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5 ways to help students raise their game

5 ways to help students raise their game

4 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset
  • The science of learning

It’s almost the end of the school year. The summer holidays will fly by and students will be back at school before we know it. So what can we do to ensure students progress from this year and make next year at school their best yet? We consider 5 psychological strategies that can help students raise their game for the year ahead.

5 ways to help students raise their game

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Boost your students’ motivation with training that introduces them to the seven key habits of successful people

4. 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.

5. 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.


How to Help Students Raise Their Game

Final thoughts

It is a daunting thought to consider the next school year 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.

For even more info take a look at our page How to Develop a Growth Mindset, where you’ll find links to blogs and research. 

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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