70% of teens say anxiety is a major problem among people their age in the community where they live. An additional 26% say it’s a minor problem, and available data show that COVID has only exacerbated this problem.
More specifically, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) studies show that the majority of adolescents worldwide report worry and tension in math classes and when doing math. 61% of teens say they personally feel a lot of pressure to get good grades in general, and another 27% say they feel some pressure to do so. And 41% of 2016 incoming college freshmen said they feel “overwhelmed” by all they have to do, compared with 28% in 2000 and 18% in 1985 (Eagan 2016).
Why Anxiety is an Academic Issue
If the well-being of our youth was not enough of a reason to teach them how to manage stress and anxiety in schools, anxiety’s effects on performance and achievement and the fact that we know empirically how to mitigate them make it clear that learning these skills should be a part of every child’s education.
For example, a recent meta-analysis shows that math achievement is significantly and negatively correlated with math anxiety specifically (Barroso 2021). Though it has been less extensively studied, recent research also indicates a negative correlation between reading anxiety and reading achievement (Taboada 2022) and the same relationship for writing (Gibriel 2019).
We need only to look as far as the concept of stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson 1995) to understand how solving this problem is even more urgent for marginalized students. Stereotype threat is considered by some researchers to be a contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender achievement gaps, such as underperformance of Black students relative to white ones in various academic subjects, and under-representation of women at higher echelons in the field of mathematics (APA 2006). Researchers hypothesize that relevant negative stereotypes affect performance by inducing anxiety which decreases performance is by depleting working memory and other executive skills (Johns 2008).
The good news is, we know what to do.
What the Research Says to Do
Empirical evidence suggests that teaching students to re-evaluate stress, adopt an incremental theory of intelligence (growth mindset), and perform self-affirmation exercises can effectively mitigate the effects of stereotype threat (Aronson 2002, Johns 2008, Cohen 2006). Teaching students to self-regulate with specific strategies while they work has also been shown to improve academic performance generally. And this can all be done within a general education classroom.
Current mainstream interventions for math, reading, and writing do not directly address the emotional factors that hold students back. So that all of our kids can do and feel better, it’s time to change that approach.
What We’re Doing
Our mission is to help students feel and do better in school. We provide life-long tools that learners can use to take control over their external and internal stressors, increase their self-efficacy, and fully realize their academic potential.
We achieve this mission when the students we support learn to cultivate self-compassion, health, and happiness along with the subject matter and executive skills they need to overcome their academic challenges.
We seek to create a world where students, parents, educators, academics, allied professionals, and other invested community members actively:
- Learn about & name the aspects of schooling which impose an undue emotional burden on students, especially those who have been historically under-served by the system.
- Examine the ways in which existing beliefs about school and education may perpetuate a system that causes unnecessary hardship in the lives of students.
- Understand how we can use our voice, our vote, and our spending power to move the needle toward a more compassionate system of schooling.
- Act compassionately toward the students in our lives, including ourselves.
Over the year and a half that we’ve been in operation, we’ve helped over 260 students and their families, and we can’t wait to do even more.
American Psychological Association (2006) “Stereotype Threat Widens Achievement Gap: Reminders of stereotyped inferiority hurt test scores”
Aronson J, Fried CB, Good C (2002). “Reducing the Effects of Stereotype Threat on African American College Students by Shaping Theories of Intelligence”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 38 (2): 113–125.
Barroso C, Ganley CM, McGraw AL, Geer EA, Hart SA, Daucourt MC. A meta-analysis of the relation between math anxiety and math achievement. Psychol Bull. 2021 Feb;147(2):134-168.
Gibriel, Mariam. (2019). Investigating Writing Strategies, Writing Anxiety and Their Effects on Writing Achievement : A Mixed Method Design. The Journal of AsiaTEFL. 16. 429-436.
Johns M, Inzlicht M, Schmader T (November 2008). “Stereotype threat and executive resource depletion: examining the influence of emotion regulation”. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General. 137 (4): 691–705.
Steele, C. M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do. W W Norton & Co.
Taboada Barber, A., Lutz Klauda, S., & Wang, W. (2022). Reading Anxiety, Engagement, and Achievement: A Comparison of Emergent Bilinguals and English Monolinguals in the Elementary Grades. Read Res Q, 57( 1), 353– 376.
Founder & Principal Academic Coach
Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M.
Laura Fragomeni is a Harvard-educated master academic coach and the founder of School Without Suffering, an academic coaching practice specializing in helping struggling students around the world be happy and successful.