Managing Stress and Anxiety in the Classroom Improves Grades

Posted by Erica Warren on

Over the last 20 years as a learning specialist and educational therapist, I have witnessed increasing numbers of students in all age groups struggling with stress and anxiety. What was once a rare referral has become a common complaint that undermines confidence, riddles the mind, and sabotages study skills.

Stress management for students

What is the Culprit That's Causing Concern and Consternation?

There are a number of factors that have led to the rise in classroom angst. 

  • Stress is Passed from Teachers to Students: It’s not uncommon for me to hear from my students that, if they don’t do well on their test, their teachers may get in trouble. With teachers being held responsible for classroom grades on standardized tests, many are passing on their own worries to their learners.
  • Standardized Assessments are more Prevalent for Students of All Ages: Due to government and state officials seeking accountability for other countries/states boasting better student outcomes, state tests have been the primary way of measuring current outcomes. As a result, kids in elementary school are exposed to long and grueling tests that are often pulled together quickly and poorly written.
  • Cooperative Learners are Discouraged by Competition: Although some students are motivated by competition, many struggling learners find this energy discouraging and humiliating.
  • Children Judge their own Self Worth Based on Grades: In our society we revere those with top marks, and for those outstanding students that seek this plateau and fall short, the consequences on self worth and morale can be devastating.
  • Grading System Rewards Perfectionistic Tendencies: Parents, teachers and peers offer the most kudos and flattery for high marks and effort is rarely recognized.
  • Students Rarely Learn from their Mistakes: Instead of using grades on tests and assignments to guide instruction, so that all students master the content, teachers are scrambling to instruct the next topic so that they can meet all their curricular requirements.

Executive Functioning CoachingWhy Does Anxiety Sabotage Scores?

Researcher suggests that between 25 and 40 percent of students experience test anxiety, and the populations that experience the highest rates are gifted students as well as those with disabilities. Although a little bit of anxiety can heighten attention and motivate a student, high levels of anxiety can result in physiological, emotional and cognitive symptoms that can block learning and recall in class and testing situations.

  • Physiological signs: This includes headaches, stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat and dry mouth. Test anxiety can also cause panic attacks that result in intense fear, difficulty breathing, and extreme discomfort.
  • Emotional symptoms: This includes extreme expectations of gloom and doom, fear of failure, random thoughts, feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness, self-condemnation, depression, negative self-talk, frustration and comparing oneself unfavorably to others.
  • Cognitive manifestations: This includes poor concentration, "going blank", confusion, and poor organization.

How Can I Help?

Instead of teachers’ passing their stress onto their student body, they can set an example by being calm, mindful and resilient. Here are some tools that can help.

  • Give less homework and don’t “teach to the test.” If you are going to give assignments that need to be completed at home, try this approach.
  • Nurture a growth mindset and try to reward the act of learning instead of grading and degrading a student on what they don’t know.
  • Try to bring the fun back into learning. Place more attention on enjoyable projects, learning games, and cooperative lessons.
  • Nurture resilience by teaching students how to bounce back after adversity and learn from their mistakes.
  • Encourage your students to compete against themselves and not others. Keep grades to a minimum and provide your students guiding advice so that they can continue to grow in their approach to learning.
  • Reward effort over high scores.
  • Allow students to get partial credit back on tests and assignments for redoing work and showing that they have mastery of the content.
  • Focus on the 6 key attributes that lead to student success: self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goals setting, support systems, and emotional coping strategies.

Happy kids reading

I hope this blog was helpful. If you would like to learn about all of Dr. Warren’s strategies for creating a successful learning specialist practice, CLICK HERE.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

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