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Some thoughts About Returning to School and Learning

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

It’s the middle of August and students across the nation are returning to their schools and colleges. This provokes a lot of anxiety for students and their families. The end of summer means a change in daily routine. Everyone has to get up earlier in order to be in school on time. In preparation for school people buy pens, pencils, notebooks, paper and computers. However, there are additional concerns that arise in everyone’s mind both at the start of school and all the way through the year. Those concerns and anxieties have to do with learning and achievement. Simply stated, there are many students who believe they are not good students and cannot do well in school. Studies show that academic performance has a lot to do with attitudes and beliefs towards one’s self.

In one study students were arranged into two groups. Students in each group were matched for their IQ scores and over all grade achievement until that point in their education.  One group was told that their intelligence was fixed for life and nothing could change it. The other group was told that intelligence was flexible and could change with study. Those who were told their intelligence was fixed and unchanging rejected the offer of tutoring in math and science because they were convinced they could score no higher than grade C or worse in their studies. Those who were told that their intelligence was flexible accepted tutoring because they were convinced they could be helped to score a higher grades. It was the attitude and belief about themselves that determined who could accept tutoring and who would not. This is an example of the “self fulfilling prophesy that if you do not believe you can do something then you will not.

In another set of studies it was found that having students write about their worries prior to taking a test actually helped them improve their scores. Those who improved most were those who characteristically worry a lot about an upcoming test. It was found that the content of what student wrote about that was especially important. As such, writing helps reduce stress when students write about their test anxieties and worries. It was also found that having youngsters list the things that are most important to them improved or affirmed positive self beliefs and, therefore, their academic performance. For instance, listing the importance of family, friends and why success is important to them, freed up their memory so that they could focus on the immediate school challenge at hand.

The point is that these are anxiety relieving techniques that anyone can use. People can learn to perform up to their full ability at school if they start out with a set of positive beliefs about their ability to learn and if they find ways to reduce performance anxieties as listed here.

All students should understand that everyone fails or score poorly sometimes. The notion that “I failed that test” is far different from the notion that “I am a failure.” It’s what you tell yourself that is most important.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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