26 July 2007

Ready to Write and Roll...I Think

I have no doubt that I will continue to expand my literature search as my dissertation develops over the next year. For now, however, I'm ready to start writing my Doctoral Study Proposal. This will eventually form the first three chapters of my dissertation (introduction, literature review, methodology). I have until the middle of April to accomplish this, but I am going to see if I can't finish this by December 1. My concern about "waiting" to finish is that I can't do any data collection until the Proposal is approved. If that doesn't happen until sometime in May or early June, my project is going to be screwed: I can't survey students during the summer about their motivation for school and the classroom environment that they're in. Considering I'm supposed to finish drafting the whole shebang by September 2008, I'm in trouble. It's true, I could lay out a semester between now and then and then finish my degree a semester later than originally anticipated, but I'd just rather not. I'd like to keep moving forward.

The line of thought I'm following goes something like this...
  • Powerful Learning Environments are those which are student-centered and facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills in all students. They represent a response to recent changes in society which expect that every student will achieve a high level of literacy, thinking skills, and the ability to regulate and communicate learning. These characteristics of these environments are also related to new learning about how the brain learns. Student motivation and learning are connected to and affected by these environments.
  • Motivation toward achievement can take one of two basic pathways: performance or mastery. A person or environment geared toward performance is one of normative comparisons. Performance goals are not associated with deep learning or metacognition. Mastery goals are criterion-referenced and are associated with patterns of learning that are adaptive. Although most people have a dominant type of personal achievement goal, these can be influenced by the situation/context a person is experiencing---such as how a teacher structures his/her classroom practices.
  • One practice teachers impose on the classroom environment is grading. These practices can foster either a mastery or performance goal approach, but little is known about the impact this has on students, especially adolescents. Adolescence is a time when many people begin to differentiate between "ability" and "effort" and this can alter their personal approach to school. Most elementary school aged children have a mastery goal orientation, but the performance environment which has a greater presence starting in middle school may be part of the reason that students begin to disconnect from school at this time. It's possible that those teachers which continue to foster a mastery-oriented environment through their grading practices help students stay connected with learning and have higher-achieving students.
Voila! We'll see what I find out. I have some really great research to form the basis of my study and have gathered some useful tools for investigating student perceptions of their classroom environment and motivational levels/orientation.

Right now, everything still feels a bit unwieldy. It makes sense in my head, but pulling everything into one neat little package is not so simple. I hope to make a good run at it in the next few weeks and then just take the fall to revise and add details. It would be nice to get this project off the ground.


Marilynn said...

Grading is never cut and dried, as I know you know. What is a 60 on an essay to one teacher can be a 75 to another in the same school. And then you have the terribly disparate grading practices from school to school and state to state. I believe this is one of the main reasons why people in college/university admissions offices want to have SAT or ACT scores.

Grading and motivation to study are really amazing topics -- really fascinating, whether any conclusions can be drawn or not.

martha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.