Whilst there is a lot said about resilience in life generally, little specific research exists on academic resilience. Some students can become debilitated by academic stress and pressure whilst others thrive on it. There is also seemingly no direct correlation between ability to cope and natural academic ability. Some students may not perform as well in assessments but do not buckle. Others may be high achievers but suffer from stress and anxiety around their academics. Academic resilience could be thought of as effectively dealing with academic stress, setbacks and pressure.
Developing academic resilience is a complex issue involving three factors. First, identifying the facets affecting academic resilience, second determining each facet’s relative contribution and third addressing them with students for effective improvement.
Some studies (Martin, 2003a, 2003b) define academic resilience as comprising a series of positive (boosters) and negative (guzzlers) influences.
Self-belief – a student’s belief and confidence to do well in schoolwork
Value of schooling – students see value and relevance in what they learn
Learning focus – a student’s focus on being the best they can
Planning – how a student plans and keeps track of assessment and progress
Study Management – how a student manages their study time
Persistence – how much a student is willing to keep trying when faced with a difficult task
Low control – when a student is unsure about how to do well or avoid doing poorly
Self-sabotage – when a student deliberately does not try their best so they can have an excuse for doing poorly
Failure avoidance – when a student only works to avoid disappointing others or to do poorly or be seen to do poorly
Anxiety – There are two aspects. Feeling nervous (uneasy feeling when thinking about schoolwork) and worries (fear about not doing well in schoolwork).
Martin’s research was conducted with 289 girls and 115 boys. He used statistical processes to allow the measurement of each effect to be viewed independently of the others. What he found was that of the boosters, self-belief and persistence were most strongly related to resilience. Of the guzzlers, anxiety, failure avoidance and low control were most closely related to resilience.
He then looked at the contribution of each effect. The strongest predictors of academic resilience (in order) were low anxiety, high self-belief, persistence and then control. This has implications for how teachers teach. By targeting each of these areas specifically rather than looking at offering generalised support, Girls Grammar can make more of a difference. Specific areas we target are summarised below.
Reducing Students’ Anxiety
Fear of failure is an underpinning factor in anxiety. Teachers and students address this in several ways.
1. Promoting a classroom culture of cooperation
2. Promoting personal best efforts and self-improvement
3. Encouraging acceptance of mistakes as a tool for learning (growth mindset)
4. Viewing success as personal improvement rather than outperforming others
5. Relaxation techniques leading into periods of assessment
Increasing Students’ Self-belief
1. Restructuring learning to maximise opportunities for success
a. Break schoolwork into components to allow for successes along the way
b. Individualising tasks
2. Students can challenge negative thinking by:
a. Observing their automatic thoughts when they receive an assessment or
grade. “I only got a C on this assignment.”
b. Looking for evidence that challenges that negative thinking. “A C standard
actually says that I am performing at the level expected of someone my age.”
c. Challenging those negative thoughts with the evidence. “Actually, I did OK.
I am performing at the level that I am supposed to be. Next time I can try for a
Enhancing Students’ Control
By allowing a student to have some control over their schooling empowers them to take positive responsibility.
1. Teachers give students some choice over the lesson objectives
2. Teachers provide feedback that makes it very clear how a student can improve
3. The school makes rules behind rewards (such as academic colours) clear and
transparent. Inconsistent rules around rewards create uncertainty and confusion.
Increasing Student Persistence
Teachers and students:
1. Promote a focus on mastering content and skills
2. Demonstrate how effort and focused strategy are effective ways to improve
3. Encouraging S.M.A.R.T. academic goal setting
4. Showing students how to break schoolwork and assignments into manageable
5. For the components in 4, to know how to do each part, review it and overcome
Martin, A.J. (2003a). How to motivate your child for school and beyond. Sydney: Bantam.
Martin, A.J. (2003b). The Student Motivation Scale: Further testing of an instrument that measures school students’ motivation. Australian Journal of Education, 47, 88-106.
Dr John Fry
Deputy Principal - Studies