends, is something to ponder.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to hearing about your presentation, as I am sure it will bring out many new insights and connections. It is always good to have more information then is needed and find the main points.