ERIC Identifier: ED363454
Publication Date: 1993-09-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Dispositions as Educational Goals. ERIC Digest.
One of the major questions to be addressed when developing a curriculum is,
What should be learned? One way to answer this question (Katz, 1991) is to adopt
at least four types of learning goals, those related to knowledge, skills,
dispositions, and feelings. The acquisition of both knowledge and skills is
taken for granted as an educational goal, and most educators would also readily
agree that many feelings (e.g., self-esteem) are also influenced by school
experiences and are thus worthy of inclusion among learning goals. However,
dispositions are seldom included, although they are often implied by the
inclusion of attitudes (e.g., attitudes toward learning) as goals. The main
purpose of this digest is to examine the meaning of the term DISPOSITION and to
suggest the implications of dispositions for practice.
WHAT ARE DISPOSITIONS?
It seems clear that the term
DISPOSITION can be used to distinguish trends in behavior from skills,
attitudes, traits, and mindless habits (e.g., fastening one's seat belt), and
that these distinctions have useful, practical implications even in the absence
of desirable precision. Concerning skills, for example, educators, and most
likely other observers as well, recognize that it is possible to have skills and
lack a taste for or habit of using them. Similarly, knowledge can be acquired
without having the disposition to use it. Further clarification of the nature of
dispositions may be obtained by distinguishing dispositions from related
constructs such as thought processes, motives, and work inhibition.
For the purposes of exploring the implications of dispositions, the following
tentative definition is proposed:
A disposition is a tendency to exhibit frequently,
consciously, and voluntarily a pattern of behavior that is
directed to a broad goal.
In the case of curiosity, for example, children can be said to have the
disposition to be curious if they typically and frequently respond to their
environment by exploring, examining, and asking questions about it. Similarly,
the disposition to complain or whine would be robust if exhibited frequently,
and weak if rarely exhibited. Both are examples of dispositions: they are
intentional and mindfully directed toward particular objects and situations in
order to achieve goals. Because not all dispositions are desirable, teaching
practices must seek not only to strengthen the desirable ones, but also to
weaken the undesirable ones.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTITIONERS
There are several reasons
for suggesting that dispositions should be included among educational goals. The
most important reason is, as already mentioned, that the acquisition of
knowledge and skills does not guarantee that they will be used and applied. As
Cantor (1990) puts it, "having" is not necessarily "doing." For example, it is
likely that most children have listening skills, but they may or may not have
the disposition to be listeners. Teaching practices should take into account
ways that the dispositions associated with skills can be strengthened.
Second, dispositional considerations are important because the instructional
processes by which some knowledge and skills are acquired may themselves damage
or undermine the disposition to use them. For example, one risk of early formal
instruction in reading skills is that the amount of drill and practice required
for successful reading of the English language at an early age may undermine
children's dispositions to be readers (Katz, 1992).
It is clearly not useful for a child to learn skills if, in the processes of
learning them, the disposition to use them is damaged. On the other hand, having
the disposition to be a reader without the requisite skills would also not be
desirable. Thus the acquisition of reading skills and the disposition to be a
reader should be mutually inclusive goals of education.
Third, some important dispositions relevant to education, such as the
disposition to investigate, may be thought of as inborn. When children's
experiences support the manifestations of a disposition with appropriate
scaffolding (see Rogoff, Gauvain, and Ellis, 1990) and environmental conditions,
the disposition is likely to become robust. Without such supportive experiences
it is likely to weaken or perhaps be extinguished. Though knowledge and skills
not acquired early in life might be acquired later, dispositions are probably
less amenable to reacquisition once damaged.
Fourth, the processes of selecting curriculum and teaching strategies should
include considerations of how desirable dispositions can be strengthened and
undesirable dispositions can be weakened. Therefore, when selecting teaching
practices, opportunities for children to exhibit desirable dispositions should
be considered. For example, if the disposition to accept peers of diverse
backgrounds is to be strengthened, then opportunities to engage in that behavior
must be available.
Fifth, on the basis of the evidence accumulated from research on mastery
versus performance motivation, it seems reasonable to suggest that there is an
optimum amount of positive feedback for young children above which children may
become preoccupied with their performance and the judgments of others rather
than involved in the task, and hence their achievement would be acquired at the
expense of their disposition to learn.
Sixth, dispositions are less likely to be acquired through didactic processes
than to be modeled by young children as they are around people who exhibit them.
If teachers want their young pupils to have robust dispositions to investigate,
hypothesize, experiment, and so forth, they might consider making their own such
intellectual dispositions more visible to the children. The list of potential
ways that teachers could exhibit the intellectual dispositions to be
strengthened and supported is very long and deserves serious attention in the
course of curriculum planning and teacher education.
Much research is needed to determine which
dispositions merit attention. It seems timely to include dispositions among
important outcomes of education at every level. By doing so we are likely to pay
more deliberate attention to ways in which desirable ones can be strengthened,
and undesirable ones can be weakened. For the moment, one of the most important
dispositions to be listed in educational goals is the disposition to go on
learning. Any educational approach that undermines that disposition is
Adapted from DISPOSITIONS: DEFINITIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD
PRACTICES, by Lilian G. Katz. Urbana, IL:ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and
Early Childhood Education. 1993. (Catalog #211; 47pp.; $5).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals,
Structures, and Student Motivation. JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 84(3):
261-271. EJ 452 395.
Cantor, N. (1990). From Thought to Behavior: "Having" and "Doing" in the
Study of Personality and Cognition. AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST 45(6): 735-750. EJ 412
Dweck, C. (1991). Self-Theories and Goals: Their Role in Motivation,
Personality, and Development. In R.A. Dienstbier (Ed.). PERSPECTIVES ON
MOTIVATION. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1990. Lincoln, NE: University of
Nebraska Press. pp. 199-236.
Katz, L.G. (1992). WHAT SHOULD YOUNG CHILDREN BE LEARNING? ERIC Digest.
Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ED
Katz, L.G. (1991). Pedagogical Issues in Early Childhood Education. In S.L.
Kagan, (Ed.). THE CARE AND EDUCATION OF AMERICA'S YOUNG CHILDREN: OBSTACLES AND
OPPORTUNITIES. Ninetieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of
Education. Part I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 50-68.
Rogoff, B., Gauvain, M., and Ellis, S. (1990). Development Viewed in Cultural
Context. In P. Light, S. Sheldon, and M. Woodhead (Eds.). LEARNING TO THINK.
London: Routledge. pp. 292-339.