Iro Konstantinou, Head of Research Programmes, CIRL
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on education for schools across the UK, from delivery to assessment to attainment. Its impact on students’ academic attainment has already been documented to a certain extent. For example, the Centre for Economic Performance have completed a study investigating the ways that COVID-19 has adversely affected the academic attainment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and social mobility. Teachers have been at the forefront of trying to minimise the effects of the pandemic on education. For some schools and pupils, however, a lack of digital resources and devices has made it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn to the extent that they would do in normal conditions.
Even though the focus of teachers and parents who are home-schooling might be on delivering the curriculum and enhancing student knowledge, it could be argued that moving beyond the curriculum can benefit students. Our new free online professional development course, ‘Character Education in the Classroom’, covers areas that evidence shows can enhance student well-being and offers evidence-informed strategies for promoting these areas. We know that these strategies work and can be implemented in a classroom or across a school.
The course includes eight sessions, seven of which cover areas of character education, with the eighth suggesting ways of assessing character education in schools. Below we summarise some of the strategies of embedding character education in the classroom covered in the course.
We tend to focus more on the negative rather than the positive events in our lives. So, shifting the focus more towards positivity requires practice. Developing gratitude is one way of focusing more on the positive aspects of our lives. This, too, requires practice. Practical strategies which can foster gratitude include:
- Writing down specific things one is grateful for – e.g., watching a clear sunrise during a run in the park.
- At the end of the day, writing down three things that went well and why.
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone.
- Spend money and time on experiences rather than material things.
For more on gratitude and strategies for fostering it, see this CIRL blogpost.
For students to feel motivated, it is important that they feel a sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. To foster motivation, teachers can:
- Encourage students: students tend to seek teacher confirmation, so try pointing out what they have done well (however, note that excessive rewards can decrease a student’s intrinsic motivation).
- Give constructive criticism.
- Use formative assessment to encourage goal setting and areas for improvement (on the benefits of formative assessment for learning, see this CIRL blogpost).
- Link to the bigger picture: encourage students to think about how what they learn links with other areas of their learning and their own lives, and what connections might be needed to enhance these links.
- Explain the applicability and utility of the tasks you ask them to do.
3. Academic resilience
Academic resilience is a student’s ability to effectively deal with and adapt to academic challenges and adversity in academic settings, and their capacity to overcome acute or chronic adversities that could constitute major impediments to their academic success.
Academic resilience can be developed by:
- building students’ communication skills and encouraging students to seek feedback;
- encouraging students to also turn to peers for support;
- developing students’ problem-solving skills, such that they look at a problem from different viewpoints, consider various solutions, understand risk-taking and mitigation strategies;
- encouraging students to consider the bigger picture of their learning, such as how it relates to previous learning and their lives as a whole;
- developing students’ independent learning skills;
- encouraging students to try to see the bigger picture in their questions;
- encouraging students to seek opportunities for growth, both personal and in their learning.
For more on academic resilience, see the article on pages 39-41 of the latest issue of our journal.
Creative Thinking in PISA 2021 is defined as the competence to engage productively in the generation, evaluation and improvement of ideas, which can result in original and effective solutions to problems, advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination. , advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination.
For students to become creative, they need to be encouraged to be:
- inquisitive: to wonder and question ideas and challenge assumptions;
- collaborative: to learn to give and receive feedback and co-operate with others;
- disciplined: to develop techniques to deal with difficulties and reflect on their progress critically;
- persistent: to dare to be different and tolerate uncertainty;
- imaginative: to play with possibilities and make connections.
5. Zest for learning
Since we cannot know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is difficult to anticipate what knowledge should be taught in advance. Instead, among the skills we should try to cultivate in students are a love for learning and excellent skills for learning successfully, so that they will be able to learn whatever they need to learn in the future.
For students to develop a love for learning, we can encourage them to be:
- balanced: to value relationships and maintain perspective;
- curious: to explore the world and ideas and embrace novel experiences;
- purposeful: to find meaning and perform well whatever they do.
6. Social connectedness
Social connectedness can refer to the relationships students have with their parents and family, their peers, and their wider communities. Those relationships have a great significance during adolescence but also later on in life; therefore, it is important to foster positive social connections in school.
Some strategies to do this include:
- provide students with the necessary skills to be actively engaged in school activities;
- create trusting relationships which allow for open communication;
- provide opportunities for families to be involved in the educational experience of their children.
For a CIRL research study on promoting student community engagement, see here.
7. Self-efficacy and self-confidence
Students can often be too confident or not confident enough in their abilities, both of which can be detrimental to their progress. Ensuring that students calibrate correctly is important. Ways to foster self-confidence include:
- promoting emotional well-being in their development, such as interventions from positive psychology;
- creating situations that aim to improve social capital (such as service learning, volunteering, and customised learner-teacher conferences);
- stress the importance of learner-learner and/or learner-teacher interactions.
Self-efficacy is also important for academic progress and well-being. This is the belief we have in our own abilities, specifically our ability to meet the challenges we face and to successfully complete the tasks we need to. Ways to develop self-efficacy include:
- using moderately difficult tasks which take students out of their comfort zone;
- using peer models;
- creating classroom activities that reflect students’ interests;
- allowing students to make their own choices.
The above covers just some of the examples of what is covered in the sessions of the ‘Character Education in the Classroom’ course. The course also includes a session on how character interventions can be assessed. If you want to know more, we invite you to complete our course by registering here.
 For an explanation of the gratitude visit and the what went well exercises, see Martin Seligman, Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being – and How to Achieve Them (London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011), pp. 30-35.
 See A. J. Martin & H. W. Marsh, ‘Academic Resilience and Academic Buoyancy’, Oxford Review of Education 35 (2009), p. 353.