Education Week - January 10, 2018 - 23
BY EVIE BLAD
impact students' motivation and learning.
The big question we're wrestling with at the
network is: How do we change incentives, norms, and
communication among researchers and practitioners
so that we can systematically-and equitably-create
learning environments that nurture the natural curiosity
and drive to learn with which people are born?
Fundamentally, this is a question of changing beliefs
and behaviors among adults in the system, including
researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and funders.
The same motivational research that can help us design
educational environments that foster adaptive beliefs and
learning behaviors among students should shape how
we think about changing adult behavior. People need to
feel competent and supported to succeed. They need to
feel connected to others and capable of expressing their
authentic selves and taking action.
The research is clear: Carrots, sticks, and research
briefs aren't going to yield the change we need. In the
work that I lead, I've seen that if we want to bring
" 'Facts' are never
straightforward, and data alone
are never enough."
practice and research into alignment, we need to leverage
what we know about the conditions that motivate people
to rally behind a collective endeavor and persist in the
face of difficulty and uncertainty. We need to create
communities where scientists and educators feel part
of efforts that are bigger than themselves, equipped
with the tools to succeed and empowered to take action.
We need intermediaries that scaffold opportunities for
scientists and educators to engage in regular dialogue
and problem-solving on equal footing. And we need
to change the incentives and constraints that inhibit
practically relevant research from seeing the light of day.
This is an engineering problem, and it is my personal
mission to minimize the distance between research and
At the Mindset Scholars Network, my colleagues and
I have introduced structures to promote scholarship
aimed at an inherently practical and interdisciplinary
question about social contexts and individual motivation.
We convene scientists who want to make a difference,
cultivate trusting relationships among them, and provide
opportunities to collaborate that are both funded and
fun. We continue to experiment with different ways of
bringing practitioners into the entirety of the research
process. We support researchers in sharing relevant
findings before publication and engage practitioners in
unpacking the educational implications.
These are challenges that won't be remedied
overnight, but I am profoundly hopeful because above
all else, the legacy of motivation research is that human
change is possible. n
nterest is snowballing among parents, policymakers, and
teachers in a broader view of how children's sense of self,
others, and the learning process affect their success in the
classroom and in life.
And that zeal has been stoked by researchers of
motivation and belonging who've produced work that
can seem both intuitive to teachers who understand child
development and revolutionary in an education system that
has been criticized as focusing too narrowly on testing.
That enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword, however.
It's heartening to see the research resonate with people who
spend their days putting it into action, say researchers who are
part of the Mindset Scholars Network. But if educators don't
understand the somewhat nuanced findings of that research,
their efforts may be fruitless or even harmful to their students,
argue the group's members, who include marquee names like
Stanford University professor Carol Dweck. They fear those
results may lead schools to abandon their efforts.
So the Mindset Scholars Network is among the groups that
have set out to explain their work and to ensure that it actually
informs what happens in schools.
Dweck's concept of the growth mindset-that students learn
more effectively when they believe their abilities are malleable
rather than fixed-nests within a larger context of research on
children's engagement and development. And the researchers
behind that work are increasingly taking a more public face
by doing such things as explaining their ideas in venues
like digestable web videos for teachers, rather than strictly
containing them in academic journals.
To clear up the misconception that encouraging growth
mindsets is merely a matter of praising effort, Dweck wrote
a Commentary in 2015 that remains one of the most popular
that Education Week has published.
"Certainly, effort is key for students' achievement, but it's
not the only thing," she wrote. Students also need a menu of
approaches they can try when they are stuck on a problem, she
Schools also need to make some structural changes, such as
giving students more feedback or giving teachers more time to
collaborate, researchers say. And those kinds of changes can
be difficult for schools that must respond to local, state, and
Other groups are also increasing communication between
researchers and educators. A panel of scientists convened by
the Aspen Commission for Social, Emotional, and Academic
Development recently held one-on-one calls with educators to
learn more about their experiences.
And the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning has partnered with a group of large districts to
observe the challenges of implementing social-emotional
learning in their schools. They hope to connect the worlds of
research and practice and make everyone's work better in
the process. n
10 Big Ideas / www.edweek.org/go/bigideas