Thursday, August 25, 2016

Conquering the Freshman Fear of Failure

Two easy interventions help at-risk students from dropping out of college:

Regardless of their credentials, many freshmen doubt that they have the necessary brainpower or social adeptness to succeed in college. This fear of failing hits poor, minority and first-generation college students especially hard. If they flunk an exam, or a professor doesn't call on them, their fears about whether they belong may well be confirmed. The cycle of doubt becomes self-reinforcing, and students are more likely to drop out.

The good news is that this dismal script can be rewritten. Several recent research projects show that, with the right nudge, students can acquire ways of thinking that helps them thrive.

In a large-scale experiment at an unnamed school I'll call Flagship State, incoming freshmen read upperclassmen's accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life. The accounts explained that, while the upperclassmen initially felt snubbed by their classmates and intimidated by their professors, their lives started turning around when they reached out to their instructors and began to make friends.

…Other freshmen were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn't a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work. They were exposed to what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a growth, rather than a fixed, mind-set. This shift can be transformative; as Dr. Dweck explained, "the view of intelligence that you adopt for yourself shapes your educational experience."

…What's more, the impact of this brief intervention may be lifelong. A follow-up investigation, still in the works, finds that in the initial stage of their careers these students are faring better professionally and personally.

The field of education is littered with fine ideas that never go beyond the hothouse of the lab. But this simple strategy has been shown to work wholesale. What's more, it's cheap. The experience takes place online, and so it costs next to nothing to have students go through it.

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