In recent years, interventions that apply positive psychology principles have become increasingly popular, providing an alternative approach to promoting pupils’ well-being. A recent research study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined a positive education programme in China focusing on positive emotion for middle school pupils.
Participants were drawn from a public middle school in the city of Chengdu, China. A total of 173 eighth graders (Year 9) from six classes participated in the study, of which three classes (84 pupils) were randomly allocated to the intervention group, and three classes (89 pupils) were assigned to the control group. Pupils in the intervention group received a 10-session positive education programme delivered by their teachers who received training in positive psychology from the researchers. The programme consisted of three main modules, namely understanding emotions, fostering positive emotions, and managing negative emotions. Each session lasted 45 minutes. Pupils in the control group spent the same time taking a moral education class that covered moral character, school discipline and class culture building.
Pupils completed online assessments (a Chinese version of the
PROMIS paediatric scale) measuring depressive symptoms before and after the
intervention. The study found that:
The level of depressive symptoms for pupils in both groups increased as measured by the post-test.
However, compared to the pupils in the control group, the increase in the level of depressive symptoms of pupils in the intervention group was significantly less.
The authors suggest that compared to correcting pupils’ behaviours,
positive interventions which keep pupils intrinsically motivated could also
help pupils improve their life in an effective way.
education interventions prevent depression in Chinese adolescents (June 2019), Frontiers in Psychology, volume 10
Test anxiety can have negative impacts on pupils’ performance and psychological health. This study published in PLoS One examined whether expressive writing could be beneficial to alleviate test anxiety. Lujun Shen and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial among high school pupils in China who were facing The National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gaokao), which is considered a crucial exam.
The study randomly selected 200 pupils (aged 16-17) from three high schools in Xinxiang city. Pupils were first assessed for eligibility. A sample of 75 pupils was recruited into the study for having a high level of test anxiety. Next, 38 of the pupils were allocated into an expressive writing group, and 37 of them were allocated to a control writing group. Pupils in the expressive writing group were instructed to write for 20 minutes about the positive emotions they had each day, consecutively for 30 days. Pupils in the control writing group were instructed to write about their daily activities consecutively for the same period of time.
Pupils were assessed using the Test Anxiety Scale (TAS)
during the recruitment (late April), and after the end of the writing (early
June). The study also analysed summaries of the writing manuscripts of the 38
expressive writing group pupils for qualitative data. The findings were as
The expressive writing group scored
significantly lower than the control writing group in the Test Anxiety Scale
There were no significant gender differences in
the post-test TAS scores.
Qualitative analysis of the writing found more
elements of positive emotion in the last ten days of expressive writing
compared to the first ten days among the expressive writing group.
The authors suggest that expressive writing is an easy,
inexpensive, and convenient method to cope with anxiety because it does not
require a psychological counsellor nor a specific location.
of expressive writing in reducing test anxiety: A randomized controlled trial
in Chinese samples (February 2018), PLoS
School climate includes factors that serve as conditions for learning, and support physical and emotional safety, connection, support and engagement, as the US Department of Education suggests. In this study published in School Psychology Quarterly, George Bear and colleagues examined how pupils in China and the US perceive school climate differently and how it relates to their engagement in schools.
A total of 3,716 Chinese pupils from 18 schools in Guangzhou and
4,085 American pupils from 15 schools in Delaware were compared in the study.
All schools were suburban schools or urban schools. The sample of American pupils
was randomly selected from a larger dataset consisting of 37,255 pupils
prepared by the Delaware Department of Education to match the pupil numbers of
the Chinese pupil sample. Pupils who participated in this study were from
grades 3–5 (Years 4–6), 7–8 (Years 8–9), and 10–12 (Years 11–13). Grade 6 (Year
7) and grade 9 (Year 10) were excluded from this study since pupils in these
two grades were placed in different levels in Chinese and American schools.
Pupils were compared in their perceptions of school climate, which
included teacher-pupil relations, pupil-pupil relations, fairness of school
rules, clarity of behavioural expectations, respect for diversity, school
safety, engagement school-wide, and bullying school-wide. Pupils’ engagement
was measured by the Delaware Student Engagement Scale. The findings showed:
Chinese pupils perceived all aspects of school
climate significantly more positively than American pupils during middle school
and high (secondary) school.
The difference was smaller in elementary (primary)
schools, with no significant differences for fairness of rules, clarity of
behavioural expectations and school safety.
US pupils’ engagement was greater in
elementary schools, while Chinese pupils reported greater emotional engagement
in middle and high schools.
A significant relation between school climate
and engagement was found for American pupils but not Chinese pupils.
The authors suggest that the findings might encourage schools to
develop and promote those social-emotional competencies, values and norms which
have been shown to underlie the high academic achievement of Chinese pupils in
addition to school climate.
in school climate and student engagement in China and the United States (June
2018), School Psychology Quarterly, Vol
Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China.
study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and
eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi
province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups.
Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need
them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils
in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses
usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the
school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control
group increased from 28% to 50%.
questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised
exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in
International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout
rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:
the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased
their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils
who already had glasses at baseline.
glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools
(instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own
glasses at baseline.
Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631
A discussion paper from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics reports on a randomised controlled trial to improve teacher-pupil-parent feedback in a rural area of central China with a large proportion of left-behind children (children who have both parents working in cities, and are living away from home).
W Stanley Siebert and colleagues collected data from over 4,000 primary school children (Years 4 and 6) over two school terms, which included academic scores from standardised tests. One class from each year group in each school was randomly chosen to be in the feedback group. In these classes, all pupils received bi-weekly feedback from their teachers on their schoolwork and behaviour. Additionally, one-third of pupils in these classes were randomly selected to also have their bi-weekly feedback sent to their parents.
The results suggest that feedback does have a positive
effect on improving maths and language scores for both left-behind and non-left
behind children. In maths, there was an effect size of +0.16 standard
deviations in Year 4 and +0.20 standard deviations in Year 6. For language the
effect size was +0.09 standard deviations for Year 4 and +0.20 standard
deviations for Year 6. When feedback was
communicated to parents the achievement gains were larger for younger
left-behind children than for non-left behind children. For left-behind
children in Year 4 there was an additional +0.30 standard deviations
improvement in maths.
feedback, parent-teacher communication, and academic performance: Experimental
evidence from rural China (February 2018), IZA
Institute of Labor Economics
A study published in Reading Research Quarterly examined the effects of installing an in-class library providing students with age-appropriate books on student reading outcomes and achievements in rural China.
Most previous studies of the effects of
age-appropriate books have been conducted in developed regions. However, in
rural China, not only are age-appropriate reading materials scarce, but
schools, teachers, and parents believe independent reading will negatively
affect students’ performance on high-stakes college entrance exams.
To examine the actual effects in rural China, Hongmei Yi and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial including 11,083 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 120 schools in Jiangxi province in China. In the treatment schools, an in-class library stocked with 70 extracurricular books was installed in each classroom. The books were carefully selected based on recommendations of reading specialists and educators. Students received a baseline survey before the intervention and a follow-up survey after eight months of the intervention. Besides asking students about their attitudes toward reading and reading habits, students’ performance in Chinese language and maths was evaluated, and an assessment made of their reading skills using test items from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). They found that:
The in-class library significantly improved students’ reading habits after eight months. Students borrowed books more, read more, enjoyed reading more, and communicated more with their friends about reading.
There were no significant effects on students’ performance in maths and Chinese, despite the beliefs in China’s highly competitive system that independent reading would lower test scores.
However, there was no significant effect on students’ reading achievement.
The authors suggest that the lack of positive effects might be due to the book choices, short duration of the programme, and the fact that tasks were not assigned to teachers regarding the use of the in-class libraries. They suggest that the results highlight the importance of providing age-appropriate reading resources to primary students in rural China.
Source: Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In‐Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China, (March 2019) Reading Research Quarterly