Attribution theory is concerned with the perceived causes of success and failure. It is one of the most prominent theories of motivation in the field of education research. The starting point for the theory is an outcome perceived as a success or failure and the search to determine why that outcome occurred. Ability and effort are among the most prominent perceived causes of success and failure. Attribution theory focuses on both antecedents and consequences of perceived causality. Antecedents or determinants of attributions may be beneficial or harmful, and they include teacher behaviors such as communicated sympathy, offering praise, and unsolicited help that indirectly function as low-ability cues. Seemingly positive teacher behaviors can therefore have unintended negative consequences if they lead students to question their ability. Attributional consequences are grounded in three properties or dimensions of causes: locus, stability, and controllability. Each dimension is uniquely linked to particular psychological and behavioral outcomes. The locus dimension is related to self-esteem, the stability dimension is linked to expectancy for success or failure, and the controllability dimension is related to interpersonal evaluation. Research on self-handicapping is illustrative of the locus-esteem relation because that literature depicts how dysfunctional causal thinking about the self can undermine achievement. Attribution retraining programs focus on the stability-expectancy link to strengthen individuals’ awareness of how they can alter their causal thoughts and behavior. Changing maladaptive beliefs about the causes of achievement failure (e.g., from low ability to lack of effort) can result in more persistence and improved performance. And, stereotypes about stigmatized groups are grounded in the controllability-interpersonal evaluation attributional lens. Unlike other motivational theories, attribution theory addresses the antecedents and consequences of both intrapersonal attributions (how one perceives the self) and interpersonal attributions (how one perceives other people) with one set of interrelated principles Future research should devote more attention to identifying moderators of attributional effects, multipronged intervention approaches that include an attributional component, and stronger depictions of how race/ethnicity alters attributional thinking.
Sandra Graham and Xiaochen Chen
Literacy is a gateway to education, and yet universal literacy remains an aspiration rather than a reality. The science of reading has, however, made significant progress in understanding the key factors that impact development. Five relevant factors can be identified. The first factor is the developmental focus of models. Here the richness and dynamic nature of development is central. Models must clearly explain change and phenomena such as bi- and multilingualism. A second factor concerns bioecological influences on development. Stronger models include understandings of the complexity of gene–environment interactions in development. A third pertinent factor concerns the precise nature of the learning task facing the beginner reader, and in particular the influence of distinct orthographies. A fourth factor concerns the coherent exposition of the cognitive processes involved in “word-level” and “text-level” reading processes. Finally, contextual effects on literacy are profound. Historical and politicoeconomic forces are often linked to wide country- and region-based differences in literacy. A detailed treatment of what is known about effective interventions for struggling readers can be built on the basis of this theorizing. Here, evidence from meta-analysis suggests that both the word-level decoding and text-level comprehension aspects of reading development can be measurably improved through evidence-based interventions. For word-level interventions studies focusing on phonics currently furnish the most secure evidence of impact. For text-level comprehension, interventions focusing on oral language development and text-based meta-cognitive strategy appear the most efficacious. Measure of treatment effects for such interventions show modest but reliable impacts on development and form the basis of ongoing efforts to optimize interventions.
Marina Schwimmer and Kevin McDonough
Mindfulness meditation is a growing social phenomenon in Western countries and is now also becoming a common part of life in public schools. The concept of mindfulness originated in Buddhist thinking and meditation practices over 2,500 years ago. Its original purpose was mainly to alleviate people’s suffering by providing a path to inner wisdom and vitality, which implied the development of compassion, patience, and forgiveness, as well as other values conducive to inner peace. In the 1970s, this practice was popularized in the West as it was adapted to and integrated with secular intervention programs aimed at reducing stress and dealing with chronic pain. Packages promoting mindfulness practices are disseminated commercially, backed by research in neuroscience and developmental psychology, for use in schools through programs like MindUp and Mindful Schools. In recent years, there has been a marked uptick of interest from educational researchers in mindfulness education. Several distinct research orientations or approaches can be discerned—mindfulness-based intervention (MBI), an instrumental approach that views mindfulness practices in clinical or therapeutic terms; a spiritualist approach, which emphasizes the rootedness of MBIs in ancient religious traditions and focuses on the benefits of mindfulness practices for individual spiritual growth; and a political approach, which highlights the potential benefits of MBIs to develop students’ capacities for democratic deliberation and participation. Contemporary mindfulness education in schools also sometimes reflects the cultural influence of New Age values, an orientation distinct from the instrumental, spiritualist, and political approaches, and whose impact may raise troubling questions about the purported educational benefits of MBIs. Accordingly, the alliance between New Age values, neoliberal economic and cultural values, and mindfulness practices in contemporary democratic societies and schools should be given due consideration in assessing the relative educational costs and benefits of MBIs. In particular, cultural and educational values at the intersection of neoliberal values entrepreneurialism and New Age values of personal and spiritual growth may have corrosive rather than benevolent effects on the pursuit of democratic values in schools.