If you think back to your college psychology class, you might recall attribution theory. If not, let me refresh your memory. When we attempt to attribute a cause to the behavior of another, we are exercising attribution theory. In classrooms, this plays out in the heads of our students in a variety of ways. A student who performs poorly on an assignment might attribute the lack of success to themselves (though not often likely), the teacher (“she doesn’t like me”), or other students (“they distracted me”).
Researcher Bernard Weiner narrowed attribution theory’s effects in the classroom to three factors, which are discussed in the book Growing Positive Mindsets: Principles and Practices for Maximizing Students’ Potential by authors Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers (pp. 90-92):
- Locus of Control. You might recall that the locus (point) of control can be internal (something within me) and external (something outside of me). Students who find the greatest levels of success often have an internal locus of control. Teachers can help build this internal locus by helping students identify prior successful tasks and linking those tasks to new goals. Students who receive encouragement and have a number of learning strategies to draw upon will have a greater chance of succeeding.
- Stability. Students who find the greatest level of success understand that conditions for success or failure may change, and that they are a stabilizing factor in the pursuit of tasks. Teachers can help students build their own stability by providing them with quality feedback regarding their prior performance and overtly linking the feedback to performance tasks.
- Controllability. Students who find the greatest level of success understand that they have some control of the outcome. Teachers can help students gain a greater sense of control by providing them with quality feedback regarding their efforts and improvement and overtly linking the feedback to the performance tasks.
As you prepare for next week, think of ways that you can apply Weiner’s attribution theory to your classroom practice. You and your students will be glad you did!