I keep going back to Jeanne Chall’s 2000 book “The academic achievement challenge”. Such is the ouroboric nature of education that, despite being 16 years old, Chall’s critique is as valid today as it was then, given a little tweaking of the buzzwords.
In 2000, ‘self-esteem’ was the rallying cry. It was the phrase that everyone used for students feeling good about themselves and their education. Since then, Carol Dweck has set her Mindset Theory in direct counterpoint to self-esteem, claiming that the self-esteem movement was misconceived. Read Jo Boaler’s, “Mathematical Mindsets,” – a book that aims to apply Dweck’s Mindset Theory to the maths classroom – and you will encounter the idea that, in order to prevent students hating and fearing mathematics, we need to use investigatory, problem-based learning techniques.
Compare this with Chall’s 2000 take on self-esteem:
“Teacher centered education views self-esteem as an outcome of doing what one does, especially when one does it well. Student-centered education tends to take a different view, namely, that self-esteem is a prerequisite for learning…
Recently, using the concept of self-esteem to explain why students learn or do not learn has spread to all kinds of schools, traditional as well as progressive. Thus, when children fail, lack of self-esteem is often cited. The result in such instances is that certain teaching procedures become favored because they are presumed to raise student self-esteem. We hear more and more that certain practices, such as hands-on science, are worthwhile because they also enhance students’ self-esteem. One hears of schools whose first objective is to build students’ self-esteem, hoping it will bring about improved academic achievement.”
So, in 2000, if you wanted to promote self-esteem then the prescription was progressive teaching methods. Now, if you have the opposite goal of building a growth mindset it seems that the prescription stays the same: progressive teaching methods.
We see a similar argument around motivation, both in the prescription and the direction of cause and effect. Traditionalists believe that motivation will come, if at all, with increased proficiency. Progressive educators believe that increased proficiency will come with motivation and, in order to motivate students, you need – can you guess? – progressive teaching methods.