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What psychology tells us about student achievement — and how it is ignored (commentary co-written by Geoffrey Cohen)

April 20, 2015
Washington Post's Answer Blog
“The following post, by Geoffrey L. Cohen and Sara Goldrick-Rab, looks at some of the issues students face that are being ignored by policymakers who have chosen to look at academic progress through a narrow window,” writes Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss in her introduction to the commentary from the Stanford social psychologist and his colleague.
Geoffrey Cohen and Sara Goldrick-Rab

When preschool children put on Superman capes they are three times more likely to resist a temptation and wait for a larger reward.

When ethnic minority students get feedback from their teachers accompanied by a note that says that they can reach a higher standard, the students reach that standard. In fact they perform as well as their white classmates.

And when poor urban students are taught to see intelligence as similar to a muscle that grows with practice, they achieve better grades and test scores.

These results from scientific studies in psychology are important because the ability to delay gratification, to learn from feedback, and to score well on tests predict lifelong success in school and beyond. Yet they can be changed in an instant. How can this be?

The lesson is that students are capable of far more than they achieve in the typical classroom. Improving that setting can help a child soar.

Read the entire commentary on the Answer Sheet blog on the Washington Post website.

Geoffrey Cohen is James G. March Professor of Organizational Studies in Education and Business at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

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