For too long, American schools have had a default orientation toward measuring students' abilities and achievement, rather than focusing on the resources-such as engaging learning environments and high-quality, culturally responsive teaching practices-that empower students to learn new concepts and skills.
When data reveal students' shortcomings without revealing the shortcomings of the systems intended to serve them, it becomes easier to treat students as deficient and harder to recognize how those systems must be changed to create more equitable opportunities. I have seen this play out firsthand as concepts from social psychology, like growth mindset and belonging, have started to enter the education mainstream.
A teacher who wants students to feel they belong in class should focus on building strong relationships with and between students, on giving students a platform to contribute to the classroom in meaningful ways, and on honoring their cultures and communities. Those practices are both more concrete and more psychologically sound than building belonging by "intervening" with a specific student who was "diagnosed" as having low belonging.
This realization has profoundly affected the way my team and I talk about student motivation, and the kinds of measures we help educators utilize. Rather than concentrating on the mindsets of individual students, we've started to measure the learning conditions that foster equitable development and on giving educators formative feedback about the learning environments they're creating for students. For example, do students feel respected and valued by their teachers? Do they understand that the critical feedback they're receiving from their teachers is intended to help them grow as thinkers? The results of these measures leave less opportunity to blame students, and they help educators focus on creating environments that foster equitable learning and achievement.
To read more of Dave Paunesku's article, please click here.