What are the benefits of using positive affirmations in the classroom? Chances are, if you landed on this blog post, you wonder about the impact of positive thinking on student achievement. As a teacher, though, you aren’t sure if the benefits of using positive affirmations in the classroom are worth your time. Let’s face it, you have 16 hours worth of material to cover in a 6 or 7 hour day, right? Are the benefits of using “I statements” enough to warrant chipping away at your precious (and limited) time? To help you make an informed decision, here are some research findings about the effects of positive affirmations.
Potential benefits of using positive affirmations in the classroom:
- Research shows us that thoughts have a direct impact on emotions and feelings. Those emotions trigger a corresponding release of chemicals in your brain. Using positive affirmations may allow students to harness and manipulate the release of chemicals that will serve them in constructive ways.
- Just by virtue of drawing attention to their thoughts, students become more self-aware. Not only does this decrease the likelihood that students will get sucked into a crap storm of negative thoughts, it also trains students to be more reflective and analytical of their own self-talk. Is the student’s self-talk constructive or destructive?
- Practicing self-affirmations, an exercise where someone writes about the things that they value, can increase feelings of self-worth. A brain-scan study confirmed that participants who practiced self-affirmations showed increased activity in the regions of the brain associated with reward and self. This was especially true when participants were given self-affirmation prompts that were future-oriented. An additional review of this study can be found here. In addition, utilizing self-affirmations, also called values-based affirmations, was also shown to improve academic performance, narrow the achievement gap, and improve grades in this study.
- Students’ problem-solving abilities increase as a result of utilizing positive self-affirmations. Carnegie Mellon University’s David Creswell conducted research that found people who are under pressure can boost their problem-solving abilities by using positive affirmations. Thus, the negative effects of stress on problem solving can be minimized. This has important implications for high stakes testing. Students under stress prior to taking an exam can think about values important to them (self-affirmations) in order to mitigate the negative impact of the pressure they feel.
- Affirmation exercises have the potential to close the achievement gap among Latino students. Research led by Jeffrey Cohen at Stanford University indicates that Latino students who completed affirmation exercises had higher grades than students in the control group. It is believed that these students were more able to overcome stereotype threat – “the stress and uncertain sense of belonging that can stem from being a member of a negatively stereotyped group which contributes substantially to poor academic performance of minority students as compared with white students”. Even more promising, the effects of theses exercises persisted over time.
- It goes without saying that positive affirmations support a classroom environment that fosters perseverance, self-reflection, and positivity.
Potential risks or drawbacks of using affirmations in the classroom:
- Some research indicates that using positive affirmations can actually backfire. If the message in the affirmation doesn’t feel true to the person who is using it, the person may actually feel worse. The idea is that the person’s automatic response (conscious or not) may be in direct opposition to the affirmation. The person, then, is inadvertently reminded of their self-perceived shortcomings. Students who struggle with low self-esteem may need affirmations that feel reachable or believable. Constructing the affirmation in a specific way can be beneficial. More specifically, a person who feels like they have some control with regards to the affirmation, may feel more aligned with its message. For example, instead of saying, “I am intelligent,” he/she may say, “I am willing to believe that I can learn when I work hard.” Effective sentence frames for these types of affirmations might include…
- I choose to….
- I am willing to….
- This time, I will….
- I can….
- Even though I…., I will allow….
- I give myself permission to….
- Using affirmations requires a commitment on the part of the teacher and the students. Affirmations will only work if students are trained to replace their negative self-talk with more positive options. Identify moments when affirmations could be most useful. Discuss and reflect on these as a group and individually, as needed.
Implementation ideas for using positive affirmations in the classroom:
- Use positive affirmations on posters for a bulletin board display.
- Choose one affirmation per day, per week, or per month (or all three) and spend time discussing how students can incorporate that affirmation in their lives and how they can incorporate that affirmation more in the future.
- Present an affirmation card or affirmation sticky note to a student after you witness him/her demonstrating the affirmation. This will serve to reinforce that desirable characteristic or trait.
- Students can nominate other students to receive an affirmation (written on a card or sticky note) when they witness the classmate demonstrating the behavior. This can be done at regularly scheduled intervals so each student has an opportunity to make a nomination. Review the nominations prior to passing them out, as you may need to fill in the gaps for students who haven’t been nominated.
- Students can create their own affirmations based on the circumstances and challenges they face. Remember to use the sentence frames (above) for students who struggle with their self-esteem.
- Leave affirmation sticky notes in random and unexpected places around the school (student desks, bathroom mirrors/backs of doors, lockers, classroom walls, etc.).
- Remember that consistency breeds more effective results. Put affirmations in your daily lesson plans. It only needs to take a few minutes here and there!
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Share you thoughts! Are affirmations worth your time based on the information presented here? Why or why not? What is your favorite way to implement affirmations in your classroom?
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