Overcoming Setbacks

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Overcoming Setbacks

One of the most reliable predictors of student success is the ability to bounce back from adversity. However, for many students, this is easier said than done. As levels of stress and anxiety continue to increase in both children and teens alike, the pressure to do well also increases. Paired with the extensive use of social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — platforms that connect but also cause users to compare themselves with others in negative ways, it is easy for today’s youth to find themselves trapped in a negative mindset.


Developing academic buoyancy

In an article for The Conversation, Astrid Helene Kendrick, a literacy teacher at the University of Calgary, explores the importance of academic buoyancy — a “student’s ability to successfully deal with academic setbacks and challenges that are typical of the ordinary course of school life.” Because all professions require various degrees of critical thinking and the ability to rebound and learn from missteps, the sooner children can learn how to respond positively to challenging situations, the better prepared they will be to enter our ever-evolving workforce

According to research published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, the key to building academic buoyancy from a young age is to focus on the “five C’s”: composure, confidence, commitment, control and coordination.

  1. Composure
    Anxiousness often disrupts students from learning and being able to concentrate. While worrying about doing well is a normal feeling to have, the fear of poor performance can make learning more difficult. To help calm your child, mindfulness techniques such as medication and deep breathing can be very effective in helping them take a step back and focus on pursuing their goals one step at a time.
  2. Confidence
    A student’s confidence correlates to how skilled they believe they are in a subject. For example, if they believe that science is one of their strengths, then a low score on a science quiz will likely be viewed as a temporary setback. However, if they perceive themselves as deficient in science, a low score will instead be viewed as confirmation of their beliefs. To improve your child’s confidence, help them understand the importance of continuous improvement, instead of solely focusing on grades that they receive.
  3. Commitment
    To successfully bounce back from a disappointing result, persistence is key. In her New York Times bestselling book, Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth explains that a person’s ability to persevere in the face of difficulty is a significant predictor of success — and this is a trait that can be developed! Exploring gamification is a great way to cultivate a child’s ability to persevere in a fun and engaging setting.
  4. Control  
    It is important that students believe they can achieve better outcomes by using a strategy. Having this sense of agency can help mitigate the negative emotions associated with a bad grade or poor performance. In response to a setback like this, encourage your child to take responsibility and ownership of how they learn and seek help from a teacher in changing their approach to studying.
  5. Coordination
    With larger assignments, it is sometimes easy for students to become overwhelmed. To address this, help your child to divide tasks into smaller and more manageable pieces. By completing them, students will feel small bursts of accomplishment that will encourage them to see their project through to the end.  


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Many of our National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees cite their ability to persevere through adversity as a key reason for their success. Instead of giving up, they keep going. Because our education programs are inspired by lessons and stories from our Inductees, they provide valuable opportunities for students to create, discover and try again.   

To learn more about trends in STEM learning and education, we invite you to check out our blog.

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