Andrew Martin

How to predict if an immigrant student will succeed – and what you can do to help

Many nations around the world have seen a steep rise in the size of their immigrant
populations, including their immigrant student populations. How educators respond to this
plays a big part in how immigrant students adjust to and thrive at school. There are many
success stories, but there continues to be immigrant students who underachieve, leave school early, and lose critical post-school education opportunities.

Immigrants have and will continue to play a major role in our nation’s social and economic
potential and so there is an ongoing need for research that identifies how to better help
immigrant students navigate the academic challenges facing them and support their academic

Our study

A recent study published in the international journal, Learning and Instruction, sought to do this. It applied the “academic and cultural demands-resources” (ACD-R) framework to investigate the academic, personal, and ethno-cultural factors that impact immigrant students’ academic success at school. The study harnessed the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (2018) data of immigrant students in Australia and New Zealand, two nations that have traditionally been “settlement countries”, receiving migrants to live, work, and raise their families. PISA is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old school students’ motivation, engagement, and academic performance in mathematics, science, and reading.

What is the ACD-R Framework?

Before looking at the study and its findings, a brief introduction to the ACD-R framework is in order. The ACD-R framework draws on “job demands-resources” (JD-R) theory and the “academic-demands resources” (AD-R) framework. As an introduction to the ACD-R framework we’ll describe the AD-R framework and refer the reader to other literature explaining the JD-R theory. 

Academic demands are aspects of learning or the learning context that can impede students’ academic development (for example, poor quality instruction, a heavy study load). Academic resources are features of learning or learning contexts that help students attain academic goals and growth (for example, instructional support, positive teacher-student relationship). In the AD-R framework there are also personal demands that are personal attributes acting as barriers to students’ academic development (for example, fear of failure, fixed mindset). There are also personal resources that are personal attributes positively impacting academic outcomes (for example, adaptability, academic buoyancy). 

The ACD-R framework is an extension of the AD-R framework in that it adds ethno-cultural demands and resources to the AD-R framework’s academic and personal demands and resources. Cultural demands are ethno-cultural contextual and/or personal challenges experienced by students from culturally and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds (for example, racism at school) and are associated with negative academic outcomes. Cultural resources are ethno-cultural contextual and/or personal strengths or assets (for example, cultural pride or confidence) that are associated with positive academic outcomes for students from culturally/ethnically diverse backgrounds. 

In the AD-R and ACD-R frameworks, demands and resources can also have buffering and boosting effects. Taking buffering effects as a case in point, there may be some cultural resources that reduce (buffer) the negative impacts of demands. For example, cultural pride (a cultural resource) may reduce the stressful effects of poor-quality teaching (an academic demand). 

Figure 1 shows the ACD-R framework.

Importantly, the AD-R and ACD-R frameworks aim to challenge potential deficit framing of students by locating their personal resources as central to their academic development. They also aim to reallocate the task of academic development from the disproportionate or sole responsibility of students (which risks “blaming the victim”) by emphasising the major role of contextual demands and resources in students’ academic outcomes.

Figure 1. The Academic and Cultural Demands-Resources (ACD-R) Framework

The study participants

Our study comprised 4,886 immigrant students from Australia (3,329) and New Zealand (1,557) who participated in the PISA (2018) survey. The average age of students was 15-16 years. Just over half were first-generation immigrants who had arrived in the country between the ages of 8 and 9 years; the other immigrant students were second generation (born in Australia/New Zealand and whose parents were both born overseas).

Assessing the Demands and Resources Framework

The central measures in the study were online PISA survey items about academic demands and resources, personal demands and resources, cultural demands and resources—as well as academic motivation, academic outcomes, and background attributes.

Academic demands were assessed via ‘learning-disrupted teaching’ (students’ experience of chaotic or disruptive learning and teaching conditions; sample item, “Students don’t listen to what the teacher says”). Academic resources were measured by ‘autonomy-supportive teaching’, ‘instrumental-supportive teaching’, and ‘warmth-supportive teaching’ (students’ experience of teaching that provided autonomy support, instrumental support, and relatedness support or warmth, for example, “The teacher listened to my view on how to do things”).

Personal demands were assessed via ‘fear of failure’ and ‘fixed mindset’ (students’ concerns about failure and their view that competence is relatively fixed, for example, “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much”). Personal resources were assessed through ‘perspective-taking’ and ‘adaptability’ (students’ ability to see others’ point of view and capacity to adjust in the face of change and uncertainty, for example, “I can change my behavior to meet the needs of new situations”). 

Cultural demands were assessed via ‘discrimination’ (negative orientations to and treatment of people from different ethno-cultural groups in the school, for example, “Teachers … say negative things about people of some cultural groups”). Cultural resources included ‘cultural communication skills’, ‘cultural interest’, and ‘cultural confidence’ (students’ capacity to communicate with other ethno-cultural groups, interest in other ethno-cultural groups, and sense of pride and confidence in their own ethno-cultural group, for example, “I am interested in how people from various cultures see the world”). 

Motivation was assessed via ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘valuing’ (students’ belief in their capacity to attain desired academic outcomes and their belief in the utility and importance of what they learn, for example, “Trying hard at school will help me get a good job”). 

Outcomes comprised two measures of engagement—‘persistence’ and ‘non-attendance’ (perseverance towards task completion and skipping school, for example, “Once I start a task, I persist until it is finished”). Outcomes also included ‘achievement’ (performance on the PISA mathematics, science, reading tests). 

In all our analyses we accounted (controlled) for student background characteristics (such as gender, home socio-economic status) and school characteristics (such as school staff/student ratio, school location).

Our findings

For this sample of immigrant students, our topline findings were that demands predicted lower motivation, resources predicted higher motivation, and motivation predicted positive academic outcomes. 

That said, of particular interest were the specific demands and resources that were salient in the study—and we turn to these findings now.

The first of these was that the cultural demands and resources played a more prominent role in predicting motivation and outcomes than the academic demands and resources. With regard to cultural demands, discrimination was associated with lower valuing, higher non-attendance, and lower achievement. With regard to cultural resources, cultural communication skills and cultural confidence were positively associated with both self-efficacy and valuing, while cultural interest was linked to higher self-efficacy.

For personal demands and resources, adaptability was the factor that stood out. It was associated with higher self-efficacy (in fact, the largest effect size in the study) and valuing. Indeed, adaptability was also the only resource that featured in the ACD-R buffering/boosting process: results indicated that when immigrant students experienced discrimination at school, adaptability was important for boosting their academic valuing in the face of this.

Ideas for action

The ACD-R framework lends well to targeted practical action. Here we focus on the salient cultural and personal demands and resources in the study: discrimination, cultural communication skills, cultural interest, cultural confidence, and adaptability.

To address cultural demands (discrimination), it is important that:

  • Teachers act as positive role models in their interactions with immigrant students, showing respectful and inclusive behaviour that sets an example for other students to emulate, and nurtures an inclusive and harmonious classroom environment 
  • Schools establish clear definitions and guidelines regarding intercultural relations and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, including helping teachers and students know what racism is, defining racism, having clear processes for reporting racism in the school, and being clear about anti-discrimination legislation that schools and staff are bound by
  • Pre-service teacher training and ongoing professional development includes modules and in-servicing on cultural sensitivity, intercultural communication, and strategies for creating an inclusive classroom environment. 

To promote cultural resources (cultural communication skills, cultural interest, cultural confidence), educators can:

  • Teach oral communication skills, non-verbal and visual communication, active listening, and contextual communication to help immigrant students better express themselves and be better understood
  • Inspire two-way interest among immigrant and non-immigrant students by enhancing intrinsic value, such as by identifying the importance of learning more about someone or something from another culture
  • Affirm students’ cultural identity, meaningfully involve immigrant students’ cultural community at school, and ensure appropriate representation of staff from culturally and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds. 

For adaptability, students can be taught how to: 

  • Adjust cognition by thinking about a new situation in a different way (for example, considering the opportunities a new situation might offer)
  • Modify behaviour by seeking out new or more resources or information (for example., asking a teacher to help with a new situation).

To conclude

Our study of immigrant high school students has demonstrated that including cultural demands and resources alongside academic and personal factors accounts for important aspects of their motivation, engagement, and achievement—and has potential to add to practical directions for optimising immigrant students’ academic outcomes through school and beyond. 

From left to right: Andrew Martin is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods. Rebecca Collie is Scientia Associate Professor in Educational and Developmental Psychology at the University of NSW. Her research interests focus on motivation and well-being among students and teachers, psychosocial experiences at school, and quantitative research methods. Lars Erik-Malmberg is Professor in Education at the University of Oxford. His research interests are in quantitative research methods and students’ academic development.

It’s a No-Brainer: Beginning Teachers Should Learn About the Brain

Universities around the world train professionals to support children and young people’s academic and social-emotional development. A lot of this training is about the brain. Paediatricians, for example, learn much about the biochemistry of the child’s brain. Endocrinologists learn a lot about the brain’s role in adolescent psycho-physical development. Developmental neuropsychologists learn about the brain’s neural structure. Occupational and speech therapists learn about neuroplasticity. For teachers, it is the human memory system that is central to what they do—especially for how they develop and deliver instruction. The recent Strong Beginnings report has quite rightly recommended that initial teacher education include core content related to the “brain and learning”.

The Human Memory System Goes to School

The human memory system—especially working and long-term memory—is central to how we learn (Baddeley, 2012). Working memory is the space for information that students are currently and consciously aware of, and where they focus their attention in the moment. Long-term memory is where information is stored for later retrieval and application by the student (such as when they attempt to solve a problem, or answer a question). Working memory is very limited in capacity and duration—just a few items of information for about 15-30 seconds. Long-term memory has vast storage capacity. When information moves from working memory to long-term memory, we can say that it has been learnt. 

Where Do Teachers Fit?

The task for teachers is to develop and deliver instruction in a way that accommodates the limits of students’ working memory and harnesses the vast potential of long-term memory. According to cognitive load theory (a major theory of instruction; Sweller, 2012), teachers do this by managing two types of load on students as they learn: intrinsic cognitive load and extraneous cognitive load. Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the burden put on learners by way of difficult subject material, syllabus content, and learning activities. Extraneous cognitive load refers to the burden put on learners by way of unnecessarily complex, confusing, and unclear instruction. 

If there is too much cognitive burden on students, their working memory becomes overloaded and only part (or none!) of the information will be encoded to long-term memory. That is, the student does not learn. Effective instruction reduces cognitive load on students, eases the burden on working memory, and maximises the opportunity to encode information to long-term memory. Load reduction instruction (LRI; Martin, 2016, 2023; Martin & Evans, 2018) has been developed as a practice framework for putting key tenets of cognitive load theory into action.

Load Reduction Instruction

LRI is an instructional approach to help teachers manage the cognitive burden on students as they learn—especially when students are learning something new or difficult. LRI has five key principles as shown in Figure 1. The first four principles are:

  • Principle #1: Reduce the difficulty of instruction in the initial stages of learning, as appropriate to the learner’s level of prior knowledge and skill; 
  • Principle #2: Provide appropriate support and scaffolding to learn relevant knowledge and skill; 
  • Principle #3: Allow sufficient opportunity for practice; 
  • Principle #4: Provide appropriate feedback-feedforward (combination of corrective information and specific improvement-oriented guidance) as needed.

Figure 1

Load Reduction Instruction (LRI) Framework – adapted with permission from Martin (2016)

These first four principles are quite linear, systematic, and structured approaches aimed at easing the burden on students’ working memory in the initial stages of learning (when they are novices)—so they can successfully encode the information to long-term memory. 

Then, when teachers are satisfied students have learnt the necessary information, principle #5 comes into play: 

  • Principle #5: Guided independent learning.

Independent learning is appropriate at this point because students no longer benefit so much from highly structured approaches once they have acquired fundamental knowledge and skill (the “expertise reversal effect”; Kalyuga, 2007). They now benefit from more open, problem-solving, inquiry-oriented approaches. 

The Brain as a Basis for Building Pedagogical Bridges

In fact, the fifth principle of LRI is where explicit and constructivist instructional approaches can be drawn together. That is, once the teacher has provided sufficient difficulty reduction, instructional support, practice, and feedback-feedforward for students to learn requisite knowledge and skill, more exploratory and inquiry-oriented independence is beneficial for students’ further learning and development. 

Teachers’ knowledge of the human memory system is thus essential for capitalising on the pedagogical opportunities afforded by explicit and constructivist approaches to instruction. When they understand and teach to the human memory system, gone is the false dichotomy of positivism (e.g., explicit instruction) and constructivism (e.g., discovery learning) that has plagued initial teacher education for decades: as far as the human memory system is concerned, the success of one instructional approach is inextricably tied to the success of the other. 

To the extent that core content in initial teacher education focuses on the learner’s brain and helps beginning teachers understand the human memory system and their part to play in this, bring it on. 

Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.

It would be so much better if we taught two ways. Here’s why

From one school year to the next, students experience an escalation in the amount and difficulty of schoolwork. 

Researchers have tried to identify instructional approaches which would  reduce the cognitive burden on students, especially when they are in the early stages of learning—such as when they start a new academic year, a new subject, a new topic, etc. (Martin & Evans, 2018). 

Cognitive load theory (CLT) has outlined major tenets of instruction that can help manage the cognitive burden on students as they learn (Sweller, 2012). Drawing on key ideas under CLT, a recent practice-oriented instructional framework was developed—referred to as “load reduction instruction” (LRI; Martin, 2016). 

LRI is a pedagogical approach seeking to balance explicit instruction with independent learning as appropriate to the learner’s level of knowledge and skill. Through this balance, the cognitive load on students is eased as they learn. 

LRI has been examined in STEM classrooms, with results showing it is associated with positive academic outcomes in mathematics (Martin & Evans, 2018) and in science (Martin et al., 2020). In a new study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology (Martin et al., 2023), we expanded this research to the non-STEM domain by investigating LRI in English classrooms. 

What is load reduction instruction (LRI)?

LRI’s principles have been developed to accommodate students’ working memory and long-term memory (Martin & Evans, 2018). Working memory is a space for information that students are consciously and currently aware of, and where they focus their present attention (Baddeley, 2012). Working memory is very limited in duration and capacity—e.g., a retention of around three to five  items (Cowan, 2010). In contrast, long-term memory has substantial duration and capacity. Long-term memory is where information is encoded so it can be retrieved later (Baddeley, 2012). 

Learning is said to occur when information is moved from working memory and encoded in long-term memory (Sweller, 2012), for later retrieval and use. 

If students’ working memory is over-burdened, they are at risk of misunderstanding the content, falling behind in the lesson, or learning only part of the necessary knowledge or skill. Given this, researchers have suggested that explicit instruction should be applied in the early stages of learning to reduce the cognitive burden on students when they are novices (Mayer, 2004). Then, as students develop the necessary knowledge and skill, they move to more independent learning (Kalyuga, 2007). LRI adopts these guidelines to comprise the following five principles (see Figure 1):

  • Principle #1: Difficulty reduction in the initial stages of learning, as appropriate to the learner’s level of prior knowledge and skill
  • Principle #2: Support and scaffolding
  • Principle #3: Structured practice
  • Principle #4: Feedback-feedforward, combining corrective information with specific improvement-oriented guidance 
  • Principle #5: Guided independent application

Figure 1. Load Reduction Instruction (LRI) Framework – adapted with permission from Martin (2016).

Extending LRI to English

There is a  reason for the early focus on maths for LRI research. Maths is taught in a highly sequenced way, where each task escalates in difficulty. That particular set of attributes was considered a good initial test for the sequenced and scaffolded instructional approaches for which LRI argues.

Following “proof of concept” in mathematics (Martin & Evans, 2018), the focus moved to science because it was considered a highly challenging (cognitively burdensome) subject for many students and also amenable to sequenced linear, structured, and scaffolded instruction—such as LRI (Martin et al., 2020). Both sets of studies confirmed the five principles of LRI in mathematics and science and significant links between LRI and students’ motivation, engagement, and achievement. 

These were promising findings so researchers sought to explore LRI in non-STEM subjects — especially in subjects where challenging tasks can be less well-defined and relatively more unstructured, such as in English, where it can be harder to sequence an escalation in difficulty, than in mathematics, for example. In our new study we explored LRI in English (and mathematics). 

Our Study Methods

Participants were 1,773 high school students and their teachers in 94 English and 93 mathematics classrooms. Students were in years seven to 10, with an average age of 14 years. Nearly 60 per cent of the cohort were boys. Just over 60 per cent of the schools were single sex, all in independent schools in NSW. In both English and mathematics, women comprised just over 60 per cent of the teachers. Average years of experience for English teachers was 13 years and for mathematics teachers was 15 years. In English and mathematics classrooms, we administered: the Load Reduction Instruction Scale – Short (LRIS-S; Martin et al., 2020) to students and teachers (a survey tool capturing the five LRI principles in a classroom); a measure of students’ prior learning; students’ effort by way of the Effort Scale – Short (Nagy et al., 2022); and students’ achievement in each subject via an achievement test.

What Did We Find?

We found that student- and teacher-reports of LRI practices were associated with greater student effort and achievement in English and in mathematics. The findings extend prior research in STEM subjects by showing there are also academic benefits in English when load reduction instruction occurs. As described earlier, students with low prior learning need more help to ease cognitive load (Sweller, 2012) and our study confirmed this in both English and mathematics, with teachers mainly doing so via Principle #1 (difficulty reduction).

Concluding Thoughts

For decades there has been some tension between predominantly explicit instructional approaches and predominantly constructivist approaches (Tobias & Duffy, 2009). 

Our findings suggest that framing the two as mutually exclusive may impede student learning. Under LRI, both are compatible, including in English and mathematics: after reducing the burden on working memory via explicit approaches, teachers can encourage students to apply that knowledge and skill in more independent ways as appropriate to their students’ levels of competence (see also Kalyuga, 2007). Taken together, our study provides a more comprehensive perspective on LRI as relevant to the subjects and classrooms within which instruction and learning take place.

Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.

Paul Ginns is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Paul uses numerous research methodologies (for example, experimental and survey-based research) and analytic methods, including general linear models, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, structural modelling and meta-analysis, to investigate student learning.

Robin Nagy is a PhD candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of NSW. His PhD focuses on high-school students’ academic effort. Robin has over 25 years’ experience as a teacher and in school leadership, having taught in the UK, Thailand and Australia, and as a Professional Learning Consultant for the Mathematical Association of NSW.

Rebecca Collie, Ph.D., is Scientia Associate Professor in Educational and Developmental Psychology at the University of NSW. Her research interests focus on motivation and well-being among students and teachers, psychosocial experiences at school, and quantitative research methods.

Keiko Bostwick, PhD, is a Research Officer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She specialises in student motivation, teacher and classroom effects, and quantitative research methods.

What makes a culturally nourishing school?

AARE Symposium : The Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project

Dr Keiko Bostwick (UNSW), Associate Professor Kevin Lowe (UNSW), Dr. Greg Vass (Griffith), Professor Annette Woods (QUT), Dr. David Coombs (UNSW), Mrs. Candace Kruger, Dr. Tracy Durksen (UNSW), Dr. Rose Amazan (UNSW), Professor Andrew Martin (UNSW)

It was a full house for this symposium which shared progress and initial insights from the first year of the Culturally Nourishing Schooling (CNS) project – an ambitious, collaborative school reform project involving researchers across a range of institutions with a focus on improving schooling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through deepened connections between schools and First Nations families, educators, and Communities. 

Associate Professor Kevin Lowe commenced the symposium by outlining the impetus behind the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project, drawing together findings from recent Australian research to argue for the establishment of a new model of schooling for Aboriginal Students and Communities. Lowe shared the foundational conceptual underpinnings of the Culturally Nourishing Schooling program – Learning from Country, curriculum workshops, professional learning conversations, culturally nourishing pedagogies and cultural mentoring. Lowe shared how these five integrated, Indigenous and critically informed strategies interlock in a holistic professional learning program to support a whole-school approach to the education of Indigenous students.

Dr Greg Vass  then shared insights from the intensive two-day curriculum workshops for CNS participants in which teachers work with notions Learning from Country and apply different analytical frameworks in their curriculum work. Participants shared how the workshops developed greater critical consciousness and supported teachers to move beyond tokenism in their practice to develop deep and purposeful reflection on knowledge and their own influence.  The workshops represented a hopeful, energising and positive influence for the teachers. 

Paper 3 in the symposium from Professor Annette Woods shared findings from the first culturally nourishing pedagogical cycles undertaken by teachers across eight public schools in New South Wales. This model of locally-designed, research-supported professional learning was designed to engage educators and researchers alongside community educators and Cultural Mentors to shift the relations of pedagogy and curriculum in classrooms. 

Dr Tracy L. Durksen and Dr Rose Amazan then shared another dimension of the CNS project – the use of professional conversations to develop a common language and build a cultural body of knowledge within a Community of Practice amongst researchers and participants. The conversations highlighted the importance of relationality in designing and implementing professional learning with the goal of improving schooling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in ways that are sustainable for communities in the longer term. 

Finally, the symposium concluded with Dr Keiko Bostwick exploring quantitative research on teachers’ self-efficacy for teaching First Nations perspectives and curriculum in their classrooms. Findings from this research demonstrate that participant CNS teachers tended to report significantly higher self-efficacy beliefs for teaching First Nations perspectives than non-CNS teachers within the same schools – demonstrating the exciting potential of the CNS model to influence practice and schooling in the long term. 

Discussant Professor Bob Lingard drew together the presentations in his final reflection – noting that the idea of ‘nourishing’ means the promotion of growth, health and conditions for flourishing. Professor Lingard noted the capacity and potential of the CNS model for the future – in forging powerful relationships between schools, researchers, communities and families in ways that make a meaningful difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students. 

Researchers should try to keep researching during the pandemic. Here’s 5 tips to help you do it

Educational researchers, like many other workers during this COVID-19 pandemic, will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Most have additional teaching responsibilities so currently they will be pedaling fast to convert their teaching to online formats. Many will be juggling new or additional carer duties while working remotely. During this period, and afterwards, it is also likely external and internal research funding will be affected, with many researchers working in a low (or no) funding environment for some time.

We believe it is important, during this period, for researchers to continue with their research programs and to use the time to help develop or refine their research-relevant skillsets.

Experienced researchers, probably already involved in several research projects, will have the expertise to more easily adapt their research to the limitations of being confined to their homes or relatively less funding. And it is not uncommon in any research career to have periods of work away from the workplace or where research funds dry up. But this is a critical time for many researchers, especially research students and early career researchers. The strategies they use and develop now will help them keep their career trajectories intact.

In this article we outline 5 tips for researchers to help them stay research-active while working remotely and while research funding may be thin on the ground. We hope these tips will help researchers maintain their writing momentum and research activity over this period. Importantly, however, the ideas we present here do not substitute for the healthy and ongoing research funding that is ultimately required to tackle important research problems.

1. Research Design

The first thing to consider is research design and whether it needs to be adjusted because of the current social distancing regimes or reduced funding. In fact, this may be the single most important thing to think through in the first instance. Failure to do so may mean research objectives cannot be met and a critical window of data collection is missed. For some it could mean the loss of entire year in the study or research program.

If a shift in research design is needed, a key question is how can research objectives still be met while working remotely and while funding is limited? The research objectives will have been developed through careful reading, contemplation, and consultation so it is important to keep them front and centre as decisions on any changes to research design are made.

For example, some research objectives require longitudinal data from school students and/or teachers in each of (Australia’s) Term 2 (May-July), Term 3, and Term 4 of 2020. If schools are not holding in-person classes in some or all of Term 2, then is it still possible to collect longitudinal data in each of Terms 3 and 4? 

Or, the research context may be adjusted to collect data from students while they are learning remotely from home in Term 2 and then again once they are learning in-class at school. Either of the above considerations will likely also benefit research budgets, as they reduce or eliminate some costs associated with in-person data collection (e.g., travel costs).

Or, the researcher may be able to defer data collection that was planned for 2020 into early 2021 and still stay on track with milestones and timetable.

Shifts in research design of this nature are not unusual at the best of times. Often, approvals from university ethics committees or government departments are delayed, schools drop out from some projects, there is a shift in policy that makes some research issues less topical or timely, funding bodies reduce or remove funding schemes, and so on. Skills developed in adjusting methodology to suit the changing research landscape will be valuable throughout any research career.

Importantly, if research design needs to be adjusted, research students and early career researchers should consult with highly experienced researchers to ensure that the methodological shift will yield reliable and valid data that can directly address the research objectives.

2. Low Hanging Fruit

While working remotely it might be difficult to fire up entirely new research activities and projects. This often requires being on deck in the workplace to harness appropriate infrastructure and personnel to initiate new tasks. It may also be because data collection sites are not accessible during this time. When funding is reduced, it is also difficult to initiate new research projects. Whatever the reason, it is important to audit the “low hanging fruit” that may be available.

There could be essential deskwork tasks that can be done. For example, entering/refining references in an electronic bibliographic database that will eventually need to be imported into the thesis or paper. The format template for a thesis or forthcoming book can be developed ready for material as it is written. An ethics application may be developed and submitted. A survey may be designed. A stockpile of literature can be collected and read. A first draft of an article or thesis chapter can be polished into a second and subsequent draft. A partially completed article can be revisited, completed, and submitted for publication. A vital statistical or qualitative analytic technique may be learned.

For early career researchers, there may be a research article or chapter from the PhD that can be polished and submitted. There may be data from the PhD that have not been analysed and/or written up for publication. For research students whose data collection has been delayed, they may consider publishing a systematic review of the literature gathered for their project.

There are also many secondary datasets, archive materials, policy documents, and so on, that have already been collected/collated and ready for analysis. In our line of research, there is access to PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), and LSAY (Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth), etc. which all have variables that are relevant to our program of educational psychology research. Indeed, this period of remote working and low funding might be an opportunity to become familiar with one of these for-future research opportunities.

It is also not uncommon for a paper in Revise and Resubmit status to languish on the backburner. Now might be the time to summon the emotional and mental energy to engage with those Reviewers! If the deadline for resubmission has passed, contact the Editor to ask about an extension.

3. New Opportunities in (Educational) Research

The shift from in-class learning to remote online learning happened at scale and with great speed. What would have taken years to implement was carried out in a few days and weeks. From a research perspective, it is one of the largest educational experiments ever conducted.

Online learning is a reality of the future of education (in both school and higher education) and there is now a chance to know more about it on a very large scale. What are the modes and formats that optimise online learning? What online learning platforms are best? What is the optimal mix of teacher-directed, peer-to-peer, and self-directed learning in an online lesson? What student and home factors enable or impede online learning? What are the barriers to accessing and maximising online learning that we need to address in educational policies?

There are educational questions unique to this period that represent opportunities to better understand how students learn best.

There are many types of data that can be collected during this time. Surveys can be administered online. Students, teachers, or parents/carers can be asked to keep a diary during this time. There may be data that schools collect during this period that can be analysed.

Some researchers will have in-class (pre-COVID-19) data that can be matched with data collected during the COVID-19 remote learning period. This can answer some questions around in-class vs. remote learning and instruction.

There are also new opportunities to contribute to professional and practitioner outlets. It has been encouraging to see the extent to which researchers have been part of conversations and decisions around how to manage all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teacher, counsellor, and psychologist magazines, blogs, and newsletters are receptive to evidence-based advice that researchers can provide to support children and young people’s academic and personal wellbeing outcomes.

4. Collaboration

At a time of isolation, remote work, and limited resources, collaboration has never been more important. The emotional support this provides is essential as a basic human need. But there are also some very good research reasons for collaboration.

During this period of remote learning, different researchers will have different capacities. Some researchers will have school-aged children who are learning at home. Some researchers may have other carer roles, such as attending to an elderly parent. These researchers will have a different research capacity during COVID-19 than researchers who do not have such immediate carer roles.

One response to this is to develop collaboration among researchers who have complementary but non-overlapping capacities during this time. For example, a researcher with carer duties may be able to shoulder the load of deskwork that can occur at flexible times during the day and week, in collaboration with a researcher who is in a position to work during business hours or do work that requires real-time responses though the day. Or, a researcher whose participating schools can no longer participate in their research may connect with a researcher who does have viable school contacts. The same concepts apply where a researcher who has limited research resources can connect with a researcher who may have relatively more resources. Thus, a researcher with an established research design, instrumentation, or specific analytical skills can connect with a researcher who has accessible schools (or research resources/funding)—yielding a win-win outcome.

Remember also that on the other side of this period, the researcher with carer duties will be able to recalibrate to contribute in different ways again. Thus, through the life-course of writing and revising an article or chapter, it is often “swings and roundabouts” with each researcher contributing according to capacity and in different ways at different times.

5. Self-regulation (“The Main Thing is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing”)

When working remotely there can be vast capacity to lose important routines and structures that typically support research progress. When researchers have limited research resources, they may become disheartened or not be aware of what possibilities exist while they wait for more research funding to become available. During remote working, getting side-tracked, distracted, and procrastinating are also real risks. Moreover, with so many colleagues online in real-time during this period of remote work, there has been an escalation in e-activity (emails, online meetings, etc.) which may impede research progress.

Self-regulation will be a vital personal attribute to help researchers stay on-track and on-time—and to get past periods of low (or no) funding.

Quarantining (no pun intended) significant blocks of writing time is critical to maintain writing momentum. This will probably necessitate turning off email, messaging, mobile phones, etc. Having firm start times, break times, and clock-off times will also be important (including to maintain clear boundaries between personal and working life). This will also involve arranging (as best possible) a specific work area where concentration is easier.

The following mission statement may also be helpful to keep researchers research focused during this time: “The Main Thing is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing”.

Having said all of this, another important aspect of self-regulation is to adjust as appropriate to maintain personal wellbeing. If it is not realistic to set the bar at 6 metres, then don’t. Set it at 5 metres and see how you go. Cut yourself some slack where you need to. This remote work period may be something of a marathon and we should self-regulate accordingly as we seek that all-important balance between research productivity and personal wellbeing.

In Sum

For the foreseeable future our research lives have changed. But there will come a time when we are on the other side of this and when research resources are more readily and widely available. When that time comes, it will be important for our research programs and our research-relevant skills to have been maintained. There are lots of ways that researchers can do this—hopefully the ideas suggested here are some useful kick-starters.

Professor Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.

Keiko Bostwick, PhD, is a Research Officer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She specialises in student motivation, teacher and classroom effects, and quantitative research methods.

Personal Best: how setting PB goals can significantly improve student performance

Setting a personal best goal within every-day classroom activities can improve student performance and, significantly, it can be achieved through a very simple change to an existing classroom exercise.

Results of our latest research study on setting personal best goals, by our team from the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney, may have a broad application across all classrooms.

We used classroom-based problem-solving exercises and made just one simple change to instructions given to students. While we used a mathematic exercise in this instance, we believe any teacher of any subject could use this technique in any classroom.

What does setting a personal best goal involve?

Definition of personal best (PB) goals

Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of New South Wales, Andrew Martin, has defined personal best (PB) goals as specific, challenging, and competitively self-referenced goals that involve a level of performance that meets or exceeds an individual’s previous best.

Setting goals and our previous studies

Most of the available research on personal best goals has been survey-based. For example, in an earlier study we surveyed 249 high school students twice across a year about their use of PB goals using responses to PB questions (e.g., “When I do my schoolwork I try to do it better than I’ve done before”). We found that the relationships between PB goals and deep learning, academic flow, and positive teacher relationship remained significant beyond their previous scores on these factors. We believe these results support the importance of PB goals in school settings.

More recent investigations have tested the effects of PB goal setting using experimental research methods. In the context of an annual mathematics contest, Professor Martin and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, Andrew Elliot, invited some students to set a PB goal based on their previous year’s performance, while others were simply reminded of their previous year’s performance. Students in the PB goal condition substantially outperformed the control condition.

Experimental investigations such as this provide strong tests of causal hypotheses (where you can predict what will happen when you change one thing in a relationship). In this case, we could predict that PB goals act to enhance learning processes and/or outcomes for students.

Our latest study

Our latest study aimed to test whether PB goals can enhance mathematics performance in a primary school context, using an existing class activity, SuperSpeed Math, developed by Chris Biffle of Whole Brain Teaching.

In this study, we aimed to boost short-term improvement in arithmetical problem-solving fluency, across a range of arithmetical skills, under time pressure to build number fluency.

Describing how the design of SuperSpeed Math incorporates PB goals, Biffle argues:

Students love to play SuperSpeed Math because they love to strive for goals and to set and break personal records. Players are never competing against each other, but against their own previous best effort. Thus, the learning objective is set at exactly the right level, no matter a player’s ability.

What we did

Our study involved 68 children across Years 5 (35 students) and Year 6 (33 students) who chose to participate. A research assistant worked with each child for approximately 35-40 minutes.

Students began by completing a short paper-based questionnaire to gauge

(a) their prior ability in mathematics,

(b) their use of and the classroom emphasis on Personal Best, Mastery, and Performance (competitive) goals in learning mathematics;

(c) their mathematics self-concept; and

(e) students’ valuing of and interest in mathematics.

Students were then randomly assigned to the Personal Best condition (compete against your own previous Personal Best score on mental maths questions), and a No Goal comparison condition. In the first round of a set of mental maths, students would follow these instructions:

“We’re now going to do some mental maths questions. This is how we’ll work together.

I’m going to give you some sheets of paper with mental maths questions on them. For each sheet of questions, your task is to answer as many questions as you can in 60 seconds.

I’ll give you some feedback on how many you got correct, then we’ll go through that sheet of questions again. Please start with the questions on the top row, going from left to right, then the second row from left to right, and so on.”

For the PB condition, after each initial 1-minute attempt at a set of initial test questions (e.g., on addition), the researcher gave the following instructions:

“OK, your score on these addition questions was [X]. This is your Personal Best score. Now we’re going to do these questions again, and I would like you to set a goal where you aim to do better on these questions than you did before.”

For the students in the comparison condition, the only difference to the experimental (PB) condition was that students in the condition were informed,

“OK, your score on these [addition] questions was [X]. Now we’re going to do these questions again”.

All students completed 10 sets of two rounds of arithmetic problem-solving, that is 20 rounds in total.


As expected, there were no statistically reliable differences between the two groups on the “pre-experiment” prior mathematics ability test or self-reports on Personal Best, Mastery, and Performance goals.

Our primary research question focused on the number of mental mathematics questions solved by the two groups. We found a small but statistically reliable difference between the two groups in favour of the Personal Best goals group.

Our study shows that setting a Personal Best goal during classroom-based problem-solving exercises improves performance.

What does this mean for teaching and learning?

We believe these results may have broad application in classrooms. Although the effect of setting a PB goal was relatively small, it was achieved through a very simple change to an existing classroom exercise.

John Hattie has argued small effects may still be practically important when considered in context. In our study, we aimed to boost short-term improvement in arithmetical problem-solving fluency, across a range of arithmetical skills, under time pressure to build number fluency.

A large change to such a complex skill-set probably won’t happen through a ‘one-shot’ intervention. Instead, students will engage in such fluency-building activities many times over the course of weeks or even months. We believe the small effect found in our study can be the start of a “virtuous cycle” of enhanced learning and performance. Beyond exercises like SuperSpeed Math, PB goals can potentially play a number of roles in students’ goal-setting and school reporting.

Our study focused on Personal Bests in mental maths, but there are many opportunities to set and strive for Personal Bests in other subjects and skill-sets. For example, students may strive to spell more words correctly in a forthcoming spelling test than they had in the previous test; they may aim to read an extra book or resource for an assignment than they had done before; before a test they may do some revision over the weekend when they previously had done none; or, they may aim to ask a teacher for help when they had previously been reluctant to do so. In all such cases, students are their own benchmark and their own point of reference for self-improvement.

More broadly, these findings are consistent with a “growth mindset”, which holds that every child is capable of learning given the right opportunities, access to productive strategies, effort, and support.


Here is our paper in the Australian Education Researcher Personal Best (PB) goal-setting enhances arithmetical problem-solving 

If you would like to know more about our Growth Mindset work please visit the Growth Mindset site



Paul Ginns is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Paul uses numerous research methodologies (for example, experimental and survey-based research) and analytic methods, including general linear models, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, structural modelling and meta-analysis, to investigate student learning.




Professor Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.


Importance of social and emotional competence for teachers, for very young children and for at-risk students: latest research

Teachers and researchers are increasingly aware of the importance of social and emotional competence in the classroom and beyond, including for health, education, and employment outcomes into adulthood. Social and emotional competence refers to the skills that help us to interact in positive ways with others and manage our own emotions. These skills are varied and include among others our relationships skills, confidence, coping skills, self-regulation and self-awareness.

Curriculum designed to teach social and emotional competence is known as social and emotional learning. The Australian Curriculum Frameworks emphasise the importance of social and emotional learning from the early years and throughout schooling.

A growing body of research has investigated the importance of social and emotional competence for students and there are promising results for social and emotional learning programs already being used in schools in Australia and abroad. Resources are available for Australian teachers to implement social and emotional learning in their classrooms.

In this blog post we will focus on our recent research work in three areas of social and emotional competence that we believe need more attention: the importance of social and emotional competence in the early years of schooling, for at-risk students, and for teachers.

Developing Social Emotional Competence in the Early Years

During the early preschool years, children are beginning to learn more about social emotional competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness. Nurturing these skills is important for positive developmental outcomes and there is now a growing body of research seeking effective ways to do so.

For example, in one of our studies Investigating Social and Emotional Competence in the Early Years, among children in the four-year-old age group we identified a range of coping social and emotional competencies that young children could implement when faced with challenge or things that worried them. It was then possible to develop visual tools to teach age-appropriate coping social and emotional competencies to children in the pre-school setting such as for situations like saying goodbye to a parent at pre-school and fear of the dark.

It was also possible to identify adaptive and maladaptive social and emotional competencies that seemed to be especially salient in young children’s coping.

Adaptive behaviours are those that help a child adjust to and cope with different situations in their environment, such as at home and at school. So adaptive social and emotional competencies are a set of behaviours that a child would use to help them adjust and cope. Maladaptive behaviours are those that interfere with everyday activities and a child’s ability to cope. So maladaptive social and emotional competencies are a set of behaviours a child would use that interrupt or interfere with everyday activities.

  • In the adaptive dimension children used strategies such as “Play”, “Chat to Friends” and “Work Hard”.
  • In the maladaptive dimension children used strategies considered to be more distressing for the child or caregiver. These included an emotional expression dimension that reflected emotions such as “Lose it”, “Cry or scream”, and “Keep away from other children”. They also included an emotional inhibition dimension that reflected internalised emotions such as “Keep feelings to self”, “Get sick”, and “Don’t let others know how they are feeling”.

It was clear that those who used adaptive coping social and emotional competencies also experienced positive mental health and there was a link between maladaptive social and emotional competencies and some aspects of poor mental health. For example, maladaptive coping social and emotional competencies were linked to anxiety, peer related difficulties, and conduct problems.

Intervention research, research that is designed to assess the efficacy of a particular intervention, has also identified ways to teach adaptive social and emotional competencies such as coping. For example, a five-week early years coping program, COPE-R (COPE-Resilience), was designed to teach social and emotional competencies such as caring for others, communicating openly, politeness, empathy, and sharing in classroom activities.

In our study we found that:

  • children as young as four can articulate a range of coping strategies;
  • children’s social and emotional competencies can be measured through parent reports;
  • children can be taught to use more positive coping skills and fewer negative coping skills; and,
  • social and emotional learning programs of instruction can be utilised to teach both personal coping skills and prosocial skills.

The Role of Social and Emotional Competence in At-risk Students’ Academic Wellbeing 

The bulk of research into social and emotional competence has focused on so-called “mainstream” student populations (e.g., using whole-class samples, whole-school samples, national and international samples). As noted above, social and emotional competence is associated with important personal and academic wellbeing outcomes for these students. Relatively less attention has been directed to social and emotional competence among ‘at-risk’ groups. These are groups of students who are at risk of dropping out of school or experiencing difficulties in their lives as they grow and develop (such as students with ADHD or learning difficulties).

Our research program’s focus on “at-risk” status has examined students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In one of our recent studies, ADHD Personal and Interpersonal Agency, and Achievement: Exploring Links from a Social Cognitive Theory Perspective, we investigated social and emotional competencies for students with ADHD. We found that self-efficacy, that is the child’s confidence in their own ability to succeed, and positive interpersonal relationships with teachers were significantly associated with academic outcomes.

Notably, we also found that these two factors played a far more substantial role in academic wellbeing for students with ADHD than for students without ADHD. On the one hand, this was quite an encouraging finding in that it identified specific ways to help improve the academic wellbeing of students with ADHD. On the other hand, however, the finding was of some concern because students with ADHD are typically lower in self-efficacy and have poorer interpersonal relationships, leading to lower academic wellbeing. Taking both together, we identified a clear need to improve these social and emotional competencies among students with ADHD.

For improving students’ academic self-efficacy, we suggested that teachers:

  • Adapt lessons and activities to maximise opportunities for students’ success—with this success being a basis for building self-efficacy
  • Break lessons and activities into smaller, more manageable sections to optimise opportunities for completion and a sense of competence
  • Individualise instruction and learning activities where appropriate and necessary
  • Develop students’ goal-setting skills that allows students to work towards competence experiences

For improving teacher-student relationships, we suggested that teachers:

  • Implement the “connective instruction” framework that seeks to optimise students’ interpersonal connection with teachers (students better connecting with the teacher him/herself), the substantive connection with teachers (students better connecting to the subject matter and academic tasks and activities), and the pedagogical connection with teachers (students connecting to how the teacher communicates and delivers subject matter)
  • Build students’ awareness of social cues through social skills training
  • Be more patient and tolerant of differences and diversity in the classroom
  • Participate in professional development aimed at assisting at-risk students and their relationships with these students

Social and Emotional Competence and Teachers

Thus far we have focused on promoting social and emotional competencies among students. Alongside attention to students’ social and emotional competencies, we argue that teachers’ social and emotional competence is also crucial. This is because:

Given that social and emotional competence is highly relevant to teachers’ work, what does this mean for schools and teachers?

  • At an individual-level, professional development focused on teachers’ social and emotional competence is an avenue that is gaining support for improving teachers’ wellbeing and their ability to create a more positive and supportive classroom environment. For example, mindfulness-based professional development programs involve training in emotional skills (e.g., role plays to help teachers to recognise and be aware of their emotions), mindfulness (e.g., deliberate practice of present moment awareness), and caring and compassion (e.g., mindful listening to others without judgement).
  • At a school-wide level, it is also important to create an environment where teachers’ social and emotional competence is supported. This lays a foundation for teachers’ own wellbeing and in turn their students’ learning. 

The burgeoning awareness of the importance of social and emotional competence for children is having an effect in our schools, helping our children thrive in their classrooms and beyond. To date, most of this attention has focused on mainstream students. We believe our research and work focusing attention on young children, at-risk students, and teachers, for whom additional attention is important, will further promote positive and healthy individuals and schools.


The research cited here is in an edited volume by Erica Frydenberg, Andrew Martin and Rebecca Collie, Social and Emotional Learning in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, published by Springer Nature in Singapore in 2017 and to be launched today, Wednesday 29th July, at the 2017 Australian Association for Research in Education Conference in Canberra. The authors will be participating in a symposium after the launch.


Rebecca Collie, B.Ed. (Hons), M.A., Ph.D., is a Research Fellow in Educational and Developmental Psychology at the University of NSW. Her research interests focus on motivation and well-being among students and teachers, teachers’; and students’; psychosocial experiences at school (perceptions of school climate, job satisfaction, etc.), and quantitative research methods. Through her research, Rebecca aims to promote positive work environments and experiences among teachers as well as engagement and learning among students. She conducted her master’s and doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her undergraduate education at the University of Melbourne. She has also worked as a primary school teacher in Melbourne. For more about Rebecca’s publications visit here.


Professor Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co- Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.




Erica Frydenberg is an educational, clinical and organizational psychologist who has practiced extensively in the Australian educational setting. She is a Principal Research Fellow and Associate Professor in psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society. Erica has authored and co-authored over 150 academic journal articles and chapters in the field of coping, developed psychological instruments to measure coping in children, adolescents and adults and authored and co-authored 15 books on topics ranging from early years through to adolescence and parenting. She has received numerous Australian Research Council and philanthropic grants, has been engaged widely as a consultant and has received many awards. For more about Erica visit her website.

2017 AARE  Conference

The theme of the 2017 AARE conference is ‘Education: What’s politics got to do with it?’ The conference runs all this week in Canberra with over 600 presentations of current educational research and panel sessions. Journalists who want to attend or arrange interviews please contact Anna Sullivan, Communications Manager of AARE, or our editor Maralyn Parker,

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Nurturing mindfulness and growth mindset in the classroom

In the same way a gardener cannot force a seed or plant to grow, neither can a teacher simply make a student become more motivated, develop a growth mindset, or perform better at school. Rather, just as a gardener creates optimal conditions to help the seed and plant grow, so too does a teacher create the conditions and climate to cultivate personal and academic growth that can assist a student to flourish. If the academic environment is carefully monitored, maintained and continuously tended to, meaningful growth can occur and students have the potential to thrive at school and beyond. Concepts such as ‘growth mindset’ and ‘mindfulness’ are integral to understanding and promoting students’ growth in the classroom.

Growth Mindset

‘Growth mindset’ refers to a belief that intelligence is malleable and effort is the key to mastery. Students with a growth mindset view learning and personal improvement as more important than outperforming others or ‘looking smart’. They see mistakes as an opportunity to improve. Students with a growth mindset also embrace challenges by viewing them as energising and motivating.

Conversely, students with a ‘fixed mindset’ hold a belief that intelligence is innate and static; they see mistakes and challenges as a threat to their self-worth; they see effort as a sign of low ability that can potentially make them look ‘dumb’ if they perform poorly. With these limiting and restrictive beliefs about intelligence and effort, there is little room for growth.

Not surprisingly, research repeatedly shows that students with a growth mindset, tend to do better at school, enjoy school more, participate more frequently in class, and have more positive aspirations for their future. Just as importantly, students with a growth mindset tend to learn from their mistakes rather than being paralysed or derailed by them.


‘Mindfulness’ is distinctive from a growth mindset. Mindfulness refers to a form of awareness whereby one observes and non-judgementally pays attention to inner states (such as thoughts or feelings) as well as being cognisant of what is happening outside the body in the world. Like any skill, it can be developed through regular and purposeful practice. A mindfulness practice can help loosen the grip of habitual, self-limiting, and ‘fixed’ ways of thinking about and responding to ourselves and our students in the classroom. There are now vast arrays of mindfulness interventions available for implementation in schools for both students and staff (e.g., “Mindfulness in Schools Project .b Program”; “Mindful Schools”; “MindUp”, “Smiling Mind”).

How teachers can cultivate a growth mindset and mindfulness in their classrooms

For students to flourish in the classroom, it is essential that educators not only ‘plant the seed’ (provide the information / present the curriculum), but also cultivate a garden (learning environment / classroom) that values and encourages growth. If students know that a teacher genuinely values effort, learning from mistakes, persistence, and reaching personal bests, then students are more likely to be motivated, have greater reports of self-efficacy, and enjoy and embrace the learning experience.

The way in which an educator uses praise/feedback in the classroom (i.e., informative praise for the specific processes a student used to accomplish something) and the language they use to discuss notions of intelligence, success, and failure can all have a profound influence on the classroom climate and student motivation.

An educator’s mindset also significantly influences the way he/she responds to students. Mindful teachers who adopt a growth mindset tend to be better ‘strength-spotters’ of students. They are inquisitive, observant, and have the ability to bring awareness to, and notice, the ‘blooms’ growing in their garden. Educators who utilise mindfulness develop the ability to bring awareness to any judgmental or limiting beliefs about themselves and their students (e.g., statements such as “he just does not have a mathematical mind”).

Mindful and growth-oriented teachers tend to see themselves and others as positive ‘works-in-progress’. In contrast, teachers who hold a fixed mindset are more inclined to form fixed judgments about students, tend to focus on students’ limitations, and are less inclined to modify their opinions and behaviours when presented with contrary information about a student.

Benefits of growth mindset and mindfulness in the classroom

There is a growing evidence base for the benefits of mindfulness practice. Indeed, when teachers learn and engage in a regular practice of mindfulness, they not only reap benefits such as reduced stress, decreased burnout, increased cognitive performance, and improvements in physical and mental well-being, but their students benefit as well. Mindful teachers organically put a growth mindset ‘into action’ every time they engage in mindfulness practice – thereby modelling a growth mindset to their students. Mindfulness has also been shown to be helpful in building student-teacher connections and a greater sense of relatedness and belonging in the classroom. Promising results are also emerging from research investigating the impact of mindfulness training for young people. This research has shown positive effects on cognitive skills (such as improved attention, visual-spatial memory, concentration), social-emotional intelligence, well-being and lower levels of anxiety and distressed states.

Interestingly, research investigating the neuroplasticity of the brain reveals that mindfulness training allows the brain to grow – the very premise of a growth mindset. Mindfulness training has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain (predominately the pre-frontal cortex) by reshaping the neural pathways and connections in the brain associated with executive function and cognitive abilities such as attention, problem-solving, self-awareness, planning, theory of mind, and introspection. Mindfulness training can also decrease activity in those areas of the brain associated with anxiety, worry, and impulsivity. Teachers who are literally changing their brain with mindfulness (the very foundation of a growth mindset) also tend to educate in a way that regards the mind as a malleable learning unit. As a by-product, students start to see themselves as agents of their own brain development – as modelled by their teacher.

Weathering the Storms and Droughts: Personal Best (PB) Goals

As any gardener knows, gardening involves not only setting up the ideal conditions to cultivate growth, but also helping the garden to weather storm and drought (i.e., resilience). When students experience academic setbacks, there can be a tendency for motivation to decline. One way in which educators can help students deal with challenge and setback is by advocating a personal best (PB) goal setting approach to learning. A PB approach to learning refers to a personalised set of goals that allow a student to aim to do as well as or better than their previous best efforts or performance. With the support of a teacher, PB goals allow a student to create a personalised standard of excellence with a specific road map for how to get there.

PB goals are distinctive to general goal setting approaches in three key ways. They are 1) specific (a student identifies precisely what they are aiming for), 2) challenging (a student realistically raises their own expectations of themselves) and 3) competitively self-referenced (a student will compete with him/herself rather than compete with others). Students can pursue ‘outcome’ PB goals (e.g., getting a higher mark in the yearly exam than the half-yearly exam) and/or ‘process’ PB goals (e.g., preparing for an exam on the weekend when previously no study would be done on weekends). Emerging research has shown that PB goal-setting in the academic domain can help enhance student motivation, self-efficacy, persistence, classroom participation, enjoyment of school, task interest, flow, engagement, teacher relationships, and resilience. In line with the growth mindset perspective, PB goal setting helps students to develop curiosity and a locus of control about their learning (for relevant worksheets, visit ‘Download Corner’ on Lifelong Achievement Group.

When teachers engage in mindful and growth-oriented practice, they not only develop the ability to ‘notice’ the potential blooms in the garden, they also develop the ability to savour and appreciate this growth. We therefore encourage teachers to dedicate the time, to pause, and reflect on some key questions – “Am I the sort of educator who creates a classroom climate that allows students to make mistakes free from judgments, to feel comfortable asking for help or feedback?”, “What kind of praise and feedback do I give my students – does it focus on growth and personal bests?”, “What kind of language do I use in my classroom to optimise growth?”. Answers to these questions underpin the ideal climate and conditions for students to thrive at school – and beyond.


Dr Jasmine Green is a registered psychologist and part-time Research Associate of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She has vast experience working with teaching staff, students, and parents in the education setting as a school psychologist. Jasmine’s doctoral research in educational psychology as well as her clinical experience in the educational setting demonstrates a commitment to working collaboratively with students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to promote a learning environment that achieves the most beneficial outcomes for students.



Professor Andrew Martin, PhD, is Scientia Professor, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Co-Chair of the Educational Psychology Research Group in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in student motivation, engagement, achievement, and quantitative research methods.



Correspondence about this article can be directed to Professor Andrew Martin, School of Education, University of New South Wales, Australia: