Nolen, S. B. (1988). Reasons for studying: Motivational orientations and
study strategies. Cognition and Instruction, 5(4), 269-287.
Nolen's study addressed the relationship between eighth grade students'
achievement goals and the way they valued and used different kinds of
Students who were task oriented, whose goal was learning for its own sake,
were more likely to value and use deep-processing strategies; for example,
to try to integrate new information with what they already knew.
Students who were ego oriented, whose goal was primarily to demonstrate
that they performed better than others, were more likely to value and use
surface-level strategies, for example, to memorize new formulas just
before a test.
Students who were focused on work avoidance were not likely to value or
use either deep-processing or surface-level strategies.
Although most students believe that deep-processing strategies are more
effective than surface-level strategies, they are not likely to use the
former unless they value learning for its own sake and are interested in
doing their best regardless of the performance of others.
Because teachers exercise an influence over students' reasons for
studying, it is important to understand "the potential effects of these
reasons on students' studying behaviors" (p. 284). Nolen suggests that
students should be encouraged to learn for the sake of learning; that is,
to learn for understanding and meaningfulness, and to not place such great
importance on competition for grades and recognition in the classroom.
Quotes and Comments:
"Deep processing strategies include discriminating important information
from unimportant information, trying to figure out how new information
fits with what one already knows, and monitoring comprehension.
Surface-level strategies include simply reading a whole passage [problem]
over and over, memorizing all the new words [formulas], and rehearsing
information... Deep processing is held to be more likely than
surface-level processing to lead to understanding and retention of
meaningful material" (p. 271). [In other words, students who use
deep-processing strategies are more likely than students who use
surface-level strategies to achieve a good understanding of the task.]
"... if our goal as educators is to encourage the acquisition of meaning
rather than rote memorization, the results of this study suggest that
fostering ego involvement through competition for grades or teacher
recognition might not be the best approach. It seems instead that... we
might do well to explore ways to encourage students to value learning for
its own sake. Perhaps only then will our efforts to teach students
effective learning strategies be met with a desire to learn and use them"
Links to Math:
Several other authors whose work has appeared in the Learning and
Mathematics Discussions present theories that can help link Nolen's work
to the specific area of mathematics.
Hiebert and Wearne (1992) compare and contrast text-based and conceptual
instruction in a series of lessons on place value. Conceptually based
instruction, which emphasizes understanding of the underlying concepts in
mathematics, seems to be most appropriate for fostering deep-processing
strategies and a task-orientation, while traditional textbook learning,
which emphasizes learning "math facts and formulas" would be most
compatible for children who utilize surface-level strategies and have an
Papert (1993), in his book " The Children's Machine," discusses the act or
art of learning, which he refers to as 'mathetics' and examines
implications of considering this concept in mathematics. He relates
mathetics to skills and methods such as classroom discussions, taking the
time to learn instead of emphasizing quick answers, connected learning,
and bricolage, or 'tinkering' which involves students exploring math on
their own. The link to Nolen is contained in the idea that learning is
something that the student must be involved completely in the process of
acquiring knowledge, instead of being taught facts and formulas. This type
of schooling could only occur if students employed a task orientation
(i.e. wanted to learn for learning's sake), and employed deep-processing
Resnick (1988) approaches these ideas from another angle -- namely, in
terms of how the discipline of mathematics is presented to students. She
claims that math has always been presented as a "well-structured
discipline" and that students learn that they cannot change or challenge
mathematical fomulas, rules, and answers. She claims that if mathematics
was presented as an "ill-structured discipline" in which ideas and rules
could be discussed and redefined, that understanding and conceptual
knowledge would be fostered. Once again, this type of meaningful
comprehension can exist only in a classroom where students employ
deep-processing strategies and in which they are motivated by learning
rather than grades, competition, or rewards (task orientation).
The implication inherent in these articles is that promoting
conceptually-based instruction, mathetics, and mathematics as an
ill-structured discipline might also promote deep-processing strategies
and a task-involvement (especially if evaluation and assessment were not
in the form of traditional tests and grades).
Hiebert, J. and Wearne, D. (1992). Links Between Teaching and Learning
Place Value with Understanding in First Grade. Journal for Research in
Mathematics Education, 23 (2) 98-122.
Papert, S. (1993). The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of
the Computer. New York: Basic Books.
Resnick, L.B. (1988). Treating Mathematics as an Ill-Structured
Discipline. In R.I. Charles & E.A. Silver (Eds.), The Teaching and
Assessing of Mathematical Problem Solving (pp 32-60). Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
-- Summarized by Maria Ong Wenbourne and Jane Ehrenfeld