31 January 2008

Will you be my PAL?

from Overheard in New York: I used to be a straight-A student until I realized I was just learning how to get A's.

The theory I'm grounding my doctoral work is achievement goal theory. It's one way of looking at how motivation operates in the classroom---and the lens through which there is the greatest amount of research.

Earlier in the week, I piloted my survey tool with my own students. I'm not going to use this data for anything in my doctoral study. The main thing I wanted was some data to practice with in terms of how to manage coding and statistical manipulations before I go out and get the "real" stuff.

The survey was pulled from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Study (PALS)---a well-validated tool. It has several scales to use, depending on who you wish to survey and what the focus is. I selected items relating to student goals and the goals they perceived my classroom to have. Its existence makes my methodology a lot simpler to defend.

Anyway, I asked my students to answer the questions and also to be sure they provided no identifying information: no name, no class period, don't write gender or ethnicity, etc. Out of the 100 or so kids who responded, all but three appeared to have taken the questions seriously. (Why did I think some hadn't? They had just circled a "3" for every answer.) After they answered, I talked with them about motivation and different ideas behind it. We discussed ideas of intelligence...and ability...and goal theory. There were comments about the connection between the motivational values they had and the academic behaviors it could lead to. I asked them if they would have answered the questions differently if they had taken the survey in another class. Most said that they would have. Why? Ah, because the goals within any given classroom are different---and many students will adapt their personal goals to fit the environment the teacher sets.

So, what does my data show? I'm not done playing with it yet---and really, there isn't much I will be able to surmise. It's a small sample of kids...and one teacher's classroom. There are no generalizations that can be made; however, I can't help but be interested in what my students are after in terms of personal learning goals and how well those match my classroom philosophy. I have worked very hard this year to set up a mastery goal environment: one which values learning and improvement over grades. Research shows that students with mastery goals cheat less, use more learning strategies, take risks with their learning, and show deeper cognitive engagement. (Performance goals are associated with the opposite---kids who procrastinate or skip school, choose the easiest assignments possible, cheat, etc.) Here's the first bit of information I have from what my students said. On a scale of 1 - 5, students averaged a 3.95 in terms of claiming mastery goals, and 2.54 for performance goals. Yea! Kids in my class have a stronger affiliation with learning for the sake of learning: a beautiful thing, if I do say so myself. And how do they perceive my classroom? The average for mastery was 4.13...for performance 2.75.

Are the results statistically significant? I haven't run the tests yet. How do the results compare to a similar group of students who have another science teacher? I'll not be able to tell you that---nor if those results are meaningful. Can I say that the way I've structured my classroom has led to the stronger reporting of mastery goals by students? Nope. The numbers correlate, but there's no way to make an argument for causality.

All of that, for me, doesn't really matter at the moment. My main goal was to learn to use this sort of data and I'm getting to do that. The bonus is seeing that so many kids identify with the mastery environment I've worked to create and nurture with them. I can hardly wait to take the PALS survey out for the real run.

1 comment:

Hugh O'Donnell said...

You've got some interesting talents there, SG, making data analysis as exciting as preparing for a confrontation in an action novel. :)

I'm happy for you that the unofficial results are reinforcing.