PsychED: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
AM: I am Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. I specialize in motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods. Although the bulk of my research focuses on motivation, engagement, and achievement, I research other areas such as Aboriginal/Indigenous education, ADHD, gifted and talented, academic resilience and academic buoyancy, adaptability, goal setting, and teacher-student relationships.
PsychED: Your recent work seems to revolve around “personal best goal setting” as one of its main centers of interest. Could you explain what it is and share some of the reasons that make this new concept particularly interesting and relevant?
AM: Personal best goals are goals towards which students strive to outperform their previous best efforts or performance. For example, students may strive to spend more time studying for the upcoming test than they have in previous tests; they may aim to read one more reference or resource for the present assignment than in previous assignments; or they may aim to get a higher mark in an upcoming test than in previous tests. This concept is particularly interesting because it makes success more accessible to every individual. Whereas a student may not be able to outperform many other students in their class, outperforming their own previous best is highly possible - and this is motivating, especially when the student sees the attainment of a PB as a success. For other students who may frequently outperform others, it may be that they are not investing their personal best efforts and so PB goals are helpful for them as well.
PsychED: Would you agree that, compared to a more traditional approach, “personal best” goals setting focuses more on mastery and intrinsic motivation over performance and extrinsic motivation? Or are the two unrelated?
AM: PB goals are suggested to draw on elements of both mastery and performance goals. They have the energizing properties of performance (competition) goals in that a student competes with him/herself and they maintain mastery-oriented elements in that they are self-improvement based. In terms of correlations, though, PB goals tend to be more highly correlated with mastery than performance goals.
PsychED: Likewise, would you agree that “personal best” goals setting implies a growth mindset? Is it one of the reasons why it is effective in terms of academic achievement?
AM: Our research suggests that both PB goals and growth mindset draw from an underlying growth orientation - that is, a growth orientation binds them. Other research by our research group suggests that PB goals may be a concrete way to help students develop a growth mindset. That is, by setting and meeting PB goals, students see that self-improvement (growth) is possible and this underlies a growth mindset.
PsychED: Your study found that teacher support was an important factor of students’ personal best goals setting. Could you give a few examples of how teachers can foster this approach in their classrooms?
AM: Teachers can promote PB goals and PB goal setting in a few ways. First, they can teach PB goal setting explicitly. On the homepage of www.lifelongachievement.com are PB goal setting worksheets that teachers can use to help students set and strive for PB goals. Second, teachers can assess students in terms of their PB progress. For example, also at www.lifelongachievement.com are templates for teachers to use to score students on a PB Index. Third, aside from explicit instruction and scoring on PBs, teachers can encourage students to be more oriented towards personal growth than on inter-student competition. Fourth, teachers might also look for opportunities to communicate the practice and yield of PB goals to students’ parents/carers at home.
PsychED: Are you aware of relevant cultural differences related to personal best goals setting? Is it a universally applicable strategy, or does it come with “individualistic” assumptions?
AM: Yes, we did investigate PB goals among Chinese students and found that the positive effects of PB goals on motivation and engagement were much the same as what we had found among Australian students. Thus, the positive effects of PB goals seemed to generalize across cultural contexts.
PsychED: Thank you so much!