Posted by & filed under Child Development, Human Development, Intervention: Adults-Couples, Psychological Health, Social Influence, Stereotype Prejudice Discrimination, Student Success.

Description: How did your math courses go in high school? Was that level of performance about the same as you did in elementary school or did your performance levels change from elementary school to high school (especially as the math became more complicated)? It is quite common for students to feel like they hit a wall with mathematics at some point. How things go for them in their math courses beyond that point will depend on their assumptions about the nature of the feedback they are getting based on their performance in mathematics. There’s been a great deal of discussion in the media and a great deal of research within psychology looking at the developmental consequences of the assumptions students make when they receive negative feedback about their performance in areas where they have previously done reasonably well. A tantalizing possibility is that we may be able to shift or to “nudge” students away from taking a fatalistic (negative) attribution perspective and the assumption that math is suddenly not for them anymore and towards a belief that by applying themselves in a more focused fashion they will continue to experience success in challenging areas of study such as mathematics. What do you think a “nudge” of this sort might look like? What might have helped you if you had encountered a math brick wall in junior high? After you have generated an hypothesis or two, read through the article linked below to see how your hypotheses match up with the various brief interventions that have been tried by psychologists studying this topic.

Source: Nudges That Help Struggling Students Succeed, David L. Kirp, The Opinion Pages, New York Times.

Date: October  29, 2016


Photo Credit:  Roman Muradov, New York Times

Links:  Article Link —

So, how did your hypotheses compare to those discussed in the linked article? Based on the work of Carol Dweck, some of the interventions discussed in the linked article specifically involved talking to students about how intelligence and the performance it gives rise to are malleable and can be changed with good study habits, determination, and hard work. When provided with this message, students’ performance in courses like mathematics improves even when mathematics was not mentioned in the intervention. Other interventions that showed strong positive results involved focusing in on the experiences and assumptions of students who were struggling both academically and with racial and socioeconomic stereotypes and prejudices. By providing feedback that both evaluated the student’s current performance and provided clear statements of strong positive belief in the possibility of future performance improvement on the part of the student, teachers and researchers saw the strongest improvements among students whose previous performance had been below average. Other interventions involved having students focus on positive self-affirming parts of their current life experience. Researchers looking at those interventions found that they are associated with improvements in academic performance. Longer-term research has shown that for racially and socioeconomically marginalized students the positive effects of these relatively short interventions can be seen to continue for years suggesting that they are having strong developmental impacts.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What did the brief interventions described in the article linked above involve? Did any of them seem to you to be similar to any of your own positive, turning point, experiences or moments in your own educational experience?
  2. How might educational systems take advantage of some of the many brief interventions described in this linked article?
  3. How should we design long-term longitudinal studies to evaluate the developmental outcomes potentially associated with these kinds of short-term interventions?

References (Read Further):

There are a couple of previous posts on this blog focusing on theory, research, and interventions related to the kinds of things that the “nudges” discussed in this linked article. Links to them are below:


Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child development, 78(1), 246-263.

Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24(6), 645-662.

Yeager, D. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2013). An implicit theories of personality intervention reduces adolescent aggression in response to victimization and exclusion. Child development, 84(3), 970-988.

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