Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart's Law

 

Charles Goodhart is an economist who came up with this principal: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Simply put when numbers becomes more important than the purpose behind it then numbers can become misleading or stagnant.

Within education we fall into this trap when tracking certain kinds of data. We optimize what we measure for. Or we teach to the measurement tool. For example when we put too much emphasis on tracking students’ words per minute read and lose sight of the purpose for tracking this measure. This leads to kids who are mostly focused on reading fast and forgetting to think and feel as they read.

The purpose for tracking words read per minute is to use it as an indicator that says, hey this kid is not performing at the same level as his peers, let’s stop and figure out what could be causing this. We should not be simply set a goal saying I will read _____ words in one minute and only focusing on rate.  Don’t forget the purpose.

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Words per minute is one indicator that a student could be struggling with reading. Reading success is not about speed alone.

I cringed when I saw ads on Instagram for a word game. The ad promoted it by saying something like playing this game every day will improve your reading speed and make you smarter. Ugh! That is a very misleading ad and when our teenagers see that ad what message does it send to them!

As a Reading Specialist in my district I come across so many kids who think reading is about word calling and speed, instead of meaning and feeling, along with accuracy and rate. Reading words too quickly can hinder comprehension as much as slow laborious reading does.

In todays word driven by numbers and the competition created by the publicly released test scores, we often stop teaching the micro or atomic habits that need to be instilled in readers. There has been a swing to undervalue anything ephemeral or quantitative that is harder to quantify. We mistakenly begin to think the only factors that matter are the ones we can measure and or attempt to measure on an assessment where conversation does not take place. Or give a grade to, so we can easily have accessible data to look at. Data is only worth looking at when you can identify the purpose behind it, and how it fits into the bigger process of reading.

Sometimes this leads to putting more value on visible reading task that students can put into graphic organizers. Simply identifying the visible aspects of reading instruction is not enough and leads kids to identify reading as something you do without much thinking or feeling.

I implore you to consider how you can apply Goodhart’s law to our data driven educational word. Data can be an essential part of high performing schools when used with purpose, not as a showcase of numbers. It can be satisfying for students and teacher to track things like words per minute and increases in test scores, but we cannot be asking students or districts to have those be their only goals. They also need to be setting smaller goals that can help create habits out of those internal as well as the outwardly visible processes readers use.

I would love to hear from you how you have seem educators fall into this trap and how you have seen them overcome it.  Troy

Goal Setting, Habits, and Motivation

In 2017 I conducted an action research study over motivation and student goal setting with a colleague.  As I started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear this week, it made me want to revisit this research and reflect on it again.

We looked at different types of goals students were being asked to set. We looked at performance-oriented goals and task-oriented goals. We thought about how a goals focus can impact a student’s commitment to the goal. Schunk & Zimmerman (2008), say according to most goal orientation theorists (e.g., Ames, Dweck, Elliot, & Markiewicz; Midgley and colleagues), the purpose of a performance goal is to gain positive judgements of personal competence, whereas the purpose of learning or task-oriented goal is to actually increase one’s competence. Performance goals are often driven by outside influences and how things appear to be. They go on to say that performance goals work better for already confident learners. Learning goals, or as we chose to call them, task-oriented goals will motivate both confident and unconfident learners. Task oriented goals are more inclined to support intrinsic motivation, which can still be influenced from  forces outside of ourselves but are more geared towards helping students become truly engaged for themselves and absorbed in what they are learning or reading about.

In our research we found that the task-oriented goals our students made did have a positive impact on their motivation to read.  We believe this ultimately impacted student independent reading stamina and overall reading performance.  The data revealed that 14 out of the 15 students who participated grew at least one or more reading level. Most increased multiple levels. Teachers ask students to set reading level goals all the time in educations.  We wanted to steer the focus away from the performance goals related to reading levels and focus more on smaller task-oriented goals. We helped students form goals related to the content of their reading and reading choices. They also created goals dealing time spent reading.

I was starting to understand and now more fully understand how we needed to be focusing on goals dealing with the processes of thinking someone must sustain to be a reader. Goals to form habits of thinking based on reading for meaning.

This brings me to  Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning by Ellin Oliver Keene.

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She states, “there is evidence that motivation to read in the elementary and middle school years is related to reading achievement, with more proficient readers being more motivated and less proficient readers being less motivated. I bring this up because that is a factor that influenced our research. I agree with this statement when thinking about how students’ progress through these years of school. When it comes to reading, they are often motivated by the habits their parents helped them form. Habits of enjoying a good story and learning from a good book.  Students motivation to read is linked to success because of learned reading behaviors they are introduced to at school. Behaviors that focus students’ goals to be centered around speed and quantity are often stressed over reading to gain knowledge and enjoy a good story while learning something about people and life. Or being able to read a book at a certain level.

These external and internal motivation as Keene describes it is linked to an outside factor. It is often a person you want to be like or a person you want to impress.  Both Keene and Clear talk about how engagement or continual meeting of goals will not happen or be sustained with motivation alone. Engagement as Keene talks about and identity work as Clear talks about help drive sustained success or learning.

I came out of our research really thinking about goals and what a student has to be willing to do to make chose goals happen. Setting a goal is the easy part. You simply have to voice it, publicly or not. Then comes the hard part, putting steps into motion to help yourself achieve the goal. Identifying and completing these steps is what trips up children and adults.

In his book James Clear talks about goals and systems. He states that he learned the distinction between goals and systems from Scott Adams. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results.” This shares the beliefs of the researchers mentioned above. He talks about how you have to have the right systems or as I say processes in place for habits to be formed and to continuously keep meeting goals.

After the research was completed, we noticed that even when the students voiced their desire to continue setting task-oriented goals for themselves they were not able to. Goal setting did not become a habit for these students even when they saw some success with it.

In our research we did not help our students internalize the system they needed to continually achieve their goals. The system was not in place long enough for students to grasp the processes of what helping them meet their goals.  The system may have been conflicting the system their classroom teachers were putting in place. Also the habits did not have time to form, before we concluded our research. I think when too much emphasize is placed on the goal itself, students do not consciously become aware of the system or processes they went through to achieve their goals or when they do not meet it  they become discouraged instead of thinking about what adjustments need to be made. If we are not aware of the processes, then we cannot repeat them to keep the cycle going.

You may meet some goals by pure desire, but those goals are not something you continue to meet without the right system in place. When you think about winning sports organizations it is the systems, they have in place that help them have continued success, not simply setting the goals to win. The term the “Patriot Way” was coined because of the continued winning the New England Patriots team has done over the last almost two decades.  It was not used to describe their goal setting savvy ( or cheating ways), but the systems and process their players had to buy into and to describe the identity players who came to the organization adopted. The systems that most legendary coaches put into place include goals, but they will tell you success is driven by habits they instill in players and identities their players take on.  I feel that along with achieving mastery over the processes and building a winning system that lead to a cycle of success you have to make adjustments as you go. Winning teams and coaches know how to make with-in the game adjustments as well as out-of-game adjustments. Clear talks about this also when he addresses “bad” habits. I like to think of them as habits you need to shift and adapt to your current situation or students.

I feel we can learn and apply a lot of what Clear says to education. Keene and Clear are on the same wavelength with their thinking. Helping students form habits that set them up to engage in learning are critical.

I want my students to form the habits that lead them to be successful readers and to be successful in life.

My colleague and I were on the right track with our research into motivation. We wanted to help students form reading habits that would help them continue to set and meet reading goals focused on learning, not speed, level and quantity of reading. We knew they needed to be reading to explore the many experiences they may not get the chance to experience outside of a book until they become adults if ever. We want them to be able to learn about life through their reading. The performance-oriented goals will take care of themselves when students master the processes readers go through.

Right now my mind is absorbed with thoughts on how I can adjust my teaching to help my students form habits that set them up for engagement and sustained success by reading for meaning.  As a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy I see parallels with the National Board’s Five Core Propositions and Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and forming habits, motivation, and goal setting.

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  National Board-Certified Teachers are teachers who go through the process or system above continuously, creating habits of accomplished teaching. Habits all accomplished teachers share. Anyone who has attempted to achieve National Board Certification or achieved understands that the process you go through changes you as a teacher. It build habits that over time lead to the success of your students. You have to understand and commit to the processes of accomplished teaching to achieve National Board Certification. You are asked to renew your certification every five years to make sure that the process has become a habit. At least that is the way I think we have to look at it.

We have to choose the right identity as Clear puts it. We have to view ourselves as an accomplished teacher and understand what the process of accomplished teaching looks like and set goals that fit into that process. Clear states mastery requires patients and that what seems like overnight success is a really the result of lots of hard work and building of habits that merge together to finally break through into some success.

I want to continue to improve my teaching practice and make changes to improve my life.  I will try to share some of the adjustments and habits as I work towards improving instruction.

Troy