Sunday, April 09, 2006

Beyond IQ Byte # 2- Educational implications of ability conception research

Completing my trilogy on the conative construct of ability conception (click here and here for prior posts), below are some of the major educational implications from the ability conception research literature. Most of this information is drawn from Dweck [Dweck, C. S. (2002). The development of ability conceptions, In A. Wigfield, & J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Development of achievement motivation (pp. 57-91). San Diego: Academic Press. - click here for more information on this excellent book), with minor augmentations from Kaplan and Midgley (1997) and Perkins et al. (2000).
  • All children, regardless of age, have an easier time making effort than ability inferences
  • Although it was once thought that the ability conceptions of preschool and kindergarten children were relatively immune to the effects of learning failure, recent research “has shown that a sizable proportion of these young children show clear signs of impairment when they encounter a series of salient, visible failures (such as jigsaw puzzles they cannot complete) or when they meet with criticism for their performance”. However, when compared to older students (ages seven and above), the failure experience during the preschool years must be particularly obvious and powerful in order to exert a long-term impact on motivation via academic ability conception formation. Young children may draw ability inferences, but do not typically see future outcomes as being constrained by them. Buffering young children, particularly those at risk for significant and powerful early learning failure experiences (e.g., students with disabilities), would appear to be an important educational goal.
  • When students are at an approximate seven-to-eight year level of developmental functioning, significant changes in ability conception occur. It has been suggested that increased reasoning ability, around ages to 7-8, contributes to children giving greater weights to ability information than personal motivation. The student’s conception of ability now becomes more distinguised from social-moral qualities and becomes defined more as an internal quality, more consistent with external sources (adults), and is the result of greater self-criticism and social normative comparisons. It is during the seven-to- eight year developmental period that students become more concerned about their abilities, especially in response to negative feedback and evaluation (normative feedback information has more impact).
  • After ability conceptions begin to crystallize (after the 7-8 year period), ability conceptions start to exert a greater impact on academic performance. This increased coalescence of ability conceptions is believed to be due to ever increasing reasoning skills, which, in turn, results in children becoming more accurate in thinking about the relations between their abilities, effert, and performance. Students may not be able to verbalize their ability conception, but it is believed that students now can separaate ability as a factor separate from effort.
  • Two general ability conceptions emerge at approximately the seven-to-eight year developmental level and become crystallized at approximately the ten-to-twelve year level. The least adaptive ability conception is a “trait-oriented system” (entity view of ability) where students view their abilities as relatively fixed internal quantities. Learners with an entity view are more likely to anchor their conceptions of ability in broad abilities or capacity, constructs that are more fixed than motivation and knowledge. When encountering academic failure, it is hypothesized that a trait academic ability conception increases the chances that the student will view themselves as deficient on a stable inherent characteristic and, thus, they will anticipate and predict future failure. Since the trait is fixed, there is a self-belief that it cannot be changed via effort. The result can be a decrease in academic and intrinsic motivation, the devaluation of effort, and the interpretation of academic outcomes as reflecting on an internal personal trait. In contrast, a process-oriented system (incremental view of ability) conception is more adaptive as it focuses on the view that ability can be developed and that effort and strategies are important for success. Learners holding an incremental view are significantly more likely to include the constructs of knowledge and motivation in their personal descriptions of their abilities, constructs that are typically viewed as more malleable (less fixed). The process-oriented ability conception is postulated to be more adaptive as the student sees room for improvement in personal ability via effort and work. Furthermore, an individual holding an incremental view of ability tends to focus on learning and is likely to be inclined to analyze a challenging situation and employ a variety of strategies to get around an obstacle. An incremental or process view is associated with higher levels of intrinsic motivation and academic self-efficacy. In general, entity “holders” prefer performance goals over mastery or learning goals, and vice versa. Entity learners tend to be more affected by comparisons to others (normative performance comparison information; e.g., grades).
  • Of particular relevance to students with learning problems, particulary after an individuals ability conception is at the more crystallized stages, is the finding that when students are low in skills and abilities (in a social normative comparison sense), there is an increased probability of effort-avoidance. An individual who is low in academic skills and abilities, and who also holds an entity or trait view of ability (a view that fosters the belief that effort or motivation is not helpful), is hypothesized to view any attempt at increasing effort as risky. Increased effort that results in failure can only reinforce the belief that "I'm dumb." The power of failure to impair academic performance increases via a decrease in intrinsic motivation.
  • Social normative grading and evaluation systems tend to foster the more vulnerable and maladaptive view of academic ability as a fixed trait. In addition, students with an entity view of academic abilities tend to choose the less desirable academic performance goal orientation rather than a learning goal orientation (which is associated with the incremental view of abilities). Entity-oriented students also tend to attribute their failure (locus of control) more to ability rather than effort. The ability conception research suggests that educational environments that place a greater relative value on changes in skills and knowledge (vs. an emphasis on relative standing in a group) may influence the development of the more adaptive and positive incremental/process view of academic abilities.
  • Research has suggested that friendships which, in part, are formed based on perceived psychological similarity in academic competence, exert a modest influence on the adoption of academic and ability self-competence beliefs.

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