What is the purpose of higher education? There are several possible responses to this: to get a good paying job, to create well-rounded individuals, and/or to train someone for a particular job/career. Yet, Magolda has a slightly different perspective – to help young adults through the process of self-authorship for their adult lives. Self-authorship is the ability to personally define a set of beliefs and identity in which to guide interaction with other people and the world. However, according to her research, some people (in all age groups) stagnate at the developmental stage of “Following External Formulas”. In other words, depending on experts or authority to define the facts, beliefs and requirements. This is the student who happily and diligently takes notes in class and can parrot back the information. It is an easy form of “learning” as it is just information consumption. When students/people get to the point of questioning experts and authority, they are at the “Crossroads” stage. As the apt metaphors implies, the person stands in the midst of several possible pathways/beliefs and must consider each. There is a recognition that no single way is the only way, yet as a student, this becomes frustrating. It is not easy learning, but rather, mentally exhausting. Through testing out ideas and sometimes making false starts and back tracking, students are able to articulate their own ideas, beliefs and opinions, yet at the same time, be open enough to truly listen to others. This, in Magolda’s terms is “Self-Authoring”. Is higher education the only way to achieve self-authorship? Certainly not, but it should be a place where this is a major goal.
To reach this goal, teacher/mentors need to build developmental bridges at the leading edge of the person’s developmental phase and, as a partner, walk along side them on the bridge. This metaphor is quite compatible with constructivist pedagogy. Rather than pulling students kicking and screaming into new understandings, guidance is provided to lead them through the content and processes needed. Meeting students where they are, knowing where they want/should go, and providing opportunities for them to achieve this is a tremendous task for teachers/mentors.
Magolda has developed these ideas through a 24 year study. Quite impressively, the group began with 101 college freshman, then 80 graduating seniors, and just recently, follow-up with 36 of the original group. Her study has been reported in various books including: Authoring Your Life, Making Their Own Way, and Knowing and Reasoning in College. The application of these ideas can be found in Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship: Constructive-Developmental Pedagogy and Learning Partnerships.
I am interested in seeing more about the “Bridges”. How do I guide students through the various phases of reasoning, and especially when there would be students of all phases within one class? In a traditional sense, this would be called differentiation of curriculum, but it is more than a focus on ability or skill, but a recognition of individual reasoning and identity formation.