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Volition: When the Going Gets Tough, What Do Good Students Do?

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
1567

If you make your own survey or you have your class create a survey from their experiences, your students might be surprised at how many things they can do to get unstuck. And you might be surprised at how many fewer calls for help you get from those same students. 

Folks:

The posting below looks at a model of volitional strategies that can help students follow through on their initial commitment to a project or study effort. It is by Marilla Svinicki,
University of Texas at Austin and is from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Volume 26, Number 1, December  2016. It is from a series of selected excerpts from the NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2166-3327 ] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. Copyright ©John Wiley & Sons, Professional and Trade Subscription Content, One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Developing a Positive Lifestyle

 

 

Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning

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Volition: When the Going Gets Tough, What Do Good Students Do?

 

Who among us has resolved to lose weight, exercise more, get that paper written, meet that deadline for a proposal...only to find that our motivation to complete the task has fallen aside in the face of competing priorities
or flagging will? This is one of the most common problems with resolutions—they are very motivating in the abstract, but very daunting in execution.

This is also a problem for students, particularly those with many responsibilities, a heavy workload, or, to be honest, some not very interesting assignments. In the psychological literature, this is a problem of volition, the ability to move a task forward once the intention to tackle it has been invoked. This has been called the Rubicon Model, alluding to the observation that striving for a goal progresses
in two stages: the assertion of an intention to
act and, on the other
side of the Rubicon,
the realities of following through. A
lot of research has
been conducted
on the motivational
side of the Rubicon
model, what motivates
the learner initially, but
not as much on the volitional side, the processes that support working toward the goal.

So what can a student do? Researchers in motivation have tackled the question of what needs to happen on the volitional front for some time, but it’s difficult. In 1999, Teresa Garcia and Erin McCann were trying to understand how to help students see what is possible when they get stuck. McCann and Garcia went through the procedures to generate and explore what students do to “regulate their emotion and motivation if faced with distractions threatening ongoing goal activity” (McCann & Garcia 1999, p. 262). They developed a three-factor model of volitional strategies and created a survey entitled the “Academic Volitional Strategies Inventory” (the AVSI) to study volitional strategies based on what real students do. The survey is composed of three groups of strategies: strategies to support student self-efficacy for studying, strategies to reduce emotional responses to stress that come with getting stuck, and strategies to imagine the consequences of finishing or not finishing the study task. Each item on the survey is preceded by the phrase “When I am unable to get started on my assignment or if I get distracted...” and the student responds on a five-point scale from 1 - (“I never do this”) to 5 - (“I always do this”.)

Self-efficacy enhancement strategies—The goal here is for students to believe they can finish the assignment successfully. Two sample items in this category are:

“I remind myself that I usually do fine on exams and/or other course assignments when I stay on track with my studying.”

“I tell myself ‘You can do this!’”

Stress-reducing strategies— When things get difficult, a person feels an increase in the stress response, which in turn makes things more difficult. You want the students to relax or refocus on the positive. Two sample items are:

“I concentrate on my breathing, taking deep, steady, slow breaths to help me focus before beginning my studying, or to help me resume my studying if I get distracted, frustrated, or bored while studying.”

“I think of interesting or different ways to make studying more fun or challenging for me.”

Negative-based incentives strategies—I’m not a fan of these items, but providing a reality check about the negative consequences of not studying might help the students to keep going. Personally I’d mix positive and negative consequences and hope the students focus on the positive actions. Here are some items:

“I think about the mistakes that I have made on past assignments and exams when I’ve procrastinated in my studying.”

“I think about the possible negative consequences of doing poorly in the class.”

Now, if you want to use this in a research project in your class, access the latest (2004) version by McCann and Turner. If you make your own survey or you have your class create a survey from their experiences, your students might be surprised at how many things they can do to get unstuck. And you might be surprised at how many fewer calls for help you get from those same students.

References

McCann, E.J. and T. Garcia. 1999. “Maintaining motivation and regulating emotion: Measuring individual differences
in academic volitional strategies.” Learning and Individual Differences, 11(3), 259–279.

McCann, E.J. and J.E. Turner. 2004. “Increasing student learning through volitional control.” Teachers College Record, 106(9), 1695–1714.

CONTACT:

Marilla D. Svinicki, PhD Professor Emeritus
Educational Psychology
The University of Texas at Austin, One University Station D5800, Austin,TX 78712 Telephone: (512) 471-0557 E-mail: msvinicki@utexas.edu