I’d like you to picture a student named Mia. Like many others, Mia comes from a low-income family, attends a school that lacks resources and faces daily challenges that are beyond the school gate. You might expect her educational trajectory to be an uphill struggle, but against these odds, Mia excels academically, even outperforming her more privileged peers. This isn't mere luck – it's academic resilience.
Academic resilience embodies the journey of students like Mia, who persist and thrive academically despite the odds being stacked against them. About one in 9 socioeconomically disadvantaged students demonstrate this kind of academic resilience worldwide (OECD, 2020). They teach us an invaluable lesson, that despite challenges success isn't an unreachable star.
This brings us to 2 important questions for school educators: What sets these resilient students apart? How can teachers best support them in the classroom?
Fostering academic resilience in maths and science
I recently conducted a study (Teig, 2023) as part of the 2022 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report Fellowship that delves into the crucial role teachers play in fostering academic resilience, particularly in mathematics and science classrooms. It relied on extensive student and teacher data from the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019 for grade 4, across 58 education systems worldwide. The study explored: How prevalent are academically resilient students across these countries? And what kinds of teaching practices differentiate resilient and non-resilient students?
The findings revealed some intriguing patterns. While the proportion of resilient students differed across education systems and subjects, the data illuminated a universal trend: the critical role of teachers and the quality of their teaching practice. My research pinpoints 3 key teaching practices: classroom management, supportive climate, and instructional clarity.
As you read through the findings, I invite you reflect on your own teaching practices and their alignment with these impactful strategies. The question is not only 'How resilient are your students?' but also 'How resilient can your teaching make them?'. The power, as this study shows, lies largely in teachers’ hands.
1. Classroom management: Creating order and stability
Findings from my study indicate a notable trend in mathematics classrooms (Teig, 2023): higher numbers of resilient students were found in classrooms where disorderly behaviours were infrequent, while classrooms with regular disruptions had notably fewer resilient students.
Effective classroom management serves as the bedrock of teaching and learning. Teachers can foster resilience by establishing a stable, structured learning environment where students can focus on their work without disruptions (Senden et al., 2023). This is especially critical for disadvantaged students who may face numerous challenges outside the school. A predictable and orderly classroom environment is pivotal in providing them with the stability and focus needed for learning.
At the beginning of the school year, it is important to set clear rules, which should be periodically revisited. Visual aids can be employed for younger students, while contracts serve as reminders for older students regarding classroom expectations. These tools not only reinforce discipline but also render students accountable for their actions (Terada, 2019).
Teachers can proactively address potential disruptive behaviour through various strategies, including actively moving around the classroom, using non-verbal cues, and redirecting off-task behaviour (Lovett et al., 2023). For example, if a student frequently interrupts a mathematics lesson, their enthusiasm can be redirected towards sharing their solution to a problem at the right moment. By employing these techniques, teachers create a focused and supportive learning environment conducive to academic growth.
2. Supportive climate: Building trust and encouraging participation
A supportive climate that builds trust and boosts student motivation is crucial for fostering resilience, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged students. This nurturing environment makes students feel valued, encourages participation, and cultivates their willingness to take academic risks (Lee & Ward-Penny, 2022). Findings from my GEM Fellow study (Teig, 2023) support this, showing that the proportion of resilient students was higher in mathematics and science classrooms that are taught by teachers who offered strong support.
To cultivate a supportive climate, it is important to provide regular constructive feedback that goes beyond simple correction. For instance, when a student provides an incorrect answer to a maths problem, instead of simply indicating it as wrong, respond with encouragement. For example, you might say, ‘That's a great effort. You've got the first part right. Now, let's look at this step again and see if we can find the solution together.’ By adopting this approach, teachers can foster a climate where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than something to fear.
Another way to create a supportive classroom climate is to demonstrate empathy by personalising your interactions with students. By taking the time to understand their strengths, interests, and challenges, you can provide tailored support and encouragement. For instance, during a science lab, you can praise students for their methodical approach and perseverance in a tricky experiment, even if the results are not perfect. This type of recognition shows that you value their efforts and encourages them to persist in the face of challenges.
3. Clarity of instruction: Navigating academic challenges
Clear instruction plays a crucial role in the academic success of all students. However, it holds even greater significance for disadvantaged students who may lack prior knowledge or face language barriers (Teig & Nilsen, 2022). These students often benefit from detailed explanations that help them grasp the content effectively. As shown in the GEM Fellow study (Teig, 2023), a significantly higher number of resilient students, compared to their non-resilient peers, reported experiencing high levels of instructional clarity in their maths and science classrooms.
By providing clear instructions, using relatable examples, and linking academic concepts to everyday life, teachers can help students to navigate abstract and complex topics. When teaching new concepts, you can use analogies, real-life examples, and visual representations to enhance understanding – for example, showing students a diagram illustrating the stages of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation when learning about the water cycle in science. A visual representation can make it more tangible for students and aid their understanding. By using these strategies to enhance instructional clarity, teachers not only facilitate understanding but also promote academic resilience among their students.
Teachers possess an extraordinary power to shape the lives of their students. The quality of their teaching goes beyond mere delivery of the curriculum; it sparks engagement and support, nurturing resilience, and fostering success, particularly among disadvantaged students.
As we reflect on our own teaching practices, let us embrace the transformative impact we can make. How can we continue to empower our students through quality instruction? How can we be the catalysts that unlock their limitless potential? The answers lie within us, and it is our responsibility to make a lasting impact on their educational journey.
Lee, C., & Ward-Penny, R. (2022). Agency and fidelity in primary teachers’ efforts to develop mathematical resilience. Teacher Development, 26(1), 75-93. https://doi.org/10.1080/13664530.2021.2006768
Lovett, M. C., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Ambrose, S. A., & Norman, M. K. (2023). How Learning Works: Eight Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
OECD. (2020). "Academic resilience and well-being amongst disadvantaged students", in PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed. OECD Publishing https://doi.org/10.1787/a8cac199-en
Senden, B., Nilsen, T., & Teig, N. (2023). The validity of student ratings of teaching quality: Factorial structure, comparability, and the relation to achievement. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 78, 101274. https://doi-org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2023.101274
Teig, N. (2023). Embracing teachers’ role in promoting equity in the classroom: Global patterns and evidence of academic resilience from 58 countries. Paper commissioned as part of the GEM Report Fellowship Programme in 2022. https://www.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/default/files/medias/fichiers/2023/09/Nani_Teig.pdf (PDF, 1.4MB)
Teig, N., & Nilsen, T. (2022). Profiles of instructional quality in primary and secondary education: Patterns, predictors, and relations to student achievement and motivation in science. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 74, 101170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2022.101170
Terada, Y. (2019, February 27). The key to effective classroom management. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/key-effective-classroom-management
In this article, Associate Professor Nani Teig talks about the importance of clarity of instruction. What strategies do you use to help students navigate abstract and complex topics or concepts? Do you make a conscious effort to choose examples your own students can relate to?