If I told you there was a research-based, well proven strategy that was low cost, took little time and energy to implement that would greatly improve student concentration, focus and achievement, would you do it?
The answer seems pretty obvious, yet the approach may be controversial and challenge your long held beliefs and attitudes.
For years many of us have held on to the conviction that
“I will be happy when…….(insert: get a job, get married, have a family, have a holiday, retire)”.
We have believed that happiness follows success.
Shawn Achors’ The Happiness Advantage, quotes research after research that turns this belief on its head.
And not just in a ‘it feels better’ kind of way, but in measurable, important ways like increased productivity and performance.
It turns out that the more positive and upbeat you are; the better chance you have of being successful in a myriad of different ways.
In one study of doctors to test their ability to make speedy, accurate diagnoses, one group who was given a positive experience prior to the test.
This group were twice as fast and more accurate in making diagnoses than the control group, displaying greater creativity and flexibility in their thinking.
In studies with students, a group of four-year olds were told to think of a happy experience before completing a set of tasks.
This group outperformed the control group in both speed and accuracy.
Carol Dweck’s work on growth and fixed mindset also demonstrates the impact of teacher belief on student achievement.
In numerous studies she proved that when teachers believe that ability is a moveable feast and can be improved through effort and determination, students achieve better results.
In her book, Mindset: How You Can Achieve Your Potential, Dweck tells of a researcher by the name of Falko Rheinberg, who studied how students’ academic achievement and progress is influenced by the teachers’ mindset about intellectual ability.
What he discovered was that when teachers believe that ability is fixed, the students end the year at the same level as when they began the year i.e. if students were in the bottom group at the beginning of the year, then they were in the bottom group at the end of the year.
When teachers taught with a growth mindset, it didn’t matter where the students began, all students progressed and developed to a much higher degree.
There was much more movement between ability groups as students learned and improved.
Prolific research shows that happy, positive people are more successful, more focused, more alert and better problem solvers. Positive emotions help the brain to function more productively.
They help us to be more creative when dealing with problems.
When we apply these happiness advantage principles to the classroom we can improve student performance in a multitude of ways and the process is not onerous.
We could help students be more successful by:
1. Training the brain to focus by increasing positive emotions before beginning a lesson or tasks. Greet your students at the door to establish the tone of the day. Set your students up for success (and yourself!) by beginning lessons with affirming comments (‘Lovely to see you all here!’ ‘All of you did some great work last lesson!’ ‘What a beautiful day!’) and use humour and personality to create an optimistic classroom environment. Have a check in with students at the beginning of the lesson where every voice is heard. You could start the lesson with ‘What is the best thing that has happened to you since the last lesson/yesterday?’ See How to build a positive classroom culture.
2. Convey confidence in your students. Let students know that you believe in them and speak positively about students to other staff. If you know that a task is particularly difficult, tell the students, but also let them know that you are sure they will do well if they work hard. Develop rapport with students through non-verbal signals such as smiling and nodding to give encouragement. Want more? Read here about high expectations for your students.
3. Give students a shot of positivity before beginning new learning, task or test. Priming them before you begin will increase their likelihood of success. Instead of waiting to give the praise afterwards, give it beforehand to improve performance, to put them in the right frame of mind to learn, perform or execute tasks.
4. Help students see the purpose and meaning behind learning tasks. And there is meaning to be found in even the most menial tasks! I vividly remember a young guy who worked at the local supermarket checkout. He put his heart and soul into making every interaction with his customers enjoyable because he was so friendly and cheery and he made customers feel better just because he served them. I found it impossible not to tell him how wonderful it was to see someone so happy at their job! You can help your students see the relevance and meaning of learning by being creative and instilling in them a sense of pride and encouraging students to look for meaning.
5. Develop a growth mindset in students by praising them for effort and achievement rather than ability or talent. Reinforce them for ‘having a go’ and persistence when a task is difficult rather than for getting everything correct. Let them know that learning something new is often hard, and that they have already learnt lots of hard things. There are things that they once thought they would never be able to do that they now take for granted.