Results and Engagement

Playing Mariokart with my son and daughter this morning reminded me about writing about results and engagement.

My son was really eager to play at the start, in fact he suggested it.

But as the game went on, he realised that he wasn’t going to win. (He’s 4 years old and his sister is 6)

At first he started withdrawing and then he quit and threw a tantrum. 

Many things were said that aren’t worth repeating.

Does he want to play Mariokart now? 

Not really


Probably because he knows he will get the same result in the future.

This made me think…

Is it the same in class when we have students that are disengaged…

Do disengaged students think…

“What is the point when I cannot win anyway?”

Time to bring in some research

There is a great piece of research that shines a light here.

‘Learning from my successes and others failures’ is a study published about the data from ‘71 cardiothoracic surgeons who completed more than 6,500 procedures using a new technology for cardiac surgery.’

Data was collected on the success and failure rates of the surgeons who were performing a new minimally invasive heart procedure. 

The two takeaways from the study are that the surgeons: 

  1. Learned better from their successes (i.e. patient lived) rather than their failures (i.e. patient died).
    • Surgeons were no more likely to have a better outcome after a failure, but they were when they had a success.
  2. Performed better after watching other people fail, rather than watching them succeed.
    • The research links this to attribution theory

Attribution is a term used in psychology which deals with how individuals perceive the causes of everyday experience, as being either external or internal.


In other words (in a teaching and learning context), when I succeed and get a great mark on my project it is because of me.

When I fail it is due to the weather, the light in the room, not getting enough sleep, the test, etc.

Bbecause it’s someone or something else’s fault when I fail, I don’t learn from it.

But because when I succeed it’s me doing it, I learn from it.

Classrooms are social places

It is never just one student, it is a class of students. And their identity is very important to them. It’s more important to them than learning. So it needs to be considered as apart of the learning equation.

As my son saw it, he ‘failed’ at Mariokart. He isn’t now thinking ‘I need to practice’ or ‘when I get older I will be better’. He’s just thinks that ‘Mariokart is a bad game.’

And he doesn’t want to do it

This is a self-perpetuating spiral of failure because if true, failures make a student not want to spend time on whatever he or she failed at, when in fact it’s where they need to spend time to fix it.

What do we do about it?

How do we get students success at something that they may never have experienced or studied for a couple of weeks?

Maybe it’s like the lobster in the pot.

Start cold and then warm it up slowly until it is boiling

The first assessment would be very basic and probably open ended. Example: Provide three examples of geometry in sports or arts.

Or maybe it’s getting a better grasp of what students already know…

Before we start putting information in their brains.

Instead of day 1, “Here’s what we are doing this semester students…”

It starts around what students already know about wood (subject example)

“Why don’t you take some photos of things that are wood around your house and we will talk about them next class?”

What do you think?

There is some truth to this one I reckon. I know a lot of us tell students that results don’t matter but students see results making a difference everywhere else, so how is school any different?

It’s a bit hard to argue that point and win in the students mind. But there does have to be a way to have more students thinking they are winning in their subjects.