Saturday, August 27, 2011

Responsible learning

There are many ways to motivate students to learn.  A common way is to provide extrinsic reward - "the bribery model".  This is a technique that is especially effective to provide short term performance gains, especially where the skill is not particularly exciting.  As the name suggests, its underlying value system is "I do something, I get something".  Immediacy is important as proximity to the reward  maximises the effect.  It is very now in its approach and is appropriate in many cases to kick start a learning programme.

A second model is an intrinsic goal oriented model, "education as a pathway".  It is the typical education model used by parents for the past 1000 years.  Be educated, have a future.  It is longer term and has elements of risk/reward.  Implicitly it has delayed gratification built in.

Where students do not value the goal oriented model and only work to instant gratification, the ability to maintain motivation fails.   The wall is hit earlier by students in an education lifecycle and the ability to be determined and seek excellence/success is greatly reduced whilst apathy or resistance to education grows.  Lacking resilience, the student is unable to bounce back fast enough after failure (a real issue caused by the no fail model at least until primary, if not middle school) and we produce students unable to cope with reality or that rebel not understanding options before them.

Part of the downfall of the intrinsic goal oriented model in WA is the failure to provide honest feedback regarding performance and the lack of effective career counselling (career structures have changed significantly in the past 15 years and schools lag this change).  Students are not aware of the possibilities in front of them and the consequences of their actions regarding learning in lower secondary.  Where all students pass, school graduation is not an indicator of an employable future.  Graduation becomes a hurdle rather than an enabler to access to the workforce.  Furthermore, the reduction in streaming takes away an important success indicator to students of their pathway towards employment and thus conceptually to their developing a concept of self (contrary to many views on streaming).

Discipline and setting clear behaviour boundaries (not just expectations) are safeguards to the success of the goal oriented model.  These are also being challenged by the incremental approach to discipline.   Students never reach boundaries thus have diminished ability to cope with limits.

To strengthen the goal oriented model we need to develop a range of appropriate pathways and more accurate indicators for students that they are on a pathway to a successful future.  National curriculum may provide some of the solutions together with positioning vocational studies properly within a school; strong leadership within schools, the department and universities need to provide the remainder.

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