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Teacher Expectations & Attributions

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  • 0:47 Attributions Defined
  • 2:29 Attributions Communicated
  • 4:30 The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • 5:50 Teacher Self-Efficacy
  • 6:17 Setting Expectations &…
  • 6:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
Attributions for success and failure drive future expectations for learning and success. Students attribute their successes or failures to a number of factors. Teachers also make attributions for student performance. This lesson will explore teacher expectations and attributions that affect classroom and individual student performance.

Introduction to Attributions

'You did it! Great Job! You are so smart!' 'Wow! Today must be your lucky day!' Teacher attributions and expectations affect learning in the classroom. Many times teachers are unaware of the statements or attributions they make toward student success and failure. These attributions can have a lasting impact on students' learning and motivation for future activities. This lesson will identify teacher expectations and attributions, explore teacher self-efficacy, and discuss how attributions affect classroom and individual student performance.

Attributions Defined

Attributions are the perceived causes that individuals select or construct for events in their lives. A basic assumption of attribution theory is that a person's understanding of the causes of past events influences his or future actions.

Bernard Weiner formulated the attribution theory of achievement
Bernard Weiner

The psychologist Bernard Weiner developed an attribution theory that focuses on achievement. According to Weiner, the most important factors affecting attributions are ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck. He classified these attributions along three causal dimensions: locus of control (in which there are two poles: internal vs. external), stability (in other words: do causes change over time or not?), and controllability (causes one can control, such as skills, versus causes one cannot control such as luck or others' actions).

If a student attributes a success or failure to be external (out of his control) or stable (won't change over time), and non-controllable (can't develop skills to be successful), then motivation and attempts to engage in similar tasks in the future will decline. However, if a student attributes a success or failure to be internal (within his control), unstable (may change over time), and controllable (he can make changes to increase that skill or knowledge), then motivation and engagement in similar tasks in the future will increase.

Attributions Communicated

Attributions for success and failure are communicated to learners by teachers. These attributions are communicated by verbal feedback, written feedback on assignments, grades on assignments and tests, and through classroom instruction.

Teachers can communicate attributes differently, depending on their personal beliefs about the particular student. For example, a teacher may say 'Great work on this assignment. It is clear you know this subject very well.' This would be an ability-based attribute. Or, a teacher may say 'Well you didn't quite pass, but your hard work is evident, and if you try to study once a day your grade will improve!' This would be an effort-based attribute. An example of a task-difficulty attribute may be 'You made a 100 on this assignment, but it wasn't a difficult task.' Or, 'Great job! This must be your lucky day!' is an example of a luck-based attribute.

All of these verbal statements are attributions of success or failure. When teachers communicate to students that failures are due to the use of inappropriate strategies or inappropriate effort, students are likely to be motivated to try harder or to use more appropriate strategies in the future. For example, when a teacher says, 'Well you didn't quite pass, but your hard work is evident and if you try to study once a day your grade will improve!' In response, the student might think, 'I'm going to study for an hour a day until the next test and see if I get a better grade.' Thus the teacher's attributions are deemed controllable and unstable, and the student is motivated and engaged.

Alternatively, if a teacher communicates attributes of students' success on factors that are uncontrollable (such as luck) or stable (the situation won't change over time no matter the effort put in by the student) the student will likely be unmotivated to make any changes to the situation.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Weiner classified attributions based on three dimensions
Weiner Attribution Classifications

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