Teaching Early Adolescents “How to be a good student”

As educators, we have a responsibility to constantly reflect on our practices and current literature in an effort to improve our practices for the benefit of our students.  The wealth of literature on self-efficacy, metacognition and mastery orientation cannot be ignored; rather it needs to be explored and discussed.  But the process must extend beyond discussion towards the creation, development and implementation of training programs in middle school environs.  The question of whether mastery orientation is a trait or a state has often been posed in educational circles.  With such a program as proposed in this blog, we can nurture mastery goal orientation to become a trait that is stable and enduring across disciplines, experiences and time. Conversely, performance goal orientation represents a state that we hope to change with methodical strategies, such as metacognition and self-efficacy training. In order to achieve the objective of educating constituents regarding these two orientations, the training has to extend beyond the teachers, students and classrooms to include retraining parents to encourage the mastery orientation, and abandon the performance orientation. Unfortunately, parents can rarely measure their child’s progress in any other way than looking at grades. Oftentimes, parents place undue emphasis on the number grades, which unfortunately nurtures the performance orientation. The converse needs to become the norm. Fortunately, there exists a wealth of research that indicates that mastery orientation, which is typically accompanied by strong metacognitive practices and skills, leads students to higher GPA’s than does the performance orientation, which is typically associated with poor or no metacognitive processes and/or skills.

In the course of researching this topic, a conclusion that has troubled me as much as the ambiguity of how to measure  “success” or “achievement”, is the question of where to start with the development of a program.     I propose that the discussion of all three constructs with faculty, parents and students be an initial step.  While a training program needs to be implemented, such a program will be doomed to failure if there exists any discrepancy of the value of each and all among the three groups.  To build the institutional efficacy requisite to build a program, teachers need to embrace and encourage mastery orientations, and develop instruction, activity and assessment to fit this construct.  They likewise need to understand how to nurture strong self-efficacy and provide metacognitive strategies appropriate for their subject matter.  Effort, strategy employment and skill development need to be praised, encouraged and measured if we are to build efficacy in using the metacognitive strategies that strengthen the mastery orientation.  Parents also need to embrace mastery orientation by praising these growths and de-emphasizing grades and comparisons to other students.  This shift will be the most challenging to create as it has become so ingrained in our culture that the final summative measure represents learning and skill.  High stakes tests, SAT, college competitiveness and other variables make this endeavor an archetypal challenge. We are a product oriented society, and that orientation leans towards the performance orientation.  It is because of this cultural influence that I propose such training programs start with early adolescents who are at a time in their development when they are ready to start making decisions about who they are, while they are also starting to question the world around them.  Further, it is a time when they relish having choices in their lives- and having a choice to pursue mastery versus performance can be presented to them in a compelling manner.

So while self-efficacy is often found in scholarly literature to be the strongest predictor of student success, it is the entity that will take the most time to develop.  Further, it is likely the most volatile of the three constructs as the affective nature of it, coupled with the catalytic effect that external forces can have on it render the stability of it potentially outside the learner’s locus of control.  However, a strong progression in the training of metacognitive skills and strategies, coupled with encouragement and reward for student development and utilization of these skills and strategies will serve both the development of self-efficacy and mastery orientation.  The reciprocity exemplified throughout the multitude of literature in educational journals supports such a process.

Hence, the prevailing sentiments amongst educators strongly supports my posit that self-efficacy and metacognition are significantly catalytic in students’ development of a mastery orientation, rendering the purposeful discussion of all concepts integral in middle school learning environs.  However,likewise manifest is a new conflict in this area, which lies in how success, achievement and performance are defined.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, our educational culture seems buried in a performance orientation mode that will be difficult dig ourselves out of- but strategic, courageous and resilient pursuits, driven by reflective practices can lead us.


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