Motivating Gifted Children - Supporting Exceptionally Able Children's Motivation for Learning


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Dr. Sarah McElwee is a Post-doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, where she conducts research on identifying able children who underachieve, and the effect of mentorship on raising aspirations in able children. In this presentation (first broadcast on May 19th 2010 at a webinar) Dr. McElwee focuses on the following topics:

The link between motivation and challenge
Orientations to learning, specifically "performance" approaches versus "mastery" approaches.
How beliefs about the nature of intelligence can impact upon motivation.
Socio-emotional aspects of underachievement and motivation.
Ideas for parents and teachers on building motivation.

Published in: Education

Motivating Gifted Children - Supporting Exceptionally Able Children's Motivation for Learning

  1. 1. Supporting exceptionally able children’s motivation for learning Sarah McElwee University of Oxford webinar 19th May 2010 © Sarah McElwee
  2. 2. A conundrum…. • Why do some very bright children underachieve in school, despite their many gifts? Why do others, who seem “less bright”, thrive and accomplish far more than anyone ever expected? • Beliefs, motivation and how they are inter-linked © Sarah McElwee
  3. 3. An overview of what’s coming up... • More than one type of underachievement? • How beliefs about what it means to be intelligent affect motivation • Praise and motivation • Linking challenge and Assessment for Learning for motivation • Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators and when to use them © Sarah McElwee
  4. 4. Lack of motivation in gifted children often sparks Anger Confusion Frustration in parents and teachers Gifted but not motivated? That’s just LAZY © Sarah McElwee
  5. 5. Underachievement – effort and outcomes + Effort - 1st Quarter 2nd Quarter ++ +- + Achievers Underachievers Outcome 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter - -+ -- Underachievers Underachievers © Sarah McElwee
  6. 6. Behind the scenes of underachievement... • Lots of psychological factors at work within the able child, based on their experiences of learning and how they are defined by society & education system • Perfectionism • Boredom • Self-esteem • Beliefs about intelligence © Sarah McElwee
  7. 7. The role of motivation • Key ingredient in outstanding achievement • Extraordinary output stems from the ability to sustain intense commitment for long periods in the face of obstacles • “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” • 10,000 hours of practice • Goes against our stereotypical beliefs of what it means to be gifted © Sarah McElwee
  8. 8. Students’ “theories of intelligence” • Carol Dweck argues that children hold one of two views or “mindsets” about intelligence • Fixed Mind-set (Performance orientation) “You have a certain amount of intelligence and you can’t do anything to change it” • Growth Mind-set (Mastery orientation) “Anyone, no matter who they are, can increase their intelligence & performance substantially” © Sarah McElwee
  9. 9. Graphic by Nigel Holmes © Sarah McElwee
  10. 10. Can theories of intelligence be changed? We should praise children’s ability in order to make them feel good about themselves and bolster self-esteem © Sarah McElwee
  11. 11. Can theories of intelligence be changed? We should praise children’s ability in order to make them feel good about themselves and bolster self-esteem • 80% of parents agree with this statement • It’s not that simple. Let’s look at what praise for intelligence really does…. © Sarah McElwee
  12. 12. Dweck’s experiment • Children given puzzles to solve • First set challenging but well within their ability • “you must be smart at these problems” vs. “you must have worked hard at these problems” • Second set of much more difficult problems • Huge differences between the groups Mueller & Dweck, (1998) © Sarah McElwee
  13. 13. Intelligence Effort praise praise Student’s goal Look smart, no Learn new things matter what even if risky What does failure Low intelligence Low effort mean? Enjoyment after Low High difficulty Persistence after Low High difficulty Deception about High Low performance Performance after Impaired Improved difficulty © Sarah McElwee
  14. 14. Effects with younger children • Ability praise : you’re really good at this • Goodness praise: you’re a good girl • General approval: I’m very proud of you • Effort praise: You must have tried very hard • Strategy praise: you found a good way to do it – can you think of other ways? Ability beliefs become more ingrained over time… © Sarah McElwee
  15. 15. Relevance to highly able children • Gifted children are among those most at risk of non- contingent intelligence praise • When tasks are easy, don’t have to expend effort • Praise follows for “mysterious trait” of intelligence • Need to learn that they can master challenging tasks through effort over time, not that they are smart and praiseworthy when they do things that are easy for them • Gifted girls especially at risk • Feeds back into perfectionistic behaviour – chasing the “intelligence” that wins praise © Sarah McElwee
  16. 16. What can parents do? • Be careful of how you praise • Try not to praise for low-challenge, low-effort, no- mistake success. • Acknowledge effort & enjoyment. • Ask questions that stimulate critical thinking. • Demonstrate that you too find things hard sometimes and have to work to find the solution. © Sarah McElwee
  17. 17. What can teachers do? • Change the perception of “mistakes” • Communicate aims clearly • Encourage – self-evaluation and reflection on work. – Pupils to identify who they can ask for help • Model excitement in confronting a challenge © Sarah McElwee
  18. 18. Encouraging able children to embrace challenge Why bother? • Education as a journey vs. an endurance test • Entitlement to an education that serves their needs and stretches them to the limits of their capabilities, while offering support to help them achieve this. • The less effort pupils have to expend on work, the more vulnerable they are to “fixed” theories of intelligence • Because challenge catches up with all of us eventually! © Sarah McElwee
  19. 19. When pupils are happy and engaged... ....they are more likely to 1. Self-regulate their learning 2. Set realistic expectations 3. Apply appropriate strategies for academic success © Sarah McElwee
  20. 20. Assessment for Learning © Sarah McElwee
  21. 21. What constitutes challenge? • Opportunities for creativity, problem-solving, independence • Carefully pitched – Avoidance of “coasting” BUT child must also be reassured of their capabilities – Activities just outside grasp • Avoid situations where the child will either be a winner or a loser but try to model dealing with competition effectively © Sarah McElwee
  22. 22. © Sarah McElwee
  23. 23. Helping pupils to overcome low motivation... “Why try?” • Building value into learning for the pupil • Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards © Sarah McElwee
  24. 24. Extrinsic motivation • Laying foundations – Why is this useful? – Setting short and long- term goals – Long-term perspective – Community mentors? © Sarah McElwee
  25. 25. • Help learners to plan & organise – Encourages mindset that task is “doable” – Minimises the unknown • Performance- avoidant pupils need detailed instructions & evaluation criteria • A few attainable & realistic goals are infinitely better than a “wish list” © Sarah McElwee
  26. 26. Extrinsic motivation • Demonstrate utility – Why is this useful? – Setting short and long- term goals – Long-term perspective – Community mentors? • Using rewards? – Be careful! – Extrinsic rewards can demotivate if child already motivated © Sarah McElwee
  27. 27. Extrinsic motivation Intrinsic motivation • Demonstrate utility • Tasks are moderately – Why is this useful? novel, optimally – Setting short and long- challenging, interesting. term goals • Offer choices in – Long-term perspective learning – Community mentors? • Tough but achievable • Using rewards? • Immediate feedback – Be careful! • Language is important – Extrinsic rewards can demotivate if child – Is a task “difficult” or already motivated “intriguing”? © Sarah McElwee
  28. 28. Thinking honestly about what motivates... © Sarah McElwee
  29. 29. Building on growth mindsets • Feedback should include Recognition of talent Attribution of its development to the pupil. • Recognising growth – Keep examples of work and build portfolios to show progress – Encourage pupils to compete with themselves (not others! ) by keeping a tally of their own progress © Sarah McElwee
  30. 30. Closing remarks • Gifted children, as individuals with different learning needs, may need help to develop or maintain motivation. • Challenge is important but our conceptions of intelligence affect our willingness to take it on board. • Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators both have roles; ultimately it’s about building interest and enjoyment. • Be aware of what motivates you and how that may differ from what motivates your child/pupil © Sarah McElwee
  31. 31. Graphic by James Yang from Stanford Alumni Magazine “Learning to embrace the occasional tumble can lead you to achieve new heights” © Sarah McElwee