Tuesday, June 28, 2011


On my recent drive back from Madison I was listening to a show entitled "Healthy Minds" as part of the "On Being" program from NPR. At that moment I really missed my co-pilot. I once knew a girl who would have loved to listen to that episode, and I would have loved to hear her opinion. The focus of the hour was on Richard Davidson, and in part his work teaching kindergarteners in Madison how to meditate. I know, sounds wacky. But if you think about it, much of our modern education concerns stuff we want students to know. Yet very little time - if any - is spent on how we might make it easier for students to know and learn the stuff we want them too. For example, I was recently sent this paper: Social-Psychological Interventions in Education:They’re Not Magic
Recent randomized experiments have found that seemingly “small” socialpsychological interventions in education—that is, brief exercises that target students’ thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in and about school—can lead to large gains in student achievement and sharply reduce achievement gaps even months and years later. These interventions do not teach students academic content but instead target students’ psychology, such as their beliefs that they have the potential to improve their intelligence or that they belong and are valued in school. When social-psychological interventions have lasting effects, it can seem surprising and even “magical,” leading people either to think of them as quick fixes to complicated problems or to consider them unworthy of serious consideration. The present article discourages both responses. It reviews the theoretical basis of several prominent social-psychological interventions and emphasizes that they have lasting effects because they target students’ subjective experiences in school, because they use persuasive yet stealthy methods for conveying psychological ideas, and because they tap into recursive processes present in educational environments. By understanding psychological interventions as powerful but context-dependent tools, educational researchers will be better equipped to take them to scale. This review concludes by discussing challenges to scaling psychological interventions and how these challenges may be overcome.
Some examples include having students who demonstrate test anxiety, write the fears on paper, before taking the exam. It has the effect of helping them reduce their anxiety - let it go - and improves their test scores dramatically. Richard Davidson also talked about how people can make themselves happy. The brain as it turns out has a great deal of plasticity. And it is within our capacity to alter it.

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