|Improve Student Behavior|
Two mistakes too many teachers in Thailand (and else where for that matter) make, or the power of good teaching as proven by brain research.
No matter where we are in the world, we teachers like to talk about our students: Those with great grades, who are simply outstanding, those who are “true characters”, and then those who simply have a bad attitude. We tell their stories to friends or family, and often times shrug our shoulders when asked if we can not reach these “bad” kids and make them understand their potential to be brilliant.
We here in Thailand who work with learners of all ages tell the same stories and face the same issues: Learners who have given up on themselves, who have been labeled one way or another by their teachers, and who have settled for that particular role in class. Our Thai colleagues assist us as best they can, and remind us to be helpful for the students, providing the answers if necessary as some students are simply overwhelmed with it all ..Well..
The great news is that we as teachers have much more influence on students than we commonly think. More than 50% of all surveyed teachers sell themselves short, believing they have no influence on the “Big Four” with their teaching: Effort, behavior, attitude and cognitive capacity. When we as teachers focus on these in our daily classes, our students improve dramatically.
The best news is that these four are TEACHABLE, which means we as teachers have a tremendous impact on our students, especially who have given up on themselves, display behavior or attitude “issues” or are simply not showing any signs of interest in learning. So just when you thought that some of our students are “hopeless cases”, good news appears…
Malleability of the Brain and AttitudeFirst, we start with a core driver of student achievement: student attitudes. Yes, I said it. Students do influence how they’ll do by their thinking, analysis, beliefs and predictions of how they will do in your class. Their predicted performance goal is critical. The goal is represented in the visual, auditory, and sometimes tactile area of his or her brain. The prefrontal cortex creates and holds these representations based on experiential input (Yamagata T, Nakayama Y, Tanji J, Hoshi E. (2012).
The relevance is that these “goal representations” are NOT FIXED, but instead can be “molded” by purposeful teaching. In fact, the simple act, by the kids, of making predictions based on their assessment of their chances for doing well is a top 5 predictor of how students do in school (Hattie, 2009). That sounds like bad news. But it’s not bad; you can influence that factor. We’ll show you how to do it in a moment.
Here, we’ll investigate three ways you can influence student attitudes. Each has a strong research backing. Let’s get started.
How To Influence Student AttitudesFirst, you can influence students expectations and predictions of how they’ll do in your class. Teachers can either 1) offer choice such as asking students to “strive to do your best” or “face your challenges” or, 2) simply set high, challenging goals. Which one would you predict increases student achievement? We’ll tell you in a moment.
Second, you can influence student attitudes by stopping the “comfort talks.” Evidence shows that teachers should NEVER console under-performers by saying any of the following:
- “Bless your heart.”
- “Plenty of people have trouble with this.”
- “You have other strengths.”
- “Not everyone is cut out to pursue a career in this field.”
How? Each of the phrases above conveys to the student that they are not “cut out” to achieve high in a particular topic. The second that you lower their sights, they change their prediction of how they’ll do. Their brain simply alters their “goal representation” and the student then focuses on a new, more modest, goal. And, as you recall from earlier, the student’s prediction is a strong indicator of how they achieve. This suggests that you should RAISE the bar, not lower it.
Now, let’s turn to the practical world of how to apply these in your work (or at home with your own children, nephews, nieces or grandchildren.)
Practical ApplicationsHere, I’ll show you three simple ways to apply what we learned about student attitudes and how to influence them.
- Start by telling them their brain can grow and change
- Tell them HOW they’ll be able to reach the goals
- Reassure them that you will not let them fail; be supportive
- Allow students to set micro goals; such as for a single class
Comfort WordsResearch says, DO NOT COMFORT struggling learners with phrases such as, “Bless your heart; at least you’re trying.”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Simply say to a struggling student the truth. Tell them they are behind a bit and that you’ll help out. Say, “It looks as if you were not prepared last year as much as I’d like for this class this year. But I’ve got a plan. Let’s get you caught up so you can succeed. Stick with me; I’ll help you make it this time.”
LabelsFirst, STOP LABELING kids as “smart” or “brilliant” or a “genius.” Stop labeling kids as “slow” or “always behind” or “unmotivated.” These can easily become self-fulfilling prophesies.
Each of these words alter the students predictions of how they’ll do or hurts their self esteem. If you always tell a kid how smart he/she is, they are in for a rude awakening when they find out that:
- They actually have to study to get good grades
- Other kids are also pretty smart
- Somebody lied to him/her!
Strategy: “I loved how you kept trying so many strategies on that problem until you got it.”
Effort: “I like that you refused to give up, even when it took a lot longer than expected. That extra effort will help you succeed again and again.”
Attitude: “Before you began, you thought you could succeed. I think that positive attitude helped you come through.”
SummaryNow, how about if you share a few of these strategies with your fellow staff members?
- Blackwell LS, Trzesniewski KH, Dweck CS. (2007) Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Dev. Jan-Feb;78(1):246-63. Hattie, JA (2009) Visible Learning. London, UK. Routledge.
- Rattan, A. Good, C. and Dweck, C., (2012) Not Everyone Can Be Good at Math. Unpublished (in review). Contact: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Yamagata T, Nakayama Y, Tanji J, Hoshi E. (2012) Distinct information representation and processing for goal-directed behavior in the dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal premotor cortex. J Neurosci. Sep 12;32(37):12934-49.