Teachers frequently tell me they’re putting growth mindset into action by changing their feedback style to emphasize effort and specific suggestions over generalized praise. They then ask what else they can do. There’s plenty more! Here’s one option related to study habits, starting with a crucial concept – the difference between effort goals and outcome goals.
We hear outcome goals all the time – “I want to get an A in math.” “I want to go to a good college.” “I want to be more popular.” These are outcomes, the end result of many efforts. When we change the efforts, we change the outcome. Let’s use an often-heard example of “My new year’s resolution is to lose 15 pounds.” Wishing it won’t make it so, but walking a mile three days per week or shifting a sugary drink to water every day will help to lose weight. Over time, those efforts become improved exercise or nutrition habits. Likewise with any academic or behavioral goal – efforts can be tried, tracked, changed, and built on. As the efforts become regular behavior, they become improved learning habits.
What if students were continually practicing connecting the dots between their study habits and their performance on tests? They might have more success, and in the process, more confidence and self-awareness about how their brains learn best. Introducing Tool 7-8, “Study Routine Before Today’s Test,” from Teaching the Whole Teen, designed for just that purpose.
Try the following steps:
- Help students learn that their brains learn best when ideas connect to other ideas and with repeated exposure, not via cramming, and that their brains need focus and sleep time to organize learning. Use the following quotes (excerpted from Teaching the Whole Teen, Tool 7-1) to open the discussion in pairs, then with the whole class. What might the quote mean about studying – when, where, how, with what tools or steps?
- “We’re more likely to remember new information if it’s repeated, builds on something we’ve learned before, view it as important, or see how it connects to a larger concept. ‘The brain pays more attention to the gist than to the peripheral details… Normally, if we don’t know the gist – the meaning – of information, we are unlikely to pay attention to its details’ (Medina, 2014, p. 114)… When more neural networks are involved, more learning happens. This means being active – asking questions (of others or themselves), diagramming notes, creating examples, talking it over with a partner, making drawings to represent the topic, connecting new information to a big interesting issue” (Poliner & Benson, p. 135).
- “’If you ever get a chance to listen in on someone’s brain while its owner is slumbering, you’ll have to get over your disbelief. The brain does not appear to be asleep at all. Rather, it is almost unbelievably active during ‘rest,’ with legions of neurons crackling electrical commands to one another in constantly shifting, extremely active patterns’ (Medina, 2014, p. 41)… During sleep, the brain sorts memories and shifts experiences into long-term learning. Brain researchers consistently emphasize the importance of sleep – most say teens need eight hours or more.” (Poliner & Benson, p. 135).
- “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth… [The brain’s] steps must occur in sequence every time you switch from one task to another. This takes time. And it is sequential. Three researchers at Stanford University [studied ‘hyperdigital users’ and ‘low-key users.’] …The researchers called the first category of students Heavy Media Multitaskers. Their less frantic colleagues were called Light Media Multitaskers… In every attentional test the researchers threw at these students, the heavy users did consistently worse than the light users. Sometimes dramatically worse. They weren’t as good at filtering out irrelevant information. They couldn’t organize their memories as well. And they did worse on every task-switching experiment” (Medina, 2014, pp. 115-116).
- Use that information to discuss study plans for next week’s test – what day to start studying, where, with what central organizing question, and how to separate the material into chunks or themes. Brainstormed strategies to try when challenges arise, strategies ranging from calming down to finding a study buddy to asking you questions.
- After students take the test, use Tool 7-8 to record and reflect on their study process. Clip the tool to the test.
- When students get their tests back, they can connect the dots between effort and outcome. Perhaps they’ll decide to start studying earlier next time, or make diagrams, or find a quieter study spot. Or perhaps they’ll see that their habits are effective, which can decrease anxiety. Insights and strategies will vary student to student; your differentiated and evidence-based coaching will help. This information can be rich material in conversations with parents/guardians. With recurring self-observation and supportive feedback comes self-insight – necessary for becoming an independent learner making his or her own brain stronger.
These tips might help to introduce Tool 7-8 or to adapt it depending on your students:
- Start with a mini-tool, perhaps with only questions 1, 2, and 7.
- Start with conversation (maybe in pairs) of questions 1, 2, and 7, rather than a written tool.
When such reflection becomes a regular practice, students develop greater self-knowledge and skills for managing time, stress, and goals. We can help students make the most of their brains and own their own progress.
A final note to teachers: Outcome goals are pervasive in schools; it may take practice to shift your mindset toward effort goals. Think of a few specific students. What can you imagine are effort goals that would help them? What effort goal of your own would help you help them?