Assess the attitudes, motivations and dispositions of your students

Ensuring students are ready for learning.

The presence or absence of specific attitudes, motivations and dispositions in a learner will:

  • enhance or impede their capacity to learn
  • determine their willingness to grapple and persevere with, and make sense of discipline-based knowledge and content
  • determine their willingness to persist with developing skills and capabilities that are experienced as difficult, elusive or challenging.

These attitudes, motivations and dispositions are the 'be' aspects of being a learner such as resilience, persistence and resourcefulness.

When we capture evidence and data about the 'be' aspects of learners, we are attending to the engine room of learning.

The four Rs and learning power indicators

Guy Claxton claims the dispositional aspects of learners should be an essential focus for teachers and school leaders if students are to flourish.

He describes these characteristics or dispositions as 'people’s predominant responses when they encounter difficulty, complexity and uncertainty' and groups sixteen characteristics into four Rs:

  • resilience - inquisitive, persistent, adventurous, focused
  • resourcefulness - imaginative, connecting, crafting, capitalising
  • reflectiveness - methodical, self-evaluative, self-aware, transferring
  • relating - collaborative, open-minded, independent, empathic.

The educational evidence base

The original research behind the tool features in a paper titled school as an epistemic apprenticeship: the case of building learning power, a supporting text for the 32nd vernon wall lecture to the British Psychological Society.

How it might be used in practice

The tool is offered in two parts.

The first part is a simple summary of the sixteen dispositions that can be used to support teachers as they design learning experiences.

It could also be used to support a discussion amongst students prompted by a provocation such as:

  • 'the most important and least important dispositions are'
  • 'the top three are definitely...'
  • 'the only one of these that really matters is...'

This could uncover assumptions and beliefs amongst the students about being a learner, which the teacher could document. The discussion could be repeated as particular dispositions are attended to and developed.

The second part sets out all sixteen characteristics as statements, such as 'I'm willing to have a go at something new', which are offered as continuums, 'not like me' through to 'a lot like me'.

You can use the continuums to:

  • support a conversation about being a learner, highlighting learning dispositions as crucial enablers or inhibitors of learning
  • prompt learners to locate themselves on the continuums, generating evidence of how each learner sees themselves in education.

The tool

Stage1 be dispositions (pdf - 416.78kb)

Dispositional indicators: 'mathematical mindsets'

The mathematics learning area of the Victorian Curriculum is directed toward developing four proficiencies in students, which include:

  • reasoning
  • problem solving
  • understanding
  • fluency.

Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, draws on these proficiencies and the 'growth mindset' work of Carol Dweck to explore the dispositions necessary for developing 'mathematical mindsets'.

In the tool offered below the work of Jo Boaler has been distilled and adapted into a set of continuums that enable learners to locate where am I now? in relation to a range of statements associated with developing mathematical mindsets.

The most prominent of these dispositions relate to:

  • a willingness to make mistakes
  • an inclination to accept and embrace struggle as a natural and expected indicator of deep learning
  • a capacity to recognise mathematics as a creative endeavour
  • an appreciation that great maths learners are flexible and responsive to the problems they encounter.

The educational evidence base

  • Original and extensive research was carried out by the National Research Council in 2001.
  • Carol Dweck's mindset: a new psychology of success (2006), was based on decades of research on achievement and success.
  • Mathematical mindsets: unleashing students' potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching (2016) was based on following thousands of students through middle and high schools to study how they learn and to find the most effective ways to 'unleash' mathematics potential in students.

How it might be used in practice

This tool can be used to reveal and understand how learners see themselves as mathematical learners. It can also be used to plot their growth and development over time .

The tool

Stage 1 be mathematical mindsets (pdf - 169.38kb)

Student attitudes and motivations

The annual attitudes to schools survey (AToSS) is offered online to students from Years 4 to 12. Its stated objectives are to:

  • ‘collect data about the opinions of students from Years 4 to 12 to assist schools with planning, developing curriculum and improving student outcomes'
  • 'gain an understanding of students’ perceptions and their experience of school'.

It also has a range of items that offer a window into students’ attitudes and motivations for learning.

The educational evidence base

We refreshed the attitudes to school survey for 2017. The survey includes evidence-based measures known to influence student engagement and outcomes, while retaining essential measures for data continuity purposes.

The refreshed survey is aligned to the framework for improving student outcomes and will provide schools with actionable insights in key elements for school improvement.

How it might be used in practice

It is important to look at the statements students were asked to respond to and make a judgement as to what they actually reveal. In particular, statements that being with an 'I....' rather than 'my teacher...' are more likely to offer a window into:

  • how a student sees themselves
  • how motivated they feel to learn
  • how empowered they feel in their learning
  • their general attitude to school.

Just as important as inviting students to reveal their feelings, attitudes and motivations on the survey is having a conversation with them about why they see themselves that way.

This enables you to name and notice the strengths they have observed as well as seek to better understand what might be contributing to an individual's attitudes and motivations to learn.

The tool

The following items are examples from the current survey that can reveal students' attitudes and motivations.

Motivation and interest

  • I want to learn new things (years 4-12)

Learning confidence

  • I am confident in my learning (years 7-12)
  • I am good at learning (years 4-6)
  • I know I can keep up with my learning (years 7-12)
  • I enjoy tasks that challenge me (year 7)


  • I come to class willing to learn (years 7-12)
  • I try very hard at school (years 4-6)

School connectedness – sense of belonging (years 4-12)

  • I feel like I belong at this school
  • I look forward to going to school

Transition to adult life (years 10-12)

  • I feel confident that I will be able to achieve my goals after finishing school

Teachers should consider digging deeper into results by conferencing one-on-one or in small groups with students.