Developmental Stage

Publication Type

Results: Apfel, Nancy

High rates of discipline citations predict adverse life outcomes, a harm disproportionately borne by Black and Latino boys. We hypothesized that these citations arise in part from negative cycles of interaction between students and teachers, which unfold in contexts of social stereotypes. Can targeted interventions to facilitate identity safety—a sense of belonging, inclusion, and growth—for students help? Experiment 1 combined social-belonging, values-affirmation, and growth-mindset interventions delivered in several class sessions in 2 middle schools with a large Latino population (N = 669). This treatment reduced citations among negatively stereotyped boys in 7th and 8th grades by 57% as compared with a randomized control condition. A growth-mindset only treatment was also effective. Experiment 2 tested the social-belonging intervention alone, a grade earlier, at a third school with a large Black population and more overall citations (N = 137 sixth-grade students). In 2 class sessions, students reflected on stories from previous 7th-grade students, which represented worries about belonging and relationships with teachers early in middle school as normal and as improving with time. This exercise reduced citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65%. Suggesting improved interactions with teachers, longitudinal analyses found that the intervention prevented rises in citations involving subjective judgments (e.g., “insubordination”) within 6th and 7th grades. It also forestalled the emergence of worries about being seen stereotypically by the end of 7th grade. Identity threat can give rise to cycles of interaction that are maladaptive for both teachers and students in school; targeted exercises can interrupt these cycles to improve disciplinary outcomes over years.

The two studies reported here tested whether a classroom-based psychological intervention that benefited a few African American 7th graders could trigger emergent ecological effects that benefited their entire classrooms. Within a classroom, the greater the density of African American students who participated in the intervention exercise, the higher the grades of all classmates on average, regardless of their race or whether they participated in the intervention exercise. Benefits of treatment density were most pronounced among students with a history of poor performance. Results suggest that the benefits of psychological intervention do not end with the individual. Changed individuals can improve their social environments, and such improvements can benefit others regardless of whether they participated in the intervention. These findings have implications for understanding the emergence of ecological consequences from psychological processes.

A follow up to an affirmation intervention study with middle schoolers revealed long term benefits of an exercise in which students wrote about a self-affirming value. Over 2 years, black students' GPA s was raised by 0.24 grade points. Low-achieving black students' GPA increased by 0.41 and their rate of remediation or grade repetition was dramatically reduced. The authors describe the importance of setting in motion a recursive process early on.

Affirming students' sense of "self-integrity" lessened the psychological threat experienced by certain groups who worried about confirming negative stereotypes aimed at their group. The intervention reduced the racial achievement gap in grades by 40% among middle schoolers.

By emphasizing their high standards and belief that a student is capable of meeting those standards alongside critical feedback on schoolwork, teachers convey to students that they will be neither treated nor judged in light of a negative stereotype. 71% of black students who received this type of "wise feedback" on an essay chose to revise their essays, compared with 17% in the control group. Among black students with low trust of their teachers, 82% revised their essay while none in the control group did. Another intervention that taught students to attribute critical feedback to their teachers' high standards and belief in their potential raised black students' grades and reduced the achievement gap.