5-min. ideas, Learning theory, Research

Five minutes to bridge the racial achievement gap

Choke by Sian BeilockI’ve been reading this book – Choke. (Because I tend to choke at tennis, that’s why.)

But it’s got some really interesting things to say that will help your kid with test anxiety.

Researchers were studying what happens to African-Americans, for instance, who experience racism throughout their life. These students can have something called “stereotype threat,” which is where students “underperform relative to their potential merely because these students feel discouraged about their ability to succeed.”

They may underperform simply because they are aware of stereotypes about their sex, race or ethnic group that pertain to intelligence.

Researchers wanted to see if they could intervene to subvert the “racial achievement gap” in a school in the Northeastern U.S.

What they did was simple, and brilliant – and it could be done with your child, whether or not he underperforms currently, whether or not he is a minority.

They had half the students respond to a question asking them what their most important value was, and write a brief paragraph explaining why it was important. In the second group – a control group – they had students write about their least important value.

At the end of the school year, they compared the kids. The ones who had – just once in the year, remember – taken the time to consider and think about, and write about, their most important value did better than the other students. The researchers later repeated the experiment, with the same results.

What happened? The students had written about qualities that were important to them. This enhanced their self-worth, even in the face of negative racial stereotypes. It created a “buffer against negative expectations and their consequences,” says the author of Choke, Sean Beilock.

Students who thought about their own good qualities, the things they value, did better at school because they reminded themselves that they could.

It seems that writing is key here. The kids have to take five minutes or so and write down their thoughts about their most important value. And not only did they perform better on that one test, in that one semester, but the research suggests there has been a life-long benefit for many of them.

If your kid says “I can’t do it,” help him remember that in fact, he can.

And by the way, just this afternoon I tried it before I got on the tennis court… 6-2, thank you very much!

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