The Foundation of Mindset

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.
The Article

This week I am reviewing one of the references listed in last week’s research article blog.  Dweck, Chiu, & Hong’s 1995 article in Psychological Inquiry is seminal in the mindset literature.   The authors explore the concepts of what has come to be known as “mindset” – whether one believes that certain aspects of self are fixed or whether growth is possible (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  In the 1995 article being reviewed in this blog entry those binary descriptions are labeled (respectively) “entity” and “incremental” implicit theories.  This research comes from the field of psychology and has worthwhile implications for educational practice.

Though this article is a couple degrees removed from any of our assigned readings for class, the authors sing what has become a familiar tune by now:  Be aware of bias.  Just as bias is naturally found in a scientist’s interpretation of data based on implicit assumptions, the authors suggest that biases or implicit assumptions also guide an individual’s view of life – in this case of “the way information about the self and other people is processed and understood” (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995, p. 267).  Each individual is a “theorist” relying on implicit assumptions that influence their judgment and behavior.  In essence, bias plays a part on the macro level in interpretation of data as well as on the micro level in an individual’s narrative.

The article is very well organized with useful headings and subheadings and a well-written abstract that allows the reader to anticipate what’s to come in the article.  A thorough groundwork is laid, beginning with reference to psychological theories from the 1950’s, to help readers clearly see the authors’ path.  The meat of the study is examining biases or orientations toward two particular attributes – morality and intelligence. To establish the reliability and validity of the entity and incremental orientations toward morality and intelligence, the authors include the three uni-directional statements from the assessment used to determine entity or incremental orientation.  Both internal and external reliability are high as evidenced by the review of six validation studies.  The validation studies also show that a person’s bias or implicit theory is not a function of age, gender, political or religious affiliation.  Nor is orientation, or bias, necessarily the same across all attributes.  The biases for morality and intelligence are statistically independent.  For example, a person can have an entity (or fixed) theory on intelligence, yet an incremental (or growth) theory on morality.

Dweck, Chiu, & Hong (1995) propose that the two different implicit theories lead to different psychological stances.  For one who holds an entity orientation, for example, any encounter will be a measure of their (fixed) attribute, making every encounter a potential threat and encouraging defensiveness.   For the person with an incremental theory, every encounter is an opportunity to grow and learn (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).  As an educator, I want students to experience their encounters with life (including school) as an opportunity for learning and growth.  And the good news is that one’s orientation toward an entity or incremental bias is not fixed; it can be influenced by external stimuli (Sriram, 2014).

I have only a few minor editorial comments.  I was surprised to notice a couple of typos in the text.  They popped up without my intentional search for them – leaving out a word, repeating a word and forgetting a marker for one item in a list of three.  They were only slight hiccoughs in the reading and did not distract from the meaning of the text.  In keeping with the theory being studied in this article, I noticed that my explanation to self about the errors fall on the incremental side of things.  I believe the errors may exist because this article was published nearly 20 years ago before we had as much technological support to catch errors.  If the same article were published today, I’d be surprised to find more than one error.

One other weakness of the research analysis offered in this article is that the demographic variables of the study participants were not addressed except in the validation studies.  The authors were at Columbia University, an exclusive private institution, at the time of this publication.  They refer to studies taking place in their lab.  If their participants mirror the demographics of the school and are mostly White and privileged, will that impact the generalizability of the theory?  Might there be nuances in the theory with a more nuanced population set?

My Line of Inquiry

The theory of mindset provides a great foundation for the kind of impact I want to have as I develop my line of inquiry.  Research is supporting that if students have a growth mindset they are more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors and to believe in their own self-efficacy and in the ability of others to change (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  At the community college, many of our students have been marginalized and are skeptical about the system and how accommodating it will be for them.  If students believe the system is not on their side and they have a fixed mindset they are more likely to give up.  If I can encourage the students I work with towards a growth mindset, then their belief in themselves and corresponding goal-directed behaviors may increase.  At the same time, we will be cultivating the belief that the system can change and become a better partner for students as they pursue their personal, career, and academic goals.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

“Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!” (Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”)


As I dive deeper into my first doctoral class, I hear Eliza Doolittle in the musical “My Fair Lady” singing the above.  All these made up words that don’t speak plainly – “processual” (Lave, p.158), “historicism” (Lave p. 159) and “positionality.”  It almost seems as though the writers are working to keep readers out rather than draw us in us.  I love to read yet this week’s readings have been torturous.  Pivovarova’s paper (2014) is a great original study about the effects of tracking high and low achieving students.  Reading it left me confused.  Rosaldo’s (1994) mini-ethnographic stories entertained, but some of his sentences are convoluted and absurd, e.g. “This chapter uses a series of examples to explore the consequences of thus understanding the factors that condition social analysis (page 169).”  Where’s the subject?  Where’s the verb?  I am confused.  If researchers want to make their writing and thoughts accessible to an average person, they need to write for the average person.  I’m so sick of words.

As McCarty writes in her editorial introduction to the special issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005), “…the shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous (p. 3).”  As researchers focus on English even when working with native peoples, the history, culture and a connection are lost.  In my current state of frustration, I could rewrite that sentence as “the shift toward academic writing represents a shift away from coherent language.”  Academicians are creating their own words and language that is inaccessible to those who aren’t in the circle.  It feels oppressive to me.  This must be how some community college students feel when they hear instructors mention “Blackboard” and “MEID” and “SIS.”  It’s a new vocabulary as well as new, never-performed-before actions – e.g.,“blog” and “submit electronically.”

“Show Me” is the name of the song referred to in the title of this blog.  Youth Participatory Action Research seems geared to do that.  Researchers “show” each other what is important and what they need/want to know.  Adult researchers show the youth how to use research tools while the youth show the adults what’s important to study and how to relate.  That is dialogue.  McCarty writes that she is looking for dialogue in the theme issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005).  However, if the writers all have doctoral degrees and if people with doctoral degrees make up less than 1% of the population (as Sue Henderson advised us last week), does that 1% isolate itself with a language not understood by most of the rest of the world?  I can see researchers wanting (and needing) to develop their own language; yet it seems antithetical to the idea of social justice when this language cannot be understood by 99% of the population.

Perhaps what I am experiencing is akin to the tracking that Pivovarova (2014) writes about.  Those of us who are “low-achievers” are put in class with the “high-achievers.”  We don’t bring down the high achievers too much (depending on the distribution), but we low-achievers can be brought up.  I feel I am benefitting from all this wordy reading and writing, but I am wary of becoming one of the oppressors.  I want to relate with my colleagues and students in an authentic way. Parker Palmer’s classic book, The Courage to Teach (1998) gently encourages the reader to be authentic.  To teach in dialogue with students.  Though I believe many of the authors we read are hoping to establish dialogue, with such convoluted writing, dialogue is a distant dream for this tyro doctoral student.   Words, words, words…(when I can relate) I love them.


Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156–171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1–7.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them ? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.




“I think I can, I think I can, I….”

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Consider your responses to the following three statements:  “a) you have a certain amount of intelligence and you really can’t do much to change it; b) your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much; and c) you can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence (Dweck et al in Sriram, 2014).”  Not exactly, “I think I can…;” rather I think I can’t.”  Those statements are used to measure something called mindset, a construct studied (primarily in children) to determine their view on intelligence and consequently their ability to learn and be successful.  This article is one of the few that looks at mindset in college students.

Being convinced myself that what a person believes to be true is likely to become their reality, I was immediately drawn to Carol Dweck’s mindset research about how one thinks about their own intelligence (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).  People who think intelligence is malleable are said to have a growth mindset; they also tend to be more goal-oriented.  People who think intelligence is unchangeable are said to have a fixed mindset and are less motivated to put forth effort.  Sriram does a thorough and convincing job of providing support for the development of growth mindset in high-risk college students.   A growth mindset is important because, “besides prior academic achievement, the motivation and energy students apply to their education is the best predictor of their learning and development” (Sriram, 2014).

This article is readable, contributes to the literature, and suggests topics for further research and policy.  The author is methodical and thorough in his approach providing context and rationale for his study.  He works at Baylor University.  His study was of Baylor students who were considered academically high-risk for that institution.  Students were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group.  Both groups participated in four short (15-minute) web based sessions over the course of four weeks as part of a remedial course they were taking.  The control group was instructed in study skills; the experimental group was exposed to the idea that intelligence can be developed.  Based on a comparison of pre- and post-tests (consisting of the three questions at the start of this blog) the experimental group’s view of their intelligence shifted to a more growth mindset.  They also reported exerting more academic effort.   Given the positive results, happily there were more students in the experimental group (n=60) compared to the control (45 students).

Sriram is not stingy on providing methodological and contextual details. He acknowledges that colleges and universities are spending a lot of money on programs to help students succeed.  With the influx of students to higher education, there are greater numbers of students who show up under-prepared.  Baylor, like most colleges and universities, wants to retain their students and help them to graduate.  Again like so many schools, they have created remedial support.  However, a significant amount of research indicates that remedial coursework does not increase students’ rate of graduation so Sriram set out to find something that might supplement remedial programming.  The few studies on college students’ mindset suggested that a growth mindset might increase motivation and effort.

The reader is meticulously guided through the author’s data collection.  He clearly defines terms and uses the same terms often enough to help the reader make connections.  The analysis is detailed.  He addresses internal and external validity and treatment fidelity.  He examines the pre/post test differences.  He tells the kind of analysis he is doing – ANOVA and MANOVA looking at multivariates and univariate and degrees of freedom and conditional effects.  I was, however, left with curiosity about the details of each of the 15 minute on-line intervention sessions.  The author detailed seven distinct parts of the experimental sessions including a quote, a video, reflection questions, and information about the brain and said that the control groups experienced similar activities.  An appendix with the details of each session including quote and url’s to videos would allow for others to duplicate the intervention.  Perhaps he is saving that level of detail, though, until his results also show higher achievement.  Despite the fact that students in the experimental group displayed more of a growth mindset based on post-test results and greater study efforts than the control group, they did not show higher academic achievement based on end of semester gpa.

The author has possible explanations for that and other surprising results.  He suggests that the brevity of his intervention may be to blame for the lack of increased academic achievement and suggests that future studies look at increasing that.  A surprise was that, on closer examination of the conditional effects, students of color and men did not show increased effort; that was limited to females and students of European descent.

This article reads like a story – a story with new and more complex details that reveal themselves at each reading.  After reading (and re-reading) this article, I am considering adding an intervention to enhance students’ growth mindset to workshops I am constructing on motivation with a colleague for our institution’s new early alert program this fall.  The program will focus on students in developmental classes.  Attendance at the four workshops is optional and we were not anticipating that students would necessarily attend all four.

Considering how to make this research humanizing seems to me it must include dialogue.  In this study the intervention is solely web-based, there is no interaction with other students or instructors.  Getting feedback from the students on their attempts to enhance a growth mindset – and before that being transparent with them about the questions the researcher is attempting to answer – would humanize the research.

If students – especially those who come to college under-prepared – could think about intelligence as dynamic rather than static, that could improve self-confidence resulting in increased motivation to engage in more strategic academic behaviors.  Then the mantra, “I think I can…” will take hold propelling the student to greater effort and, hopefully, college success.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Many parts, One body

One body, Many parts

The intentional destruction of cultures and annihilation of people through imperialism, colonization, and neglect has been devastating to the world.  When one group sees themselves as greater than others and as a consequence believes they must wipe out or at least subjugate others, that faulty thinking kills spirit and life.  In preparation for liturgy this Sunday I was reading the scriptures that my husband and I were to proclaim to the assembled.  In our church it is the feast of Pentecost, a time when the Holy Spirit is believed to have inSpired followers of Jesus to take his story and message of peace and respect for the marginalized to the world.  The following passage connected with the readings for our Introduction to Doctoral Studies class, TEL 706, for me: “The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12 New American Bible).

That passage is hopeful for me.  Despite the beliefs of some that White is right and that everyone else should try to imitate the majority culture in power and that some people are not worthy of going to college, if we focus on communities’ cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), we may recognize one community’s parts (or wealth) as different from another’s yet necessary to make the “body” complete.

Uncertainty is necessary for learning (Piaget in Jordan & McDaniel, in press) and managing that uncertainty is necessary in collaborative learning (Jordan & McDaniel, in press).  Research requires collaborative learning.  If researchers are anything like fifth graders working on robot projects, by expressing uncertainty about established research methods or the causality of “racial” problems as Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva (2008) do, the path is open for other researchers to explore the uncertainties as well and create new methods or explanations. Uncertainty allows a step back to “see” with fresh eyes a sharper, more focused image.  It’s like when you lose something and get frantic searching for it – so frantic that you can’t see it’s right in front of you.  Stepping away and then coming back to contentious research questions when you are calmer often brings the “lost” item into focus.

I may be naive, but I would like to believe the “lost” item is the viewpoint of indigenous people throughout the world who, through imperialism, colonization, and neglect, lost their culture and ways of knowing.  It will take more than just stepping away to reclaim culture and ways of knowing, but that’s a start.  Being open to stepping away and seeing research methods or ways of knowing or teaching with new eyes may allow the white folks and the indigenous to see what’s been right in front of them – a narrative, cultural capital, learning by engaging with the earth.  Because ultimately, we are all of the same body – just many parts:  Africans, Maori, Anglos; one an eye, another an ear, another a foot – all parts that are needed to complete one body that functions effectively in the world.

“If the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ would it then no longer belong to the body?  If the body were all eye what would happen to our hearing?  If it were all ear, what would happen to our smelling?” 1 Corinthians 12:16-17



Jordan, M. E., & McDaniel, R.  (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams : The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences, doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White Logic , White Methods: Racism and methodology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Menu: Accelerated Learning – Best with Sides

Hodara, M., & Jaggars, S. S. (2014). An Examination of the Impact of Accelerating Community College Students’ Progression Through Developmental Education. The Journal of Higher Education, 85(2), 246–276. doi:10.1353/jhe.2014.0006

Menu:  Accelerated Learning – Best with sides

Most community colleges are feverishly trying to meet President Obama’s College Completion Challenge of increasing the number of students who complete a degree or another credential by 50% by the year 2020.  The task is large.  Fewer than 30% of community college students graduate within 6 years.  Even fewer who come in testing into below-college level (aka developmental) courses graduate within 6 years (College Completion Challenge Fact Sheet).  Whether you are neo-liberal and want students to contribute to the economy or an old-fashioned liberal and want equality for all people especially those who have been traditionally under-served, you may find this article examining accelerated learning in English and math classes at the City University of New York (CUNY) community colleges a worthy read.

There are several items on the menu of strategies to helping the under-prepared learner progress toward graduation – e.g. accelerated learning, contextualized learning, and problem-based learning.  This article focuses on accelerated learning – an approach in which the developmental sequence of courses an under-prepared student must take is shortened or sometimes offered concurrently with college-level courses.  The authors examined data from the six CUNY community colleges.  Students in the CUNY system are diverse:  “15% of students are Asian, 29% are black, 37% are Latino, and 19% are White; …48% are first-generation college students; and 46% have household incomes under $20,000” (City University of New York 2011 in Hodara & Jaggars 2014).  Overseeing all this diversity is a centralized developmental education testing policy with firm cut off scores at which students are placed in developmental education classes.  Each of the six colleges, though, was more or less free to design their own “menu” or developmental course sequence.

The authors found that the English and Math departments did not tend to consult with their sister departments in the district resulting in varying developmental sequences at each college.  Though to me that seems an oversight of administration, it provided the researchers with a ripe opportunity to compare length of developmental course sequences across the district through analysis of data without having to design an experiment.  In English, the researchers designated the treatment group as two colleges that had a single course of either of six or seven credits and compared those to four colleges with two classes in their sequence.  In Math, the control group was determined to be the five colleges that had three developmental math classes compared to the one college making up the treatment group that had only two developmental math courses.  Data were made available to the researchers over a 10 year period which allowed for some longitudinal following of students out of the community college into the CUNY universities.

The methodology is where things get complicated (and honestly over my head at this very early point in my doctoral program).  The researchers were concerned that just comparing outcomes of students in the short (treatment) vs long (control) term sequences would not account for confounding variables.   They noticed gender, race, and financial aid assistance differences right away and wanted to account for high school performance and students’ academic and professional goals.  By using a couple of logistic regression models, the researchers were able to compare like students to each other e.g. students with similar high school, region of birth, citizenship status, and college major.  This section has much more detail to it and I encourage readers with appropriate expertise to explore it further and those without to trust in the prestige of the Journal of Higher Education to believe the researchers did it right!

In general, students in the accelerated courses had better outcomes in their courses and in subsequent college courses than students in the control groups.  The results were not robust, though, and there was some difference between the English and the math sequences.  Students in the accelerated English sequences were more likely to get to college-level English and to accumulate credits and graduate.  However, students in the math sequence, though they passed college-level math, did not demonstrate long-term college success.  Academic policies within the institutions may contribute to that finding.  The authors report that passing college-level English is required for many other courses allowing those students to continue to make progress toward degree completion while passing college-level math does not necessarily lead to progress in other courses for non-STEM majors.

One aspect of this article’s contribution to the field is its interesting perspective on the role of community colleges in the field of higher education.  The authors suggest that community colleges may actually create barriers against achieving a college education – the opposite of their mission of increasing accessibility to higher education for those who might not have the option to attend university.  Since more first-generation and students of color start at community college that may inadvertently create a class system stratifying the middle and upper class white students into the universities and the students of color and low-income students to community college.

Another contribution is the authors’ acknowledgement in the discussion that the generally modest gains seen for the students in the accelerated classes can likely be improved by “more thoughtfully designed reforms incorporating stronger student supports” leading to “substantial increases in developmental students’ college-level credit accrual and graduation rates” (Hodara & Jaggars 2014).  Also, that as colleges continue to work on meeting the completion challenge with improved graduation rates that collaborative conversations around developmental education are more likely to happen thus building relationships and infusing diverse perspectives to provide a more nutritious meal that includes healthy sides in addition to the main dish of accelerated learning.

The influence this article has on me and my evolving line of inquiry is that, before taking this class, I was considering pursuing an interest in data analysis – partly because I was getting tired of feeling as though I wasn’t making the difference I had hoped to in the classroom.  Though I believe familiarity with data and careful analysis is crucial to effective teaching and effective programs, I find that the the analysis is not quite as tasty to me as the prospect of creating a colorful and nutritious “meal” with a variety of sides that complement the main dish.



Hodara, M., & Jaggars, S. S. (2014). An Examination of the Impact of Accelerating Community College Students’ Progression Through Developmental Education. The Journal of Higher Education, 85(2), 246–276. doi:10.1353/jhe.2014.0006

The College Completion Fact Sheet. American Association of Community Colleges.  Retrieved from


Who are you anyway?

Identity is personal and collective and influences one’s life at all levels.  Wenger (2000) suggests that our identity is shaped by participation in social learning systems – from families to work to school – and that it needs to have a strong foundation balanced with an ability to expand. Participating in social learning systems includes a sense of engagement with others, an ability to reflect on the system and consider alternatives, and a sense of purpose or alignment.  By knowing who we are, we are better able to imagine, investigate, respond, plan, and question.

College can be its own social learning system.  It certainly is a time for identity development. (Chickering and Reisser 1993).  Our readings this week seem aimed to drive home the point that all perspectives (especially of the underrepresented) have value.  My goal as an educator in the community college system is to empower the students with whom I work to know themselves – to establish identity – and to learn how to create personally meaningful goals and opportunities.  To do this effectively, I need to be aware of myself as well.

Who am I?  I consider myself as one who serves others and who works toward social justice.  The Jesuit university I attended helped me to develop that identity which was solidified in a year of volunteer service after college graduation with an organization called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  The Jesuit Volunteer Corps gives young adults an opportunity to work toward social justice while living a simple lifestyle in community with others who serve – all with an openness to exploring spirituality.

Who are the students I serve?  They are people of all ages with diverse experiences.  Some desire to make someone proud or to pave the way for a younger sibling, most have hopes and dreams of participating in our consumer culture and/or of making a difference in their future work.  Arthur Chickering’s work on the identity development of college students, suggests that college is a time to develop competence, interdependence, integrity, purpose (Chickering and Reisser, 1993).  In order to successfully navigate the college system and one’s own development, some know-how is needed.  Unfortunately, students from poorer backgrounds are often denied that know-how.  They may, however, have other forms of capital such as aspirational, social, or familial (Yosso in Liou et al 2009).  Our job as educators is to increase our student’s capital to cross boundaries and achieve success so each can align with her/his unique goals.  I believe it’s my moral imperative as a person whose conscience was formed with exposure to social justice.

Consider higher education institutions as communities of practice.  Not all communities are equal, though.  Communities with a balance of engagement, mutual relationships, and a repertoire of artifacts (e.g. language, rituals, etc.)  are more competent than others.  Without access to the artifacts or relationships of mutuality students will have a harder time succeeding.  If students can’t rely on their teachers to engage with them and share the resources necessary to succeed, then we all suffer the consequences of having a divided society of have’s and have-not’s.

Looking inward to better understand the self allows for more authentic engagement.  Sharing that understanding allows for more equal access.  As I model and encourage students to do the same we will all have access to a greater repertoire of resources and artifacts and improve self-efficacy as we move closer to our goals.  Who are you?

Chickering, A.W. & Reisser, L (1993). Education and Identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Liou, D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R. & Cooper, R. (2009).  Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, (45), 534-555.

Wenger, E (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

Self-reflection – Try it, you’ll be more successful!

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

Teachers, students, researchers do it….You’ll be more successful if you do it….Try it, I bet you’ll like it!

The above article from the Fall 2013 issue of the Journal of Developmental Education shows that students who engage in regular and on-going reflection about their learning process show improved results in developmental Math courses.  This metacognitive process is essentially the same process that we as nascent researchers are being asked to do for ourselves and, as teachers, that most, if not all, of us do by training or temperament:  thinking about what we do, doing it, examining and reflecting on our results, and making adjustments to improve.

Data from four studies of students in developmental Math courses at an urban college of technology were gathered.  More than a thousand students were included over the course of three summer sessions and four academic years in the mid-2000’s.  In each study, an experimental group engaged in a special program (embedded in the class) that included regular self-reflection and a continuous feedback loop where the students and instructors both adjusted behavior.  This process was called EFAP-SRL (Enhanced Formative Assessment Program with features of Self-Regulated Learning).  For each experimental group, there was a control group of students taking the same level Math course without the added formative assessment, reflection, and feedback.  Whether the classes were short-term summer classes or full year classes, the students in the experimental groups earned higher pass rates in the course as well as higher pass rates on the Math portion of the ACT.  Some data support that students also did better on subsequent Math courses.

To facilitate the metacognitive process and “teach the students how to better plan, practice, and evaluate their ‘learning how to learn’ strategies,” (Hudesman, Crosby, Flugman, Issac, Everson, and Clay, 2013) instructors gave students regular (weekly during the school year, more often during the summer sessions) quizzes.  Students had to first predict their score on the quiz and write how much time they had spent preparing.  Prior to answering each of the five quiz questions, students had to rate their level of confidence in getting it correct and rate their expectation of having solved the problem correctly after completing each problem.   After the corrected quizzes were returned, students had to complete reflections comparing their predictions to the actual results.

The metacognitive process continued and was enhanced with instructor-facilitated class discussions about the reflective process and learning opportunities for the students using personalized data.  For example, students created graphs comparing their predictions of success with their actual quiz scores and then had to generate explanations for the results.  Students also came up with a plan for improvement that could include strategies discussed previously in class.

Instructors received training on the theory and practice of the EFAP-SRL process prior to teaching in the experimental groups and were observed throughout the term to see how often they were using the EFAP-SRL strategies.

This research, though it considered success in courses that I don’t teach, is still very exciting to me because it supports the value of on-going reflection and two-way feedback in the classroom setting.  I found the literature review rich in its explanation of formative assessment and student-regulated learning.  The Methods section is comprehensive; it took me several readings to understand, but I attribute that to my lack of familiarity with research methods.  The results and data tables are clear, simply presented, and easy to read.  The theoretical framework is strong and carried throughout the article.  The contribution to the field is significant because this study supports the efficacy of metacognitive learning which can be applied to all subjects and gives examples of instructor strategies that can be adapted for other subjects as well.  The Appendices contain examples of a quiz and a post-quiz reflection sheet.

The authors acknowledge that engaging in the EFAP-SRL process created more work for instructors and students.  Some instructors gave the researchers feedback that they were uncomfortable with the role of “educational psychologist” in the classroom.  A possible collaboration that I could see even before it was mentioned by the authors was to link the Math course with either a college success course or a counselor who could more comfortably handle the self-reflection piece.  I saw no mention of how the instructors were selected to participate which may have some influence on results.  The authors acknowledge that several interventions were included in this collection of studies and that further research would benefit from separating out the quizzes from the self-reflections to compare the impact of the different interventions.

I am interested to know more about whether students’ level of engagement with the reflections had any impact.  If a student only cursorily reflected was their pass rate still as high?  Yet, rating a student’s depth of reflection seems subjective.  Also, if a student started in the program and then dropped out, was there any measurable difference when they attempted Math again?

One small critique/confusion I have is that the abstract mentions that students’ pass rates on the ACT were higher after students completed the courses engaged in metacognitive activities; whereas in the results section it talks about COMPASS results.  From what I could tell from a Google search, ACT publishes the COMPASS test, but that connection could be more clearly stated in the article.

This research is important because as the authors point out, a third of students who enter college come in needing developmental classes to prepare for their college level classes.  Colleges need to be better prepared to help those students achieve their goals.  With President Obama’s completion agenda, community college funding will be tied to students’ graduation rates which provides another incentive to colleges to help students move through required course work in order to graduate.

All in all, I found these results highly encouraging.  The EFAP-SRL process seems replicable – think about what you are doing, do it, examine the results and reflect, adjust.  I am anxious to be more intentional with my students about using metacognitive strategies.  I am also beginning to think this may be a more viable line of inquiry I could tackle for my research.

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

Best Practices for Researchers – Be(a)ware of Yourself!

The readings for this week seem designed to initiate us to the reflexive, multi-faceted look at educational practice that our program aims to inculcate in us.  I strongly agree with this approach. I applied to this program so that I can be a better teacher – more reflexive, more culturally sensitive, and better educated about best practices and how to design and assess innovations.  In Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education by Garcia and Ortiz (2013), they write “…educational questions beg to be conceptualized and analyzed through more than one axis” and “…categories of difference are dynamic and produced by the interaction of individual and institutional factors.”   To help students be successful will take acknowledgement of various intersecting aspects of their culture and abilities.  Designing a curriculum and/or a program to help students will take consideration of multiple factors such as race, generational cohort, familiarity with college environment, language acquisition, and institutional assumptions.  That suggests to me that a cookie-cutter approach to designing a program or teaching a class will not suffice.  That is why I don’t want to simply copy a program or syllabus from another college or teacher; I want to learn more about the intricacies and intersection of factors that can lead to student success.

In addition, I will need to continue developing awareness about how my language, instructional practices, grading practices, and casual interactions with my diverse community college students might influence them.  In Culturally Relevant Pedagogy by Howard (2001), I read that “reflection is never-ending” and “teaching is not a neutral act.”  Howard’s proposal that pre-service teachers need to engage in on-going reflection is consistent with training for counselors.  As a graduate student in counseling, my training included written and guided reflection with a supervisor after each encounter with a client in my counseling practicum.  Years later when I was supervising interns in clinical practice, I continued the process of written and verbal reflection with my interns.  In order to come up with a thoughtful treatment plan for each client, interns examined what they knew about a client, we uncovered and challenged assumptions, and examined possible approaches and potential outcomes for dealing with each individual.  Like education, therapy is not a neutral act and calls for continual reflection.  Because culture continues to evolve, so does theory and best practices.

As evidenced by the chapter from Gould’s 1981 publication of the Mismeasure of Man, as scientific observation/tools become more sophisticated, ideas will evolve and there will be missteps as scientists attempt to provide reasonable theories to support new evidence.  However, there is the danger that the questions asked and the data examined will unconsciously support the prejudices of the one asking and looking which is how Gould explains the seemingly scientific data gathered by Morton that supported a theory of racial hierarchy based on skull size.  Gould writes that he re-examined Morton’s data and describes the seemingly unconscious mistakes Morton made.  I believe contemporary practitioners have the same danger of seeing data through the lens of our biases which is why I am devoted to the practice of on-going reflection, being as transparent as I can, and discussing with others in hopes of minimizing my unconscious biases.

Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates by Shulman et al (2006) presented a history of doctorates in education of which I was unaware.  I read about the Carnegie Initiative when I was exploring doctoral programs and the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College commitment to action research for practitioners was part of the draw to this program for me.

Finally, I have questions about Value-Added Measures from the The random assignment of students into elementary classrooms by Paufler and Amrein-Beardsley (2013) article.  I look forward to Dr. Beardsley’s visit to our class this week so that I can gain a better understanding of her work.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013).  Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education.  Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Gould, S.J. (1981).  The mismeasure of man.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Howard, T.C. (2003).  Culturally Relevant pedagogy:  Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Paufler, N.A. & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2013). The random assignment of students into elementary classrooms: Implications for value-added analyses and interpretations.  American Education Research Journal, 51(2), 328-362.

Shulman, L.S., Golde, C.M., Conklin Bueschel, A., & Kristen, J. (2006).  Reclaiming education’s doctorates:  A Critique and a proposal.  Educational Researcher, 35(25), 25-32.