December 31, 2007

The autonomy-supportive teaching style

In Improving Academic Achievement, chapter four is written by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. They criticize well intended but ineffective measures to improve academic achievement like 1) implementing stringent new testing programs, 2) giving large amounts of homework, 3) putting much emphasis on rewards, punishments and controls (like deadlines), and 4) using controlling and pressuring language. The authors show that these kinds of measures will lead to substantial motivational and emotional costs and high-quality achievement (like conceptual learning, creativity and flexible problem solving) will suffer too for the majority of the students.

The authors show favorable effects of stimulating intrinsic motivation of students. People are intrinsically motivated when they do activities that interest them, that provide them spontaneous pleasure or enjoyment and do not require external rewards. When intrinsically motivated, people are engrossed in the activity, and they are not easily distracted. The initiative is theirs and they persist for long periods. Furthermore, when students are intrinsically motivated they learn better at the conceptual level.

How can intrinsic motivation be stimulated? A critical factor to experiencing intrinsic motivation is perceived autonomy. When people feel autonomous they experience the initiation of their behavior to be within themselves and they become more intrinsically motivated. Any factor that conduces toward a so-called external perceived locus of causality (E-PLOC) will diminish intrinsic motivation. Punishments, rewards and controls are examples of this. They interfere with students' perceived autonomy or put differently, with their self-regulation. Any factor that fosters an internal locus of causality (I-PLOC) will enhance intrinsic motivation. Encouraging self-initiative, providing choice and stimulating experimentation are examples of this.

Intrinsic motivation is not the whole story of course. Deadlines, rewards and punishments will to some extent be a given in any educational system. Extrinsic motivation (doing something not because it interests you but because it leads to a desirable outcome) certainly plays an important role too.

Teachers and parents can provide a learning environment that supports satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness which will lead to students not only be more intrinsically motivated but also be more effective in internalizing and integrating extrinsic motivation so as to be more cooperative and volitional overall.

Teachers and parents can provide this by using an autonomy-supportive style which is characterized by: 1) providing choice, 2) encouraging students' experimentation and self-initiation, 3) foster students' willingness to take on challenges, explore new ideas and persist at difficult activities, 4) offering optimal challenges (neither too easy, nor too difficult), 5) providing feedback that is not evaluative of the person, 6) giving a meaningful rationale for requested behavior, 7) acknowledging feelings, 8) setting up cooperative learning opportunities. (also view this video)

December 30, 2007


I am reading a jewel of a book by the title Improving Academic Achievement, edited by social psychologist Joshua Aronson. One of the chapters is titled 'Messages that motivate'. It is written by Carol Dweck. In this chapter she explains the importance of beliefs about intelligence. Carol Dweck describes two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Children who hold a fixed mindset see intelligence as a more or less fixed trait: you have a certain amount and there is not much you can do to change it. Children who hold a growth mindset see intelligence as developable. They view achievement mainly as a matter of effort. Carol Dweck has shown convincingly through many elegant experiments that which mindset you hold, has a dramatic impact on achievement. The table below summarizes the differences between the fixed and the growth mindset:
Clearly the growth mindset is more attractive in many ways. The chapter gets even more interesting when Carol Dweck goes on to a practical level. How can educators and parents help children develop a growth mindset? In particular, what is the role of praise? Two forms of praise are compared: process praise and trait praise. With process praise you compliment the child with his or her effort or strategy ("You must have worked hard", or: "You must have used a good strategy to solve this"). With trait praise you compliment the child for a trait, some kind of fixed internal quality ("You have done well, you must be very smart."). The table below shows the different impacts these two styles of praising children have.

Very interesting, don't you think?

Valuable contribution to the field

I have added a brief review of the Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy which came out recently. It can be found on my amazon reviews page.

December 23, 2007

Describing a future in which the problem is solved

"Simply describing in detail a future in which the problem is already solved helps to build the expectation that the problem will be solved and then this expectation, once formed, can help the client think and behave in ways that will lead to fulfilling this expectation."
I found it in a chapter by Duane R. Bidwell

December 22, 2007

Solution-focused change management (case)

Professionals beginning to apply the solution-focused approach often find the following challenging: How can I apply the solution focus in team situations? Here is a very brief summary of an example to provide some ideas. Recently, I coached a department of a large IT organization. Since many years, this department has taken care of the technical support of an IT system of a large insurance company. Both the organization of the client company (the insurance company) and their own company is changing due to which some problems have arisen. The department management has decided to organize a few meetings with the team to adjust and improve the way of working by the team. The purpose of the meetings was to generate some ideas. The department management had two specific themes to pay attention to during the meetings: 1) the subject of giving feedback to one another in order to improve the cooperation within the team, 2) strengthening the customer intimacy (management of the company expects each department to strengthen this orientation). In the meetings the following agenda has been used:
  1. Background and reason for the meeting (department manager explains)
  2. Goal of the session (what outcomes do we want from this session?)
  3. What does not have to change? (continuation question): 1. Which things don't have to change because they are already going well? 2. What improvements have already been realized since the invitation to the meeting has been sent? (this was a few weeks earlier), and 3. What does the client think about our service (department manager tells about feedback provided by the client)
  4. How do we want things to become? (future projection): 1. What will be better when we succeed in improving customer intimacy?, 2. How will the people in the client's organization know the difference? What will be the advantage for them? 3. How will others in our own organization (other department, board of directors etc.) notice we will have succeed in improving our customer intimacy and our performance?
  5. How will give each other effective feedback? 1. How will you notice we will have become more effective in this? 2. How can you contribute to improving feedback?
  6. What is our next step forward? 1. Which signals tell us that this change can become successful? 2. Which steps can the team take to create improvements? 3. Which specific step forward are you prepared to take? 4. How can the department management best contribute to the improvements?
During the beginning of the meetings some team member had to get into it at first. When discussing agenda point three they got going, however. During the course of the meetings excellent ideas were generated and at the end of each session very useful outcomes were produced which were enthusiastically welcomed by management.

December 20, 2007

Gregory Bateson's main contribution to the solution-focused approach?

In a new book chapter, Brian Cade writes about the importance of Gregory Bateson for the development of the solution-focused approach:

"I one day asked Jay Haley what he thought was the most important contribution Bateson had made toward family therapy. He replied that it was finding the money to send John Weakland and him to spend time with Milton Erickson on a couple of occasions each year."

Bateson is often cited as an important influence in his own right but this quote suggests it might be more realistic to view Bateson's role more as a secondary one. I tend to think that his main contribution was to start the Bateson communication research project in which people like John Weakland and other spend many hours analyzing taped conversations by extraordinary therapists like Milton Erickson and Don Jackson. Especially Milton Erickson seems like a much more important and path-breaking figure to the development of the solution-focused approach.

Granted, this is only my interpretation. Another interpretation of mine is that there was another philosopher who has been more important to the development of the solution-focused approach than Ludwig Wittgenstein.

December 19, 2007

Being slow-to-know

I have written before about the not-knowing posture. Frank Thomas (picture) has an interesting variation on this terminology. He writes:
"I have found that being slow-to-know is a more realistic stance. First, being slow-to-know encourages the expansion of people's descriptions, allowing diversity to emerge as clients restate posititions and overexplain themselves. Because I am driven to be open to correction and I am constantly revising my ideas, this slowness is not an act -the client knows that I am not mentally slow, but they re-act and re-search with me in hopes of re-creating some meaningful differences from their own language and experience." (source, p8)
I like the idea of patiently developing your understanding of something.

December 18, 2007

Elf yourself

Hey, it's nearly Christmas so I thought I'd make a total elf of myself. Check it out by clicking the picture.

December 15, 2007

General change mechanisms - the importance of RESOURCE ACTIVATION

This article by Daniel Gassmann and Klaus Grawe has investigated the role of the importance of problem activation and resource activation in therapy. A study, I think, which is very interesting for solution-focused coaches and managers, too. Problem activation means having the client come into contact with painful emotions to overcome his or her problems. Resource activation means the client is brought into contact with the healthy parts of his functioning. The researchers closely analyzed 120 conversations of therapists using different degrees of problem activation and resource activation and they used as an outcome measure a composite of five tests measuring goal attainment, emotional and behavioral changes, changes in important relationships and patient and therapist positive therapy evaluation. The researchers found that unsuccessful therapists focused more on the client's problems and tended to overlook the client's resources which lead to the client loosing self-confidence and positive rapport with the therapist. they also did not respond with reinforcement to the patient's activated resources. Instead, they let these situations pass and continued to focus on problems. The successful therapists, however, focused on what went well for the patient right from the beginning of the session. They created an environment in which the patient felt he was perceived as a well functioning person. As soon as this was established, productive work on the patient's problems was more likely.

Thanks to Svea van der Hoorn from Australia for getting me this article

December 12, 2007

Effects on counselors

Research on the effects of different therapy, coaching, consultancy or counseling approaches usually focuses on the effects for clients: are they helped, is there progress, did they accomplish their goals, etc?). Preliminary evidence shows that the solution-focused approach does rather well. It seems to be at least as effective as other approaches, it is very broadly applicable and results are usually achieved much faster. To my knowledge, less is know about effects on the professionals themselves. What is known about the effects on professionals of using the solution-focused approach? I know of one article that addresses this question directly: Solution-focused counseling groups: The results are in. This article examines the effects on counselors and found this:
Those who had adopted the solution-focused model (solution-focused counselors) reported less perceived emotional exhaustion than did those (other counselors) who did not adopt the model although the difference was nog significant. Solution-focused counselors reported less depersonalization than did other counselors. Solution-focused counselors reported more perceived personal accomplishment than did other counselors. The consistently positive feedback from counselors makes this approach a promising one. Many counselors shared that they liked the concepts of solution-focused groups, found them to be time-effective, and that they planned to implement more of these groups the following year.
This fits well with my experience. Does anyone know of more of this type of research? It's welcome.
Thanks to Thorana Nelson for helping me find this

December 11, 2007

Normalizing - depathologizing technique

One of the nice things about the solution-focused approach is that it has many subtle and effective techniques. One of them is normalizing. Normalizing is used to depathologize people’s concerns and present them instead as normal life difficulties (Corcoran, 2002). It helps people to calm down about their problem. It helps them realize they're not abnormal for having this problem. Other people in their situation might respond the same. This is important, because if they felt angry and they'd also feel their anger was pathological, they'd have two problems, their anger and the fact that they behaved pathological. That their behavior would be pathological would be a surplus problem to the original problem (the thing they were angry about). Normalizing helps to prevent this surplus problem from happening. By saying something like: "Of course, you're angry, I understand. It's normal to be angry right now." You can help people to relax and to move on relatively quickly beyond their anger.

December 6, 2007

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn. Read on.

December 5, 2007

Priming experiments, unconscious and automatic mental processes

I have just ordered Social Psychology and the Unconscious by John A. Bargh et al. John Bargh is a leading researcher in the field of automatic and unconscious mental processes. He is well-known for some very creative and interesting priming experiments. Malcolm Gladwell described some of these in his famous book Blink. One of the contributors to this book is Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis, who is also one of the leading people in the field. In an earlier post in mentioned one of his experiments. Here is another interesting experiment I mentioned before. Here are some articles by researchers from this field:

December 3, 2007

The optimism question

An interesting question from the solution-focused approach is the optimism question. The optimism question can be easily used both in one-on-one situations and in group situations. Here are some ways of putting this question:"
  1. What makes you optimistic?
  2. Which indications do you have that you will be able to achieve ...?
  3. Which small signs do see that indicate you will succeed in ....?
The nice thing about this question is that it makes changes easier by strengthening - you have guessed it right!- optimism.

Also read:

December 2, 2007

The continuation question

A solution-focused technique which often works very well, both with individual and with organizational change is the continuation question. This is the question:
  • "What happens in your situation that you want to continue to have happen?" or, put differently:
  • "What doesn't have to change because it is already going well enough?"
By asking this question you make clear that the client (or employee) does not have to change more than necessary and you acknowledge that there are things that are going well. Inviting people first to mention what does not have to change often has the following advantages:
  • That they feel taken seriously and appreciated (after all there is ackowledgement for the fact that at least some things are going well)
  • That after they have said what does not have to change, often are more open and prepared to look at things that do need to change
  • That they find some useful ideas that can be helpful for making progress

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