“What is 7 times 8, Anna?? ”
“48, miss! Oh no no no! 56, miss, I’m sure! Because 5 and 6 always fit 7 and 8 on the table. ”
This classroom setting may not immediately appear to contain important research data. However, it shows very well that children constantly evaluate their own performance and that they often do so very clearly. Through my research, I’ve demonstrated that Anna creates an important learning moment for herself here. She wasn’t on the spot, but she judges herself to be right and knows when she’s wrong. After all, the cliché “making mistakes is good” only applies if you also realize that you’re making a mistake. Only then will you learn from your mistakes.
Through my research, I have examined whether children who can do a good assessment of themselves also learn better in school. I had hundreds of kids doing math exercises. After each exercise, I asked them how sure they were of their answer. With three emojis, they can indicate whether it is “certainly true,” “unconfirmed,” or “definitely false.”
After each exercise, this girl uses three smiley faces to indicate how sure she is of her answer to the exercise. By relating that to the actual accuracy of her answer, she tested her self-esteem.
My research shows that those who can rate their performance more quickly develop academic skills, such as math and spelling. Thus, contemporary research proves what our parents (grandparents) actually preached: “Self-knowledge is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Your self-respect is on your head
Perhaps it would be better to recognize the daily relevance of self-evaluation in a situation that happens to all of us: you are convinced that you left your keys at the front door and yet you find them on the kitchen table. So a wrong evaluation of yourself, while I was too sure of your article. In this case, such an incorrect self-assessment is of little consequence, even though a correct assessment may save you those 10 minutes of searching around the house.
In the case of learning, poor self-esteem can prevent the student from studying in greater depth because they are convinced that they know the course, even though they do not. Result: re-exams.
Thus, a good self-assessment is your own personal control room, in which you can assess and check your performance. Then people use their self-evaluation (to modify) their behavior. In that control room there’s that little voice in your head that’s working for you day in and day out. This way you notice errors and modify your behavior. This is critical to learning, not least when children are learning in school.
In my research, I found that this control room is also located at the front of your brain in children. I found this out by getting elementary school kids to count and estimate themselves while in the MRI scanner. For example, it discovered which area of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for children’s self-esteem. We know that this area continues to develop until the age of 25, and that it can be changed through targeted interventions. So there is still much room for improving the self-esteem of children and young adults.
Medical examination? No, teacher! While the children lie in the MRI machine, they are solving math exercises and appreciating their performance. For example, we learned that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for children’s self-esteem. And the more active the prefrontal cortex, the better the math.
Using MRI research and asking with smileys, I’ve demonstrated that the better you are at self-esteem, the more active your brain’s control room is. This active control room provides new learning opportunities for children, as it acts as an alarm system.
Alarm in the control room
When we make a mistake, an alarm goes off in your control room, as it were. This alarm provides an additional learning opportunity for those who notice their mistake. This reduces the chance of making this mistake again in the future. There is no such important learning opportunity when the self-assessment goes wrong, you fail to notice your mistake and you probably think you know for sure that your answer is correct.
So kids can learn from their mistakes through good self-evaluation from their own control room. So it is not important to work flawlessly right away. My research shows that the class president basically knows when they’re making a mistake. This is more valuable to learn than just making a few mistakes, but you have no idea when you’ll lose count. Students who have a well-functioning control room, like a donkey, won’t hit the same stone twice. After all, a good self-evaluation ensures that they have seen this stone.
Your control room with the Controllers (INSIDE OUT – © 1986-2021 DISNEY / PIXAR) is located at the front of your mind and ensures that you can estimate and adjust your own performance when the alarm goes off.
From proven life wisdom to effective feedback
I hear you think, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” After all, a quick Google search yields thousands of results on “learning from your mistakes” and “the importance of self-knowledge.” My research already revolves around ancient wisdom, but I was finally able to prove it through sophisticated research techniques that make self-assessment clear and I was able to show which areas of the brain are responsible.
As a result, we can now take an important step forward in developing science-based educational applications that use performance feedback. This feedback works best when you are unsure of your performance. In such new apps, an exercise is presented, a smiling self-esteem question is asked, and feedback is given on your exercise and self-esteem. By clarifying if you are (not sure), feedback becomes more effective. After all, confirming your uncertainty or refuting your own certainty is made stronger by making self-evaluation explicit.
Who knows, with such applications, endless table cancellations will end? After all, my research shows that working on your self-esteem goes a long way, not only in math, but also in other areas of learning like spelling. As a researcher at KU Leuven, I return my school motto to “Explore the world, start with yourself. “
Elaine Bellon was nominated for the Flemish Doctoral Cup. Find out more about her research around www.phdcup.be.
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