Write a critical discussion on how teachers can encourage learning for all students by promoting motivation, developing learning strategies, teaching for learning and using assessment to assist students learning. Remember to justify your recommendations with references to the literature.
Teachers interact with students with a diverse range of skills, capabilities, attitudes and beliefs and are tasked with ensuring that, despite all these often contrasting characteristics, each student is able to learn. First teachers must recognise that there are more urgent needs that must be met before students can fully engage in learning at school. Teaching and learning should be focused on the student and their well-being. If the social and emotional characteristics of the student are ignored then learning can be impeded. When basic needs have been met teachers need to motivate students to learn. A focus should be on student perception of learning. Positive perception of ability will encourage students to learn and achieve at school. The development of knowledge must always be considered. Students will progress at different rates and teaching should be based on the level of the student, while still offering a challenge.
Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs suggests that certain needs must be met before other, less urgent needs can be considered (Maslow, 1968). The implication for students is that if more urgent needs are not met, then learning and fostering motivation to lean are very difficult to attain. The most immediate needs, termed basic or deficit needs include food and water, which are the most pressing, followed by safety (Maslow, 1968). While these needs seems distant from the concerns of the school, many children go to school without adequate sustenance. Safety is a need that many students struggle to attain due to problems with domestic violence (Thompson & Trice-Black, 2012). The next two deficit needs are belongingness and love, and self-esteem (Maslow, 1968). Bullying is a major issue concerning these two needs. If a student is bullied they will not feel accepted or recognised and will need to fulfil this need before confronting further needs. The next four needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs (Maslow, 1968) are known as metaneeds or being needs, they include cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualisation, and transcendence. These needs motivate personal fulfilment and are important in the motivation required for learning. It is the goal of teachers to meet the being needs of their students. However if there are still deficit needs to be met they will need to be addressed. Therefore teachers and schools must have strategies to deal with students who are still looking to meet their deficit needs. Only then can teachers begin to foster the motivation to learn.
Because teachers are required to deliver subject specific content, there are time restrictions on what they can do to address the basic needs of students. An effective way of managing this issue is the use of a humanist approach to education. The humanist approach focuses on the whole child and encourages the use of positive education (Duchesne, McMaugh, Bochner, & Krause, 2012). Positive education is a theory presented by (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009) calling for positive emotion to be taught in schools. This theory is born from the concern of increasing prevalence of depression and the younger age of onset of depression (Lewinsohn, Rohde, Seeley, & Fischer, 1993). The main idea behind positive education is that happy students have a greater capacity to learn (Seligman et al., 2009). Positive education focuses on student strengths, with coping skills taught implicitly and explicitly by teachers (Duchesne et al., 2012). The model proposed by (Seligman et al., 2009) is based on five pillars: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Another model developed by Elias (2006) proposes five social and emotional competencies including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. These two approaches to learning put social and emotional well-being at the centre of practice.
A contrasting method is the use of messages that stress the need to avoid negative consequences, known as fear appeals (Putwain, Remedios, & Symes, 2014). Fear appeals are often employed by teachers as a form of motivation. A study of 566 secondary school students by Putwain et al. (2014) found that the majority of students found fear appeals to be threatening, and resulted in decreased self-efficacy. Despite these results fear appeal is still used in schools. This practice may be guided by research such as that conducted by Bélanger, Lafreniere, Vallerand, and Kruglanski (2013) who found that students of a distinct personality benefit from fear appeals. These students are defined as having obsessive passion and a defensive mode of functioning (Bélanger et al., 2013). If teachers were to use fear appeals successfully they would need to be able to identify and target students with this type of personality. However targeting fear appeals at the wrong students can decrease self-efficacy, instead of enhancing motivation.
Indeed self-efficacy and failure avoidance are two opposing characteristics on the student motivation and engagement wheel developed by (Martin, 2007). Self-efficacy is classed as an adaptive cognitive dimension along with mastery orientation and the valuing of school (Martin, 2007). Failure avoidance, along with anxiety and uncertain control are categorised as maladaptive cognitive dimensions (Martin, 2007). Students’ perception of control is an important influence on motivation and is the basis for motivation theory (Duchesne et al., 2012). The focus of motivation theory is the way in which individuals explain success with three main components: locus of control, stability, and controllability (Weiner, 1992). Locus of control refers to how individuals attribute success or failure to internal or external causes. Stability denotes the attribution of success or failure to a stable or unstable mechanism, and controllability to a controllable or uncontrollable circumstance. Attribution theory presents a complicated method of enhancing motivation. Research suggest that individuals with an internal locus of control strive to achieve mastery of their learning tasks because success teaches them that they have the ability to master ideas and tasks (Hill & Huntley, 1998). Conversely individuals with an internal locus of control also blame failure on themselves which can act as a deterrent; leaving them thinking they lack ability (Duchesne et al., 2012).
Student perception is a key variable in their ability to achieve success at school. According to (Dweck, 2010) both student and teacher mind-sets have a significant impact on achievement. This simple theory by Dweck (2010) presents two mind-sets that students and teachers can adopt: a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set. Having a fixed mind set is the belief that intelligence is unchanging and that some people are naturally highly intelligent while others are less so. A growth mind-set on the other hand is when there is a belief that intelligence can be developed (Dweck, 2010). Students with growth mind-sets have been shown to achieve better results at school (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007). It is believed that individuals with a growth mid-set focus on learning, understand the importance of effort, and are undeterred by failure (Blackwell et al., 2007). With a growth mind-set failure is not seen as a result of personal limitations, but rather an opportunity to learn (Blackwell et al., 2007). This shows how a growth mind-set is more powerful than a fixed attribution. Teacher mind-set is also important. Teachers with a growth mind-set are more encouraging and will be determined to find different ways that students can learn (Dweck, 2010). Seeing that the right mind-set is an important factor in student learning it is important that teachers adopt a growth mind-set and encourage a growth mind-set in students.
While there are many theories that set out the best way to enhance student motivation, teachers also must take into account that student make progress in different ways and at different rates. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) offers a hierarchy of learning objectives through which students’ progress. In order of progression these learning objective are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Bloom, 1956). Teachers need to ensure that they target the appropriate learning objective for their students. If students have only been exposed to the knowledge regarding a certain subject, they will not be successful in analysis until they have developed appropriate comprehension and application skills. For teachers this means effective planning of topics and ensuring that each stage is properly scaffolded. The challenge remains that each individual will progress through the proposed hierarchy at different rates and with different levels of motivation. Teaching needs to be directed at the capabilities of the student while simultaneously challenging students to reach the next level of learning.
Students attend school to learn, but learning and the motivation to learn are difficult when deficit needs are yet to be fulfilled. A humanist approach to education would be considered an ideal method because the focus on social and emotional wellbeing would help meet the deficit needs such as belongingness and self-esteem (Duchesne et al., 2012). In terms of enhancing motivation a starting point for teachers is the student motivation and engagement wheel (Martin, 2007). A strong focus on motivation is student self-efficacy, making the right attributions (Weiner, 1992), or having a growth mind-set (Dweck, 2010) are important factors for motivation. Teachers also need to consider how they structure lessons, and units, making sure they are challenging but also target students level of learning (Bloom, 1956). It is important for teachers to understand that they can make a significant impact of student motivation and development.
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Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child development, 78(1), 246-263.
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Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Fischer, S. A. (1993). Age-cohort changes in the lifetime occurrence of depression and other mental disorders. Journal of abnormal psychology, 102(1), 110.
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Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.
Thompson, E. H., & Trice-Black, S. (2012). School-based group interventions for children exposed to domestic violence. Journal of family violence, 27(3), 233-241.
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