Targeted Supports – A small effort can have a big impact

Inclusive Teaching Tip | Spring 2021 WK3

Targeted Supports, also coined by researchers as psychosocial interventions are actions or activities that focus on specific educational issues by addressing the underlying social-psychological processes that can interrupt or hinder learning. There are a variety of these types of interventions that have been the subject of many recent research studies. In this Inclusive Teaching Tip, I’ll unpack them very generally. Apologies to those talented researchers! In Learning that Matters, we grouped Targeted Supports into four categories that help clarify the impact they can have for learners.

  1. Learners ascribe value to their learning.
  2. Learners become confident in their capacity for growth
  3. Learners are secure members of a learning community.
  4. Learners connect with their values.

Learners ascribe value to their learning

These types of targeted supports guide students to explore and reflect upon the value or importance of the content and skills they are learning. The goal is to tap into a learners’ intrinsic motivation. An example, drawn from Hulleman et al (2017) uses a two-stage written reflection to draw connections between learning and lived experiences.

Prompt 1: Write one to two paragraphs about how the material that you have been studying in class relates to your life. don’t summarize the material, just elaborate on its relevance to your life.

Prompt 2: Choose a topic that is personally useful and meaningful to you. In one or two paragraphs, describe how learning about this topic is useful to your life.

NOTE: Deliver these prompts about a month apart. For each, provide a list of topics recently studied.

Learners Become Confident in Their Capacity for Growth

You’ve probably heard about Carol Dweck’s work on growth vs fixed mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and other malleable traits continue to develop after birth through dedication and hard work. A person with a growth mindset acknowledges that challenge and perseverance lead to learning and that attitude and effort regulate abilities. Failure, especially failure with feedback, is viewed by someone with a growth mindset as constructive and as an opportunity to improve learning.

One simple technique for promoting a growth mindset it to encourage students to use “self talk” (Kross et al., 2014). to reframe their inner dialogue in preparation for a stressful event such as a performance or public speaking event.

Use their own name and other non-first-person pronouns. “Why is Amy feeling this way? I think Amy is feeling this way because . . .”

Use get to rather than must. For example, “Amy gets to give an oral presentation in front of class,” instead of, “I must give an oral presentation in front of class.”

Learners Are Secure Members of a Learning Community

Social belonging is the human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group and as humans, we are intrinsically motivated to be socially accepted (Walton & cohen, 2011). Through social belonging supports, students can reframe the struggles, the feelings of isolation, and the sense of inadequacy that many students experience when transitioning to college.

Greg Walton’s advice notes offer strategies to increase belonging through narratives that normalize challenge as a part of learning experienced by every learner, regardless of their background or preparation.

Learners Connect With Their Values

These targeted supports, known as “personal values interventions,” can be used in many contexts by activating the values that students hold in contradiction to negative stereotype threats. Stereotype threat is when individuals worry that their behavior may confirm stereotypes about a group they belong to or feel themselves to be at risk of conform- ing to stereotypes about their social group. Claude M. Steele’s (2011) compelling book, Whistling Vivaldi, provides excellent examples of myriad ways that stereotype threat can negatively impact members of any group.

Creating learning environments that reduce or eliminate stereotype vulnerability can benefit all students. You can avoid engaging stereotype threats by encouraging students to reflect on values that affirm their identity and resilience.

So, rather that stating “This project is very difficult” you might say “You’ve shown that you like a challenge and will enjoy this project”.

Resources & Research

  • This Is How You Talk to Yourself (VIDEO)
  • Acee, T. W., Weinstein, c. e., Hoang, T. v., & flaggs, d. A. (2018). value reappraisal as a conceptual model for task-value interventions. Journal of Experimental Education, 86(1), 69–85.
  • Harackiewicz, J. m., & Priniski, s. J. (2018). improving student outcomes in higher education: The science of targeted intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 69(1), 409–435.
  • Hulleman, c. s., Kosovich, J. J., Barron, K. e., & daniel, d. B. (2017). making connections: replicating and extending the utility value intervention in the classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(3), 387–404.
  • Kross, e., Bruehlman-senecal, e., Park, J., Burson, A., dougherty, A., shablack, H., Bremner, r., moser, J., & Ayduk, o. (2014). self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304–324.

The Inclusive Teaching Tips are a series of simple, equitable teaching practices published in the Learning and Teaching Commons Newsletter. The tips are archived here.

For many, many more inclusive teaching resources and to add your own, visit ALL LEARNERS WELCOME: Resources for Designing Inclusive Learning Experiences.

This inclusive teaching tip was adapted from Zehnder, C., Alby, C., Kleine, K., & Metzker, J. (2021). Learning That Matters: A Field Guide to Course Design for Transformative Education. Gorham, ME: Myers Education Press.

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