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Do students get better grades when they enjoy school?

Do students get better grades when they enjoy school?

4 min read
  • Stress management & well-being

We all know how fulfilling learning can be, and how important education is. So, when students declare that “school is boring”, it can be disheartening – but is it worth putting in even more effort for them to enjoy it? In other words: do students who enjoy school get better grades?

One recent study looked to answer this exact question…

What does the research say?

In this study, researchers documented how children felt about school at the age of 6, and then tracked their academic performance during their GCSEs. They found that on average, children who enjoyed school at 6 years old were 64% more likely to get 5 or more A*-C grades (equivalent to 9-4 in the new grading system).

One reason for this could be that when students enjoy school more, they are more likely to work harder and engage more with their learning. This in turn would help achieve more academically. 

However, although the researchers found a relationship between these two factors, it does not mean that there is a causation. It does not imply that it is a cause-and-effect relationship. This is important, as it does not mean that placing an emphasis on fun early on will necessarily lead to an increase in grades many years later.

One of the reasons this sort of question is important to answer, is because school is one of the few domains were the participants (i.e. the students) get a choice if they do it, and yet, we want them to have internal motivation for this thing that isn’t their choice. Therefore, figuring out how to develop this intrinsic motivation, along with how important actually is it, is really important.

So, what can we do to help increase their enjoyment/reducing their stress/enhancing their motivation?

Setbacks and mistakes are part of the learning process. Our practical strategies will help your students fail better.

5 ways to apply this in the classroom

1. Encourage a Growth Mindset 

Students may often not enjoy school as they feel like they are “not smart enough.” However, this way of thinking would only lead to more stress for the student. As a teacher, you can encourage your students to change their mindset by developing a growth mindset. This is the belief that their ability is malleable and can be improved. 

One way you can do this is by teaching students to talk to themselves in a positive, helpful and energised way. This can not only improve their well-being, but also increase their self-esteem and reduce their helplessness. Therefore, developing a growth mindset can help your students enjoy school more.

2. Use praise – the right way 

Students may often lack self-confidence, which could be why they don’t enjoy school. Praising your students (in the right way) can help them feel that their hard work is being appreciated.

What do we mean when we say “praise the right way”? Well, praise can be a double-edged sword – praising students for easy tasks can actually lower their self-confidence, and replacing constructive criticism with praise can get in the way of valuable learning opportunities. Praise is also not a magic trick to improve motivation.

One way to make sure you do it right is using specific praises when giving feedback. This would help them see that you’ve paid close attention to their work and can make them feel valued in class.

3. Boost creativity 

Giving students the space to feel passionate about what they are doing can help them enjoy school more. One way you can help students find their passion is by boosting their creativity, which can also help them be more open-minded and try new things. You can encourage students to be creative by exposing them to new and exciting activities in order to help them discover what they enjoy.

4. Provide educational support 

Often, students may feel that they have no one to talk to about any personal or academic struggles that they are facing. Research suggests that having access to a good support system can be a good stress buffer.

Provide a safe and non-judgemental space for your students to be able to come and talk to you. Talking about their worries can help them have a more enjoyable time at school.

5. Encourage a sense of belonging 

With all the time they spend in school, it is essential for students to feel a sense of belonging in their classroom. As a teacher, you can promote a positive culture by encouraging a shared identity between the students, which would make them feel valued and accepted. 

Some strategies that could help you do this include:

For more ways to boost classroom culture, check out this blog.

Final thoughts 

School can be a source of stress for students. And as well as it being a shame that they would not enjoy something that they spend so much of their time doing, research suggests there is an association between enjoyment in school and academic performance (though we can’t be sure if this is causal). Thankfully, implementing the small changes we discussed into your classroom is a great and easy way to start to enhance how they feel about school.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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