Test anxiety intervention and uncertain control

Increasing a student’s sense of being in control is an important factor in reducing test anxiety, according to a study published in School Psychology Quarterly, which reports the findings of an intervention to reduce test anxiety in secondary school students who are preparing for high-stakes exams.

Fifty-six Year 10 and 11 students from two secondary schools in urban areas of England participated in the study and were randomly allocated to one of two intervention groups: an early intervention group (n=25), or a wait-list control group (n=31). The intervention comprised six sessions which used both cognitive and behavioural approaches, delivered over six weeks (one session per week).

David Putwain and Marc Pescod measured test anxiety (using the Revised Test Anxiety Scale) and uncertain control (using the Motivation and Engagement Scale) for all participants at three time points: a baseline measurement before either group had received the intervention; after the early intervention group had received the intervention; and after the wait-list control had received the intervention.

The results suggest that after receiving the intervention, students showed a moderate reduction in the worry and tension components of test anxiety and uncertain control.

Source: Is reducing uncertain control the key to successful test anxiety intervention for secondary school students? Findings from a randomized control trial, (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly.

Which character strengths lead to good achievement?

An article previously published in Frontiers in Psychology by Lisa Wagner and Willibald Ruch reported on two studies conducted with 179 primary pupils from three schools, and 199 secondary pupils from four schools in Switzerland to examine whether character strengths are important to school success for primary and secondary pupils.

The authors measured character strengths by the Value in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth,) and positive classroom behaviours with the Classroom Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS), which cover positive achievement-related behaviour and positive social behaviour. For primary pupils, achievement was obtained by teacher ratings; for secondary pupils, the schools’ administration offices provided their grades. The findings showed that:

  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, social intelligence and self-regulation were positively related to positive classroom behaviour for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, love of learning, perspective, zest and gratitude were positively related to school achievement for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence and hope were associated with both positive classroom behaviour and school achievement across primary and secondary sectors.

According to the authors, these findings indicate there is a rather distinct set of strengths most relevant in schools. The authors also suggest that further research could explore whether teachers and pupils value these strengths.

Source: Good character at school: positive classroom behavior mediates the link between character strengths and school achievement (May 2015), Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 6    

Say hello, wave goodbye to behaviour problems

A small-scale study by Clayton Cook and colleagues, published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, investigated the impact of a Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) strategy.

Ten English and maths classrooms (from sixth to eighth grade – Years 7-9) in two schools in the Pacific Northwest of the United States were identified that had low levels of academic engaged time (AET) and a high rate of disruptive and off-task behaviour. In total, 203 pupils took part. A randomised block design was used to allocate the classes to intervention and control groups.

Teachers of intervention classes were provided with training sessions and follow-up coaching on a PGD strategy (greeting the pupils by name, reminding pupils individually and collectively of behaviours for success, having a structured learning activity ready, and positively recognising on-time behaviour). Teachers in the control classes were given the same amount of time to talk with other teachers about their classroom management practice.

Class-wide and individual pupils behaviour was measured using the Behavioral Observation of Students in Schools (BOSS). Over two months, results showed that AET increased for the intervention group and stayed relatively constant for the control group (effect size = +0.93), while disruptive behaviour decreased by a similar amount (ES = -0.87).

The authors caution that the small sample of teachers lessens the generalisability of the study findings, and that the study focused on classes with low baseline levels of academic engagement and classroom management practices, so a similar impact might not be seen in all classrooms.

Source: Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy (October 2018), Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149–159

The positive influence of classmates’ behaviour

Prior research has indicated that an individual adolescent’s behaviour is influenced by the behaviour of his or her classmates. But while most studies have focused on negative peer influence, a study published in Journal of Adolescence investigates whether individual anti-social behaviours in adolescents can potentially be reduced by promoting pro-social behaviour at the classroom level.

In order to determine whether classmates’ pro-social behaviour is related to lower anti-social behaviour of pupils, Verena Hofmann and Christoph Michael Müller conducted a longitudinal study among lower secondary school pupils in Switzerland (mean age = 13.8 years). The sample included 55 classrooms in eight schools, and the researchers analysed data collected at the end of Grade 7, Grade 8, and Grade 9 (Years 7–10). Participants completed self-reported assessments on pro-social behaviour, anti-social behaviour, and anti-social attitudes. Classmates’ pro- and anti-social behaviour for each pupil was calculated by averaging all pupils’ scores in a class, excluding the pupils’ own score.

While children generally developed more anti-social behaviour over time, particularly those who had higher initial levels of anti-social behaviour, results indicated that more pro-social behaviour among classmates predicted lower levels of individual anti-social behaviour and anti-social attitudes in the future.

Source: Avoiding antisocial behavior among adolescents: The positive influence of classmates’ prosocial behavior (October 2018), Journal of Adolescence, volume 68

Effects of the Whole School Restorative Justice Program

Restorative approaches are practices aimed at making peace, preventing further harm and building community. The Whole School Restorative Justice Program (WSRJ) is designed to promote these practices in the school setting. It uses multi-level strategies to provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches, which have raised suspension rates in the US, especially among minority youth. Tier 1 is regular classroom circles, Tier 2 is repair harm/conflict circles, and Tier 3 includes mediation, family group conferencing and welcome/re-entry circles to initiate successful re-integration of pupils being released from juvenile detention centres.

A three-year matched study compared schools in California participating in WSRJ to similar schools that did not. In WSRJ schools, suspensions were cut in half (34% to 14%). This was significantly more than the change seen in non-RJ schools (p<.05). Chronic absences diminished in WSRJ middle and high schools, while increasing in non-WSRJ middle and high schools. The middle school differences were highly significant (p<.001). Reading levels for pupils in ninth grade (Year 10) increased more in WSRJ schools than in non-WSRJ schools, and four-year graduation rates gained significantly more.

Source: Restorative Justice in Oakland schools implementation and impacts: An effective strategy to reduce radically disproportionate discipline, suspensions and improve academic outcomes (September 2014), US Department of Education

How much is enough?

There have now been many controlled studies of preventive mental health interventions for young people. For these studies to be useful, practitioners need to know whether the effects shown for a particular intervention are modest, moderate, or large.

Emily Tanner-Smith and colleagues summarised more than 400 mean effect size estimates from 74 meta-analyses that synthesised findings from many trials. All the trials were of programmes aimed at preventing problematic behaviour or emotional problems for young people aged 5-18. The results, published in Prevention Science, indicate that, with few exceptions, the median average effect sizes on various outcomes fell within the range of +0.07 to +0.16. The authors advise that these indicate the level of improvement that has been achieved to date and can serve as a benchmark for assessing the value of new findings.

The report also points out that prevention programmes yielded larger effects on knowledge than on actual behaviour. Providing information to increase knowledge (e.g., about the risks of drug use) is an important component of many programmes, but knowledge does not always correlate strongly with actual behaviour.

Source: Empirically Based Mean Effect Size Distributions for Universal Prevention Programs Targeting School-Aged Youth: A Review of Meta-Analyses (August 2018) Prevention Science