Beliefs influence students’ performance

Beliefs influence students performance

Beliefs influence students’ performance

There is a growing body of evidence that students’ learning performance is influenced by their beliefs about the nature of the learning process. Research has shown that students’ beliefs about learning can predict students’ grade point average, their attitude about school and their persistence in the face of difficult tasks. Educational psychologist Marlene Schommer has researched the impact of two beliefs about learning: Quick Learning and Fixed Ability.

Quick Learning: Schommer found some students hold the belief that individuals will either learn something quickly or they will not learn it at all. They believe the learning process can only occur quickly and the use of extra effort, time and different strategies and resources will not pay off. For example, some students who do poorly in math believe mathematical problems should be solved in 10 minutes, or they will never be solved, and “only math geniuses are capable of discovering mathematics.”

When writing a paper, students who believe in Quick Learning are more likely to use a perfect first draft writing process, believing good writers write only one version of a paper and believing they also should be able to write a perfect first draft. When their first draft efforts turn out to be much less than perfect, these students experience writing blocks, become frustrated and discouraged and try to avoid writing.

On the other hand, many students believe learning is not an all-or-nothing procedure – that learning is often a gradual, uneven, difficult and time-consuming process.

These students have learned the value of working harder and longer on difficult tasks such as math problems, and of using alternative resources such as tutoring. When writing, these students are more likely to use a writing process that employs multiple drafts interspersed with reader feedback and other strategies for improving content and form.

Fixed Ability: Schommer also found many college students believe their current level of learning ability is the extent of their capacity. They believe efforts to improve their learning strategies and skills will have no value. These students are more likely to give up on difficult tasks, to not ask for extra help, to have lower GPAs and to dislike school

On the other hand, many other students believe they can develop and improve their ability to learn – they can learn how to learn better. These students are more likely to enroll in a study skills class, to ask for individual help, to be optimistic about school and to persist when learning tasks become difficult.

In one experimental study, students who strongly believed their current learning ability cannot be improved (high Fixed Ability belief) were compared with students who believed learning ability can be improved (low Fixed Ability belief). These high and low Fixed Ability students were given both easy and difficult tasks.

When faced with the easy task, both groups performed about the same. When faced with the difficult task, the high Fixed Ability group tended to utter negative comments, such as “This is too hard” and “I can’t do this.” They had few learning strategies to draw on, usually repeating one strategy several times and then giving up.

However, students who did not believe learning ability is fixed tended to utter positive comments such as “I have to try harder” and “I must try different things.” They had more learning strategies to choose from, and they tried various strategies, persisted in their efforts and outperformed the other group of students.

In summary, research has shown that students’ beliefs about the learning process influence their learning performance. Missouri Southern students would benefit from examining how their own beliefs about learning influence their actual learning performance.