“I can do…; I will do …” These two considerations indicate quite nicely how we make a tradeoff in our decision to start an activity or not. And most of the time it works quite well; that is, to keep away our fear of failure and our sense of mastery high. But what if we have low self-esteem in our own abilities and a ‘learned helplessness’ relationship with the environment in which we live. Certainly there will be a big chance we land at the bottom of our expectations. It is a kind of downhill race: faster and faster we are going to believe: I cannot do; therefore I will not do…. In education this regression is disastrous. And some of our students are experiencing precisely this; low expectations, low self-esteem. The downhill race is called marginalization.
David, the boy from the cited study, was such a marginalized student with quite a history of ‘behavior problems’ while staying in normal schools. Following his learning trajectory at an alternative school it was quite remarkable to see how positive connections worked. Teachers who believe in David, addressing his needs, and providing support so that David could master educational tasks were critical, as well as peer contacts who were not negatively shaping his sense of worth and ability but connected to him on an equal basis . Drawing from expectancy value theory (1) the study shows that positive connection with teachers and peers facilitates interest in learning and openness to instruction, thus “shaping David’s subjective task values”.
More or less, we know the entailed message already, of course. What is so striking from the study is David’s voice in the matter (2). Not just the quote in the title of the study “Go over there and look at the pictures…” but other locations in the article as well express the pupil’ s eagerness and willingness to act. “With some help I can, and then I will do“ seems to be what he is saying. ‘Knowing you can’ is a stronghold position in teaching and learning so quintessential that it has probably been overlooked too many times (See Page Observation no. 1)
Marnie Best, Deborah Price & Faye McCallum (2015), ‘Go over there and look at the pictures in the book’: an investigation of educational marginalisation, social interactions and achievement motivation in an alternative middle school setting
International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19:4, 422-434,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2014.935815