Fostering Self-Worth

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Science  03 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6166, pp. 8
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6166.8-c

First-generation college students, where neither parent received a 4-year college degree, tend to perform more poorly and have higher dropout rates than continuing-generation students, who have at least one parent with a 4-year degree. Harackiewicz et al. hypothesized that offering first-generation students the chance to remind themselves of their personal values—for example, creativity, career aspirations, or the desire to be independent—may help them to foster their self-worth and thus lead to an improvement in performance and to lower dropout rates. The authors used the values affirmation (VA) intervention, which involves students writing about their most important values, on 798 U.S. students (154 first-generation) in an introductory biology course. Before taking biology tests, students in the VA group were instructed to circle the values most important to them among 12 given values, whereas students in the control group were asked to circle the values least important to them. The VA intervention narrowed the achievement gap between first- and continuing-generation students by 50% and increased retention of first-generation students by 20%. Thus, interventions that change the mindset of students are powerful and can complement interventions that focus on changing the learning environment.

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