If our ultimate goal is less than the long-term flourishing of kids, student motivation doesn’t matter much. English teachers want kids to become lifelong readers because we want them to flourish; science teachers aim at teaching a methodical way of thinking and viewing the world because such thinking is instrumental to a flourishing life; physical education exists because an unfit body makes it more difficult to flourish. And so on.
But here’s a big problem with long-term flourishing: I can’t very well get immediate feedback on whether or not the lessons I taught today will end up promoting the long-term flourishing of my students in twenty years. Useful feedback, it turns out, is kind of important. Our ability to collect and use it determines how much skill we’ll develop as teachers; it affects how motivated we’ll feel to keep doing the work each day. In other words, if we’re to productively work toward the long-term flourishing of our kids, we need to determine what types of outcomes in our immediate work are most able to predict whether our kids will flourish in the long-term.
To help us get there, let’s bring to mind a kid.
What contributes most to long-term success?
Do me a favor: picture a student whom you’ve taught or are currently teaching that you feel is most likely to succeed, to lead a flourishing life. Whose name or face first comes to mind?
(Psst… Don’t move on before you have a specific kid in mind.)
Got ’em? Now, answer this in just a word or two: Why did you picture that kid? What is it about that child that led your mind to select him or her?
At this point in my career, I’ve asked over a thousand educators to conduct this thought experiment, and the results are fascinating. Guess what percent of folks answer my question with a cognitive skill — something like “good reader,” “great at math,” “scientifically brilliant,” or “smart”? Less than one percent. And we’re talking about trained educators here, thousands of them, representing millions of hours teaching and studying and coaching human beings toward success.
Overwhelmingly, this group of experts, given no time to formulate anything but a gut reaction to the prompt, cites noncognitive factors. When I ask them why they brought that student to mind in response to my “picture a kid who’s likely to succeed” prompt, they say that the kid is
good with people or
never gives up or
asks questions or
…and the list goes on and on and on.
This doesn’t provide us with much in the way of usable information — it’s way too long, way too idiosyncratic — but it certainly says one thing clearly: if the majority of educators indicate these things as the determining factors in whether or not children are likely to succeed, then we certainly ought to teach toward them in the contexts of the academic work we ask our students to do. If we’re to do that, we need answers in at least two directions:
- First, how can we organize our thinking around these noncognitive factors? How do we simplify the list?
- Then, how do we strategically approach the task of helping our students grow these things? Which of them are growable? Which of them matter most?
For my money, the Consortium Framework gives the clearest answers to these questions.