This short post highlights how students set about motivating themselves to close learning gaps – to be able to recognise a weakness and act upon it. The post continues in the discussion over Hattie’s Visible Learning book.

Before reading, I’d like you to think of one activity – skateboarding. It will be explained at the end.

When we look at motivation within a classroom or learning environment, there are four key stages:

Stage 1: See a gap

The student needs to see a gap between what they know and what they need to know. The recognition of the gap may come from within (“Hold on, I don’t understand what Mr X is talking about”) or from a teacher questioning in class (“Who knows what I mean by the term simile?”) or feedback from a piece of classwork or homework (“Are you sure you know this?”).

Whichever way the student recognises the gap, the student needs to want to close that gap in knowledge. What can we do as teachers to make sure more students want to close the gap? Arguably, two key factors: 1) Making the classroom an inviting place to learn and accept it’s okay not to know 2) Ensuring students know the final target – to know what it is they’re working towards.

Stage 2: Goal set

After a student accepts that they have a gap in their knowledge and they have decided about closing that gap, they can begin to set goals to overcome these gaps in knowledge. However, the student will need to be given sufficient information about past and future learning.

  • Past – What did I do wrong? Where are my gaps?
  • Future – What do I need to learn? What is my goal at the end of the course?

When they have sufficient information, they can begin to set goals towards filling the gaps in knowledge.

Stage 3: Strategies

After gaps in knowledge have been accepted and goals for future learning have been set, strategies can be planned for to close the gaps in knowledge. Students will search for solutions – often in discussion with peers or teachers – about how is the best way to tackle these gaps in learning.

How can you as a classroom teacher help supply these strategies? Would one strategy apply to all?

Stage 4: Close the gap

The final stage is evaluative and the student will ask if they have or have not been able to close the gap in their learning. A quick review by the student or teacher (might be in the form of a test or a question in class) can help to clarify their confidence in the topic.

Looking at the stages

The move from stage 1 (recognising a gap) to stage 2 (setting strategies) is often the hardest stage. Students find it very hard to link gaps in learning to plugging these gaps and beginning to feel confident about their knowledge.

It is important to note that some students decide never to move between stage 1 and stage 2. They are content in accepting they’ll never know that topic or not be able to complete that activity. Is that always a bad thing or should we encourage all students to complete all tasks?

Moving to a self regulated learning approach

Should the aim of teaching be to impart knowledge or to deliver learning in a way that allows students to gain knowledge themselves? Should teachers main role be to equip students with the skills and knowledge from which to learn further topics? 

There is no right or wrong answer and it doesn’t mean a complete shift to students self studying. Moreover, teachers developing their classroom interactions to such a state that students adapt themselves to allow acquirement of knowledge from the teacher.

That skateboarding idea

About two or so years ago, I read a short piece about how learning should be like skateboarding.

For those of you who have skateboarded before, you’ll know the determination / effort / concentration needed to learn a new trick. Often you’ll see others perform the trick and you want to do it yourself.

The video below is of a lad learning to skateboard and landing his first kickflip (he’s only had 121 hits on his video so far!). The enjoyment when he lands his first kickflip….isn’t that what learning should be like?