Advancing Student Engagement and Achievement through Rigor, Relevance, and Self-Efficacy: Why a Growth Mindset is Not Enough

Advancing Student Engagement and Achievement through Rigor, Relevance, and Self-Efficacy:  Why a Growth Mindset is Not Enough

By:  Nicole Dietrich, PhD

In 2010, I attended the National Association for Gifted Children conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  Here, I attended the keynote presentation by Stanford University Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck.  Her work has validated my 18 years of experience of teaching gifted children and in coaching classroom teachers, and her book “Mindsets:  The New Psychology of Success” has literally changed my life as an educational consultant!  The concept of growth mindsets (the belief that abilities are malleable and can be changed) and fixed mindsets (the believe that our abilities are static) has heavily influenced every single professional development experience that I have designed since—and it even earned its way into my doctoral dissertation, Relinquishing Dreams:  A Grounded Theory Study of Gifted Adults!  However, while having a growth mindset can greatly influence student engagement and achievement, I believe that it is only a piece of the much larger puzzle.  Therefore I developed the Rigor, Relevance, and Self-Efficacy framework to provide educators with a three-fold lens for examining lessons and units for the likelihood of student engagement.  A brief overview of the three components are listed below:

  • Rigor 

Rigor is created when a learning task is just beyond a student’s comfort zone (zone of proximal development).  The Rigor and Relevance Framework, by Jim Warford, defines rigor as the amount of time that students spend in the top three levels of Blooms Taxonomy (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation).

  • Relevance

However, Warford feels like we not only have an achievement gap in our classrooms, but that we have a relevance (engagement) gap as well.  He asserts that “Relevance makes the rigor possible for kids and learning.  You will never get all kids to high achievement—you will never close the achievement gap—particularly for the most at risk populations—until you close the engagement gap first—and the engagement gap is wider than in any point in our history”.  Therefore, he addresses the relevancy component through Bill Dagget’s Application Model which allows educators to evaluate student learning tasks on a continuum that ranges from 1 to 5 respectively:

  • Knowledge in one discipline
  • Application of knowledge in one discipline
  • Application of knowledge across disciplines
  • Application of knowledge to real-world predictable situations
  • Application of knowledge to real-world unpredictable situations

Warford avers that student engagement and achievement is more likely when time is spent on learning tasks that are high in both rigor (Bloom’s Taxonomy) AND high in relevance (Daggett’s Application Model).  The four quadrants are based on a matrix.

Rigor and Relevance Framework

*Caveat:  while it is true that the best instruction takes place in quadrant D it is important to recognize that students must first learn in quadrants “A”, “B”, and “C”.

3)  Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a student’s belief that a learning task is within his/her reach, and is the foundation for a growth mindset.  Self-efficacy is not synonymous with self-esteem (which can be unrealistically inflated or deflated).  Rather, self-efficacy is the result of prior learning success—it is earned through failure, setbacks, and hard work.  It cannot be given by others, nor can it be taken away.  If a student does not have the self-efficacy necessary to complete a learning task then virtually all engagement will be lost.  Even if a learning task is rigorous and relevant, if a student believes that the task is impossible they will not truly engage (Marzano, The Highly Engaged Classroom).  Therefore, self-efficacy is quite possibly the most important factor affecting student engagement!

The Student Engagement Tri-fecta

When examining a lesson plan or unit, it is important to consider ALL THREE COMPONENTS of student engagement—rigor, relevance, AND self-efficacy!  A learning environment that focuses on growth mindset principles, in isolation, is not enough!  To effectively close the achievement gap educators must create a school-wide culture that embraces growth mindset and self-efficacy concepts that are embedded in rigorous and relevant curriculum.  Stay tuned for my next blog post which will address resources and strategies for incorporating all three components into student learning tasks!

Rigor Relevance and Self-Efficacy Diagram

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