Research in learning indicates that children who perform well in school have strategies they use to meet the demands of academic tasks. Successful students also monitor their own work and take responsibility for their performance. Timothy L. Seifert, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Peggy Wheeler, Avalon Consolidated School Board, report on the results of a study in training students to become good strategy users through self-instruction.
In this self-instruction program, students are taught to ask themselves questions (“What am I supposed to do?”, “How shall I do it?”, “How am I doing?” and “How well did I do?”) that successful students use to manage their academic work. These researchers believe that training students to ask themselves these questions raises their awareness of productive strategies. Students also were trained to replace negative, unproductive or maladaptive thoughts (“This is dumb,” “I hate this,” “I’m no good at this,” “I don’t know how to do this.”) with positive, productive thoughts (“This is difficult, but if I go slow I can do it,” “It’s O.K. to make a mistake, I can correct it,” “I’m doing fine, keep concentrating on the problem.”) The goal is to shift students from concern about ability to concern about task mastery.
Sixty-one 6th-grade math students were taught self-instruction through a sequence of cognitive modeling, guided practice, overt independent practice, covert independent practice and application to a real class setting.
Modeling constructive thoughts and strategic approaches
Teachers and competent student peers modeled constructive thoughts and strategic approaches aloud. Students practiced by imitating the model’s speech. As students became fluent in guiding their behavior in positive ways, they reduced their talk to whispers and eventually eliminated verbalizing altogether. These researchers believe that encouraging students to focus on effective problem-solving strategies enhances motivation by attributing success or failure to strategy use and effort rather than ability.
Results reveal that after training, students showed increased preference for challenging tasks and fewer negative feelings about schoolwork (grade and achievement data were not reported). Seifert and Wheeler conclude that there are positive effects from such self-instruction training, but that teachers need to model self-regulatory and problem-solving strategies and not just describe them. Through modeling, the teacher explicitly teaches metacognitive knowledge by communicating specific task demands and strategies for meeting those demands.
“Enhancing Motivation: A Classroom Application of Self-Instruction Strategy Training”, Research in Education, Volume 51, May 1994, pp.1-8.
Published in ERN, September/October 1994, Volume 7, Number 4.