What to do when students believe: ‘I don’t belong here’

When students feel they don’t belong, it has “devastating effects on student motivation,” said Stanford psychologist Geoffrey Cohen in a talk at Yale recently.

First-generation college students, women in math and science fields and African-Americans and Latinos on mostly white/Asian campuses may feel an “apartness” that makes it harder to engage in class and keep trying.

Transitions — from elementary school to junior high, from high school to college — are critical, writes Annie Murphy Paul. Three interventions can counter the lack of belonging, says Cohen.

Students receiving feedback on an essay are told, “I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and I know you can meet them.” Students experiencing a transition are told, “It’s normal and natural not to feel comfortable in a new situation. It will get easier.”

Students facing a challenge are asked to write about a value that’s important to them, an exercise that leads them to feel that, “I’m bigger than this. This challenge doesn’t define me.” After a one-hour discussion of the college transition, black college students earned significantly higher grades, shrinking the minority achievement gap by 52 percent, according to research by Cohen and a colleague.

This post originally appeared at joannejacobs.com.

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at joannejacobs.com, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at ccspotlight.org.

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