The Success Cycle

The Success Cycle is a core teaching strategy at Birchwood. It was designed to mirror a child’s natural aspirations and drive to grow and become a competent young person. As such, the Success Cycle nurtures self-confidence and self-worth. The Success Cycle focuses on three objectives.
First, its practice develops a child’s competency in specific subjects. To develop competency is simply to “get good” at things, like math or reading or writing. But just as importantly, through the success cycle, children recognize and acknowledge their continual improvement. Through measurable achievement, students prove to themselves, to their teachers, and to their parents that they are capable. Because their competency is growing in these subjects, they spontaneously enjoy them and develop an affinity for learning. It is no surprise that everyone likes what they are good at, and children’s measurable success in academic subjects creates an interest in further learning.

Second, the success cycle builds confidence, and confidence nurtures self-worth and self-efficacy. Self-worth is a product of real, quantifiable success. When children, through their visible achievements, prove to themselves that they can do things, that they are good at “stuff,” self-worth follows. Children, like any human being, derive self-worth from their real-world, measurable achievements. They can point to their accomplishment with pride and say, “I did it.” As a companion to self-worth, self-efficacy describes children’s perception of themselves in relation to opportunities for new learning experiences. Self-efficacy is a product of a child’s learning history. For example, if a young girl has had success in mathematics, then she believes she is good at math. When the next opportunity to learn math arises, she is eager to engage and learn. Her sense of self-efficacy says, “I can do this.” Such an attitude is essential for all forms of advanced learning.

Of course, the opposite is also true. If she has not had previous successes in mathematics, she will doubt herself and her abilities when faced with new opportunities to learn math. She will withdraw and claim “I can’t do that,” even without trying.

The third objective of the success cycle is to create internal motivation for life-long learning. When children experience growth - in reading, mathematics, writing, or in any academic subject - an internal, motivational light goes on. Growth feels good. Competency feels good. Spontaneously, a positive attitude blossoms, not only about academics, but also about life itself. The successful young boy or girl desires more success and achievement. Every individual experience of success corresponds to a child’s human nature that seeks to become the best person he or she can be.

When the success cycle is repeated throughout primary, elementary and middle school, children possess a positive and productive attitude toward growth opportunities in their teen years. They like growing. They are proud of themselves. They are intrinsically motivated to grow and become.

The Success Cycle in Practice

The Success Cycle in practice is simple, yet requires of the teacher or parent a careful analysis and attention to the child’s needs.

It begins by assessing a child’s current level of ability including readiness and interest. This is always the starting point for learning. But it should be noted that it is a starting point built upon the child’s confidence, that is, on his or her history of successful performance. Such a beginning helps children embrace the “I can” attitude at the onset of learning. I have found it helpful to begin with lessons that give children a chance to “show off” what they can do, thereby establishing confidence early on.

Following assessment, we identify what should be the next level of achievement. There are two factors. On the one hand, it should require some degree of dedication and hard work. The goal must be a “stretch.” To make the lessons in the Success Cycle endure, children must learn that progress in learning always requires hard work. The level of work might be minimal in the early stages of the Success Cycle, but children should always be aware that hard work is necessary for achievement.

At the same time, the goal should be evidently achievable. This is important especially for young children, because if the next step is too difficult, they become frustrated, and they will quit. Also, the degree of difficulty should be such that the student is willing to engage. The goal should cause them to say, “I can do this.” Of course, this perception of success will vary by student and needs to be carefully analyzed.
Third, as children commence work toward their academic goal, we encourage and guide them with motivational language: “This is a big step, but I think you can do it. Let’s try.”

If the child fails, we adjust the goal to make it achievable, and we sprinkle the next round of effort with positive language and support. “Let’s try this together. Let me guide you a little. You can do it. Of course, it is hard work, but you are a good student, and we can do it together. Let’s persevere.” In this stage, you must make sure the child is successful. Adjust the goal in whatever way is necessary so the child achieves success.

This third step is a bit “mushy” and vague. That’s because each child is different. Their tolerance for hard work, self-control, or failure varies. Good teachers learn to continually adjust goals while girding their students for hard work and persistence.

Included in this third step, is verbal praise. Once a student reaches his or her goal, they need praise which affirms their achievement. Motivation research literature recognizes the power of positive, verbal feedback that simply reinforces what the child has personally experienced and can validate. When you say, “Great job. Look what you did,” your words of praise are an external endorsement of what the child knows to be true: “I did it.” Research shows that this combination of meaningful, external verbal praise coupled to the child’s self-acknowledged success nurtures the pathway toward internal motivational habits.

Once children experience success, their faces beam with the satisfaction of “I did it,” and we continue the cycle. Success breeds success, and children are ready for another challenge.