It’s almost the start of the school year. Summer has flown by and students are nearly back at school. So what can we do to ensure students progress from last year and make this year at school their best yet?
We consider 5 psychological strategies that can help students raise their game for the year ahead.
- Have High Expectations – Teacher expectations can significantly influence the level of student achievement. This was illustrated in a study almost fifty years ago where teachers were falsely told that some of their students had been identified as potential high achievers. At the end of the year, these students had made significantly more progress. This increase in achievement was put down to the effect of the teacher having higher expectations of them. This is known as the Pygmalion Effect. Sometimes students need someone to believe in them before they can believe in themselves. Having high standards and expectations for all students is central to this.
- Be a Guide – Even with the best of intentions, people are often poor predictors of their own future behaviour. This is why some people use a personal trainer to help them bridge the gap between intention and action. The Daffodil experiment is a great example of this. On one weekend in spring each year, Cornell University sell daffodils for a dollar to raise money for charity. When asked how likely
they were to buy a daffodil, 83% of undergraduate students said they would. The reality? Only 43% did.
- Provide Regular Feedback – A lot of research has been conducted on the type of feedback to give students. Praising effort, different strategies, choosing the hard task, and persistence are ways to help students develop their growth mindset. The frequency of feedback has been less researched. By regular feedback we don’t mean lavish praise. This would probably do more harm than good, as it conveys a message of low expectations. But in terms of feedback, we think ‘a little and often’ is better than ‘all at once’. This is one of the reasons why Accenture, one of the world's largest companies, is scrapping its Annual Performance Review with its employees and moving to more fluid and regular feedback sessions.
- Model The Desired Behaviour – In one of our favourite studies, researchers asked participants to cycle as hard as they could for 4000m. After being given enough time to recover, the participants were told to cycle the 4000m again. This time, however, they were able to see and race against an avatar of their previous ride. What they didn’t know was that this avatar had actually been sped up so it was going faster. The result? The cyclists kept up with their sped up avatar, riding significantly faster than their previous maximal effort. When working with teenagers, it is very easy to assume they know exactly what you mean. ‘Working hard’ to one person may mean doing everything that is asked of them to the best of their ability, whereas to someone else it may mean seeking out additional things to do. By being clear and explicit, you minimise the chances of ambiguity.
- Give Clear Regular Deadlines – People tend to underestimate the time that is needed to complete a given task. This is known as The Planning Fallacy. This is often the case even if people have done similar tasks previously. Anyone who has worked with Year 11 or 13 students will know how panicked students often get towards the end of the year, often saying, ‘I wish I could go back to the beginning of the year and work harder from the start.’ The only real deadline they have in their mind is exams at the end of the year. And that seems ages away to a 16-18 year old. Clear regular deadlines can help people stay on track instead of going from 0 to a 100 with only a few months to go.
It’s a long year ahead filled with a roller-coaster of emotions (for staff, students and parents alike). But by tapping into these five areas: high expectations, being a guide, providing regular feedback, modelling the desired behaviour, and regular deadlines, hopefully we can help students raise their game and have their best year yet in education.