Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on Mastery...

The second of the three elements of motivation that Pink talks about is Mastery. There were several points that got me thinking. The first phrase is described as a "Goldilock's Task." A task that is "just right." Pink states that frustration in the workplace (which can also be translated into the classroom) begins with a discrepancy of what people want to do and what they can do. When people encounter a task that is beyond their capabilities, the person will experience a high level of anxiety. If a person encounters a task that is below thier capabilties, the result is bordom. When the task is "just right" the results are stupendous! When the task is just on the fine line of challenge and comfort, a person is reported to be in the "zone" or "flow." Flow is crucial for reaching mastery. However, just because you are in "flow" doesn't ensure mastery. Mastery takes time (a long time) to reach and you may be in "flow" more frequently, we have to use flow on our journey to mastery. 

There are also three laws of Mastery. The first is that Mastery is mind-set. There are two schools of thought on the intelligence needed to reach mastery. One being that a person can increase their intelligence by continuing to learn and grow and challenging themselves. Another thought is that you will either have the intelligence to reach mastery or you won't.  One school of thought is driven toward mastery the other is not.
The second law is Mastery is pain. The road to mastery--"becoming better at something you care about--is not lined with daisies and ends with a rainbow." Mastery can be reached by exerting effort over a LONG period of time. Julius Erving once said "Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them."
Lastly, Mastery is an Asymptote (what is an asymptote, Mrs. Stamm?) An example of a horizontal asymptote is straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches. Mastery is then something we can work towards, get very close to, but never put our hands on it.

So why strive for something we can never reach? Is the journey more fulfilling than the end result? How do we entice kids to strive for mastery when we cannot guarantee an "end" to the process?


  1. I believe that many people don’t realize the benefits of hard work until they are older and more mature. We can tell them how important school is… and how they’ll appreciate all the school work later in life… and that they’ll be thankful they learned this material someday…. but they may not truly realize it until they are a little older. I often remember a teacher that I had when I am doing something related to what he or she taught me, but I don’t think I knew how influential he or she was in my life at the time. I think to myself, “Thank goodness he made me learn that.” Students are mainly focused on what is going on right now in the moment and often don’t think of the end result. We should be focused on the process (the moment), because that is where they are. I believe we should have high standards for every student regarding the process, (homework, paying attention in class, participation, class work, etc...). Sometimes conveying the message that you expect these behaviors on a consistent basis is key to what they begin to expect from themselves. I feel that students are too young to decide that they don’t care and too young to decide what information is important and should not be allowed to opt out of the learning process. As students develop better habits in these areas and become more engaged in their own learning they will have successes along the way (small and large). Feelings of success will drive a person (motivate a person) toward more success. Getting students to participate in the process is our most difficult task, but I believe sometimes we have to make them. Sitting in class with no book, no pencil, no plan or intention of doing anything…..these are the students that are not experiencing any academic motivation or success. I don’t know a magic trick for them, but I know we shouldn’t allow any child to miss out on the feeling of motivation and success.

  2. Playing devil's advocate, would this lead to more ability grouping and less teaming? Would we group by learning styles? I would like to know what this looks like in action.

  3. As I read about the Goldilock's principal I immediately thought of the success I have had teaching classes grouped by ability. I believe in differentiated instruction and inclusion, theoretically and to some extent on a practical basis, BUT I am in a real classroom where I have a set amount of time and resources and am very limited with the variety of opportunities I can provide that address the different learning styles, interests levels, and intellectual capabilities. I want to provide the tasks that are "just right" for each student, but I cannot cater to the individual needs of 30+ kids in one class period where I have such a vast range of abilities.

    When it comes to the laws of Mastery, I don't think we can necessarilly increase students' intelligence. I think we can increase their knowledge and understanding which will then enable them to function better, experience more success, find motivation, and set and accomplish their goals. Students of different intelligences approach and receive knowledge in different ways and need different levels of structure to work with and digest it. If our goal is to promote mastery, we have to define mastery with each students' needs, limitations, and abilities in mind realizing that all students can attain mastery, but not in the same way. Ability grouped classes provide the chemistry/culture that encourages student participation and growth and the opportunity to scaffold in more or less assistance, develop consistent policies that fit individual needs, focus more clearly on providing Goldilock's porridge within a more chewable set of perameters.

    I wish this were a fairy tale where differentiated instruction and inclusion worked like they're supposed to in theory, but the huge successes (kids who really just flew) I've seen in my career have been the students properly placed in ability grouped classes. I've seen seniors who almost dropped out beam when they realized they wrote their first real essay, and it was "just right." I've seen kids in general classes finally find success and confidence to challenge themselves. I've seen kids who had been so bored for years find the real joy in analyzing literature and take to places I never imagined. I am struggling to provide those opportunities for my kids now, because I don't have the time, know how, resources, or ? to figure out how to do all three in one hour.

  4. Michelle Baker-HerringFebruary 3, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    I, too, ponder your questions about ability grouping. I asked Mr. Sornson, who developed the essential skills for K-3, when he envisioned meeting students where they are (especially in a secondary setting), if what he was describing was the use tracking, or ability grouping. His statement was, "as long as grouping students is TEMPORARY, it is effective instruction." When we track kids and assign them to a particular class or track, very often students are not challenged and do not reach their full potential, research shows this is even more pertinent when we address middle schoolers. Using formative assessment to identify students who have mastered the material and who are ready to move on versus those who need further instruction, helps you set up temporary groups frequently. Yet how is this not the dilemma that Amy describes, how do we do that for all kids, all lessons, all of the time? How realistic is that? But part me believes that if we are trying to do that to the best of our ability, we will continue to get better at it and become more skillful in ways to differentiate for our kids. We could try asking our students for input on ways we could group kids, assign tasks, and develop assessments...what could it hurt if we don't have the answers, student input is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get!

  5. I was thinking about my comment and wanted to add that I know there are dangers of ability grouing (keyboard issues, so no letter between o and q) and it is funny to see those concerns mentioned in subsequent comments. I wanted to add that there have to be clearly communicated, well thought out requirements for lacement in each grou. Kids cannot be tracked, or locked into one set of classes for all subjects or forever. Each year, or semester, teachers have to truly examine the rogress of each kid, taking into account motivation and other life skills required to be successful at the different levels, and make recommendations and have discussions with students and their arents. Just throwing the good kids into the advanced classes and giving all the first year teachers THOSE basic kids will cause inexcusable damage. There has to be research based criterion that is consistently enforced and clearly understood and communicated to those recommending lacement of each student. And a student who is one track for ELA might be in a different track for math because the idea is to meet them where they are and get them to the best lace they can be.

    My belief is when grouing is done well, true inclusion and differentiated instruction can occur within each class because the variables to which you are differentiating are manageable.