Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough

14. Incentives

  • There is no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor does Paul find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement. Many studies show that after incentives have been removed, interest on an effort of any kind decreases.

15. Motivation

  • How do we motivate low-income children? First, we need to focus on three human needs. They are our need for competence, our need for autonomy, and our need for personal connections. Single-paced lessons result in some falling behind and losing the feeling of competence. This can also make the relationship with the teacher more contentious. Allowing students some control over what they study also feeds a key need.

16. Assessment

  • The test scores on which our current educational accountability system relies are clearly inadequate. But there is no similarly accepted measurement of a student’s level of grit or conscientiousness or optimism. This hasn’t stopped advocates from trying to develop those measures. The new Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind in December 2015, requires each state to come up with its own accountability system that must include at least one non-academic measure. Such measures by their nature are subjective. One researcher has developed a proxy measure of non-cognitive ability composed of attendance, GPA, suspensions, and one-time grade promotions. He found that some teachers are better at helping students improve using this measure while others are better getting standardized test improvement. Unfortunately, the former type who are better for students are being pushed to be more like the second group.

17. Messages

  • Students’ motivation can be boosted or undercut by the messages they hear about their own ability to improve their intelligence. If students hear the message that a failure is a final verdict on their ability, they may well give up and pull back from school. But if instead, they get the message that a failure is a temporary stumble, or even a valuable opportunity to learn and improve, then that setback is more likely to propel them to invest more of themselves in their education. The key quality is called academic perseverance, which is the tendency to maintain productive academic behaviors over time. What distinguishes students with academic perseverance is their resilient attitude toward failure. It is highly dependent on context. A student’s academic mindset determines their academic perseverance. It’s composed of a feeling of belonging, thinking they are competent and can learn and grow and succeed, and that the work they are doing has value for them. Students growing up in adversity don’t have much chance. Teachers can help by forming good relationships and by using effective pedagogy.
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