What factors make boys or girls more resilient (or not) in STEM subjects?
We often talk about young people developing resilience across education. What is it? How do you teach it? How do pupils learn ‘how’ to overcome it?
Prior to the pandemic, Mark Quinn and I published our verbal feedback case study with UCL, alongside 7 state schools and 13 secondary school teachers.
At this time, Dr Sophie Hall contacted me to discuss STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching, pupil anger, and resilience – drawing upon some of the strategies used in the verbal feedback project.
After many edits, we finally published ‘A linguistic inquiry into the psychological processes associated with resilience in secondary school STEM learning‘ (March 2022).
I wanted to offer teachers a summary of the 24-page research I played a small part in …
Resilience has typically focused on the development of an individual’s strengths, leading to reduced vulnerability to adversity (Edwards, Lunt, & Stamou, 2010), and the term is increasingly being adopted into schools’ everyday language (Brown & Dixon, 2020)
The research aims were to examine resilience in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics(STEM) learning within an ecological model, identifying the psychological processes associated with resilient, and non-resilient learning to develop a framework for promoting STEM resilience.
This ecological approach was defined as: the ability to recover (Recovery), the ability to keep focused on goals (Ecological resilience), and the preference for new things, so able to naturally adjust (Adaptive capacity).
From a sample of 4,936 secondary-school students in 9 UK schools, 1,577 were identified who found their STEM lessons difficult. Students were assessed on three resilience capabilities and asked to write a commentary on how they responded to the lesson.
The data was collected between September 2019 to January 2020. Pupils were aged 11-16 years old.
From the results, the research was able to identify key psychological processes that correlated with resilience, most notably, emotional processing. This enabled us to identify ‘anger’ as a key process that distinguished students who were able to easily ‘recover’ (high resilience) and those who could not (low resilience).
The discussion and conclusion are fairly detailed in the research, providing educators with a wide range of possibilities. The STEM gender gap is also highlighted and reinforced: “… a lack of STEM resilience may partly explain the gender gap as opposed to a lack of STEM ability.”
Note, two limitations with the research: 1) that socioeconomic status was not explored, and 2) the diversity sample could significantly be improved.
Our study provides further support for teacher education and continuing professional development to highlight the importance of nurturing classroom environments in which individual students feel that they are supported at the same time as being challenged by the subject matter.
Anger is a key process that distinguishes students who struggle to recover from a difficult STEM lesson. An ecological systems model may prove useful for understanding STEM resilience and developing intervention pathways. Implications for teacher education include the importance of students’ perceptions of teacher support.
Students may show resilience in some subjects (e.g., English), but not necessarily others (e.g., Maths). Indeed, research shows that children and young people show resilience to some life stressors but not others …