Believing that you can accomplish something is a critical part of doing it. If you don’t believe you can do something, then you are very unlikely to actually do it. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re RIGHT!”
Yes I Can IS a Growth Mindset
This is the notion that Stanford researcher Carol Dweck called growth mindset. By believing you are capable of learning something, your inner “Yes, I Can”, you have the perseverance to continue working at it until you master it. Montessori incorporates this through its emphasis on developing a child’s independence, the ability to do things for themselves and have a sense of agency in the world. By curating the environment to match a child’s level of development, showing them how to do something, and then standing back and letting them practice it, the child is given the autonomy to learn for themselves how to do things and thereby develops a sense of self-confidence in their ability to learn and do anything.
Self-Talk Works Both Ways
The idea that your expectancy of a successful outcome can be leveraged to achieve that outcome – self-efficacy. This all-to-often goes the opposite direction: as positive psychologist Albert Bandura said, “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.”
I believe we all have a story to tell about how we told ourselves that we’re not good at something and then proved ourselves right. For me, I thought I truly wasn’t good at a subject at school: math. By the fourth grade, I thought I was “math stupid” and my motivation to work at math was minimal. I spent more time figuring out how to get out of doing my math assignments, stressing about the outcomes of tests, and generally feeling dumb than I did learning the concepts that would have helped me actualize my true, inner mathematical mind. It truly wasn’t until I went through my Montessori training that I realized I had been telling myself these negative messages that actualized my performance.
Four Factors That Can Lead to “Yes I Can”
Fortunately, the research on self-efficacy shows these perceptions about self-efficacy, a “Yes, I Can” attitude aren’t generalized; inefficiency in one domain doesn’t denote the same connotations about self in other realms. Bandura describes four factors that influences one’s self-perception that lead to agency:
- Past experiences (your own history with mastery and failure)
- Vicarious experiences (seeing others like yourself master and fail)
- Social persuasion (hearing what others perceive of your mastery)
- Physiological signals (noticing mastery or failure during the experience)
The last part that I found really interesting about Bandura’s work is how humans tend to attribute causal roles to themselves for achieving success or failures. I can pinpoint my own “schema” whereby I attribute my own failures in math to a series of punishments I received by my fourth grade teacher. I talked a lot and was highly social as a child. Because I had not yet gained self-regulation of my chatty self, I was made to stay inside during recess and work through multiplication tables of 13-25. I’ve leaned on this schema for most of my adult life without tapping into my own agency of actualizing a paradigm shift.
Cultivating Yes I Can in Montessori
In Montessori environments, I have fielded concern from guides seasoned and new that observe students gain tremendous success in one arena of their learning while avoiding other areas of the curriculum, students that use negative self-talk about their learning and then continue to fulfill these failures, and students with compounded their negativity about their abilities by staying within their “safe zone” of learning with no appreciable intellectual risk-taking.
The question becomes, how do we assist our students in adopting a more useful, growth mindset?
Quick Tips for Leveraging a Yes I Can Attitude in Learning
Three fundamental strategies for improving self-efficacy in your learners can be implemented immediately and easily:
- Shift the attribution: reveal the inner workings of the brain to support your students in building a more useful schema. When they understand that “neurons that fire together, wire together” and it is their hard work firing these neurons that pay off in terms of high performance, your students will begin to see their work as the catalyst rather than a false schema.
- Our brains are also wired to better understand metaphors and allegories, and telling stories of great minds that struggled to achieve their success can help your students understand the hard work and grit behind these achievements. I tell the story of Dr. Montessori to my adult students to help them see the hurdles she battled again and again. It makes the fruits of her success even sweeter.
- The third strategy is already built into Montessori methodology yet could be emphasized mindfully by a skilled practitioner. Provide your students with a successful peer who helps motivate them to learn through effort. Peers models that expose their hard work are a fantastic way for students to own their agency.
Students that acquire self-efficacy tend to take on more challenging activities, persevere and persist longer when faced with a roadblock, and find their agency to success.
What new strategy are you going to implement with your learning community to increase “Yes I Can!” attitudes?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.