The third myth is the attribution myth. The attribution myth has to do with cause and effect and it happens when we attribute the effect of student behavior to the wrong cause. Sometimes, we wrongly explain a students’ motivation or behavior. Other times, we over simplify a cause by omitting steps or ignoring other factors that contribute to the cause of an event.
For instance, we commit the attribution error when we think that students don’t study because they are inherently lazy or when we think that students don’t achieve because they come from low-income families or broken homes. Both problems are much more complex but we over-simplify them and create a cause and effect explanation that ignores other critical information.
Most low expectations for students are fueled by the attribution myth. When we come to students with pre-conceived false notions about intelligence, ability, and how students learn and then jump to conclusions about what students can or cannot do based on these notions, we have committed the attribution error.
[NOTE: Students fail to meet high expectations for a number of reasons (including some you’ve probably never thought of). Discover 10 top reasons they struggle…and how you’re uniquely positioned to help.]
The truth is much more complex.
There are several reasons why students succeed or fail in school and without taking time to really examine the evidence, it is difficult to attribute student success or failure to any one thing. And, because each student is different, it is dangerous to make assumptions. There are impoverished students who achieve at high levels. Some students’ parents read to them every night of their lives and they still struggle in school. Those “lazy” students in your class may work extra hard in someone else’s classroom. Simply grabbing a pat explanation rather than taking the time to really understand our students focuses us on looking for solutions to solve the wrong problems.
To avoid the attribution myth, we can’t be quick to jump to conclusions about students. We must interrogate every explanation we make for student behavior, test every assumption, consider multiple alternatives instead of jumping to conclusions. Even then, we cannot fully know what may be behind our students’ behavior. What we can know – the ONLY thing we can know for sure – is what drives our own behaviors.
The more we focus on ourselves and what we can do for our students, the less we will fall for the attribution myth.
Find out how much you’ve fallen for the Attribution Myth when you sign up for the 10 Top Reasons Students Struggle – a revealing worksheet that will make you more aware of missteps you’ve made in attribution.