Rsearch has shown that a short reading and writing exercise at the start of the year can have a major impact on attainment and behaviour.
In this study US students entering middle school (age 12, sixth-graders) were asked to read information from a fake survey of last year’s six graders, then answer some questions themselves. The ‘survey’ showed how last year’s intake had initial worries about tests and fitting in/belonging, but now felt OK. Questions for the new students were to write a few reasons why 6th graders like them might worry about tests and worry that they didn’t fit in, and reasons why after a while.they might not worry so much about tests and fit in/feel they belong.
The idea was to normalise students’ worries and help them reappraise stressful experiences independently. A control group undertook similar exercises that were about getting interested in poltics and finding the lunchroom big and noisy, rather than about worries and belonging.
Compared with the control condition activities, the intervention reduced sixth-grade disciplinary incidents across the district by 34%, increased attendance by 12%, and reduced the number of failing grades by 18%. A mediational analysis suggested 80% of longterm intervention effects on students’ grade point averages were accounted for by changes in students’ attitudes and behaviors.
You can find the research here. If you would like to try the intervention in your school, you can find the teacher and student materials used in Appendix B (on pages 34 onwards) here