Sunday, December 2, 2012

Does Building a Student's Self-Esteem Aid Learning? The Illusion of Learning

One of my co-bloggers had a post a few months ago that cited a study that attacked the importance of boosting self-esteem for student achievement.  (here)  Other studies show that giving a student false self-esteem (the illusion of learning) can hurt learning.

According to metacognitive learning pioneer Paul Pintrich (here at 222), self-knowledge (also called self-efficacy--assessing one's ability to accomplish a learning task) is very important for learning.  However, that self-knowledge must be accurate.  He writes, "we are not advocating that teachers try to boost students' self-esteem. . . by providing students with positive, but false, inaccurate, and misleading feedback of their strengths and weaknesses."  He continues, "[i]f students do not realize they do not know some aspect of factual, conceptual, or procedural knowledge, it is unlikely they will make any effort to acquire or construct new knowledge."  Another group of authors (here at 358) has called this the "illusion of understanding," but I prefer the "illusion of learning."

Unfortunately, because of the current emphasis on building students' self-esteem in public schools and colleges, many of our students enter law school with a significantly inaccurate picture of their knowledge and ability to learn.  This is why they are often so resistant to our attempts to teach them.  (How often has a legal writing professor heard from a student "but I already know how to write"?)  We need to gently, but firmly change their attitudes.  In particular, we need to be explicit about why we are teaching them something--why it is important for their careers.

(Scott Fruehwald

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