Have you heard of academic buoyancy? While it isn't widely known about, it may be one of the most important areas of psychology for education professionals.
It sounds similar to resilience but there are subtle differences between the two. Academic resilience often focuses on groups of students who face specific challenges – those with special educational needs, for example, or "chronic underachievers". Academic buoyancy is about ordinary challenges that all students face, including bad grades, homework or coursework deadlines, and exam stress.
In Academic Buoyancy: towards an understanding of students' everyday resilience, professors Andrew Martin and Herbert Marsh write: "We propose that the traditional resilience concept does not address the many individuals who are faced with setbacks, challenges and pressures that are part of the ordinary course of life."
The pair came up with the concept of the "5Cs", identifying the characteristics of students who have academic buoyancy and helping teachers to identify what skills their students need to develop. The five features are composure, confidence, coordination, commitment and control.
In 2010, researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Oxford teamed up to investigate whether the model really helped to develop academic buoyancy. They concluded that the 5Cs were good predictors of academic buoyancy, and that if teachers could help students to develop these areas, they would be better equipped to handle everyday challenges.
If you'd like to give your pupils' buoyancy a boost, here are some ways to promote the 5Cs:
This means helping students to manage anxiety. There is no set way to do this, but an environment that reduces the fear of failure is helpful. There are many ways that teachers can create this, for example by encouraging students to question their fears and focus on what they can control (rather than worrying about what they can't).
Teaching students how to handle exam and revision pressure is another way to promote composure. There are many techniques that can be used, but among the most effective are ensuring that students don't get bogged down in perfectionism and understand the importance of a good night's sleep.
Students can draw on the past, present and future to give their confidence a boost, for example, reminding themselves of previous success, talking to themselves in a positive way and visualising success.
Effective goal-setting is also important as you don't want pupils to set themselves up for failure – there are many simple ways that teachers can help with this, for example, by making targets specific and focused on skills.
Students need to learn how to avoid the planning fallacy (the tendency underestimate how much time tasks will take) to manage their workloads efficiently. This is often linked to procrastination, which can be overcome using simple strategies such as starting early, tackling the hardest parts of a task first and managing the work environment to minimise distractions.
This is all about helping students to persist with tasks for longer. A lot of the current research in this area refers to "grit", the combination of passion and persistence.
At the moment, there are very few studies that explore how to develop grit, or how much this could improve academic performance and results. The best advice is to help students develop their positive self-talk, which is known to support persistence.
This is all about helping students to create a sense of ownership. The best way to do this is to have them focus on their individual development and improvement, instead of comparing themselves with others. This self-referenced focus is more stable, durable and, as a result, much more within one's own control. Giving regular, helpful and constructive feedback is another good idea. This is tough to get right but being quiet, not going overboard and being specific are great places to start.