Writing Across the Curriculum/
Writing in the Disciplines
About the experiment: A study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder Department of Psychology and Neuroscience demonstrates the link between short “values-affirmation” writing exercises and improved performance among women in college physics classes. This study was inspired by a 2006 article and follow-up study about values-affirmation writing producing significant cross-curriculum and long-term improvements in the grades of seventh-grade African American students.
The results: For women, especially those who most strongly endorsed the stereotype that men are naturally better at physics than women, two 15-minute writing exercises during the semester had significant results. The first writing exercise was given in class within the first four weeks of the semester, while the second was administered online toward the middle of the semester. The women and men in the experiment group selected their most important values from a list (such as relationships with family or gaining knowledge) and wrote about why they are important to them. Women in the control group tended to earn C grades, while those women in the experiment group on average earned grades in the B-range for the course.
In the study of seventh graders, values-affirmation writing produced a 40% reduction in the grade gap between African American students and their European American peers. While the writing exercise was administered in only one course, researchers noticed that the exercise equally impacted the students’ grades in every course. Overall, researchers found that African American students who wrote a few affirmation exercises raised their cumulative grades by .24 points (on a 4-point scale) in all of their classes. For lower-performing students, the results were even more dramatic: these students’ GPAs improved an average of .41 points. The psychologists returned to the students two years after the writing exercise experiments and found that even without continuing to do additional values affirmation writing, the gains in the students’ grades remained.
Why writing works: Affirming one’s own values helps students belonging to groups whose academic abilities has been negatively stereotyped to overcome “identity threat” and focus on their own interests and motivations rather than on the fear that they are unable to perform at a high level or that their failure to do well in class will lead to additional negative stereotypes for their group.
How to use the worksheet: We recommend distributing this worksheet once during class time in the first four weeks of the semester. Allow students 15 minutes to do the exercise at some point during class. Let the students know before they begin that you will not collect their worksheets. At some point toward the middle of the semester, you can provide the students with the worksheet again, but instruct them to do the exercise on their own at home.
The worksheet we provide was adapted from a description of the writing exercise used in: Miyake, Akira, et al. “Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation.” Science 330 (26 November 2010): 1234-1237.
Writing About Values—15 minutes
Circle two or three of the values most important to you:
being good at art
relationships with family and friends
government or politics
learning and gaining knowledge
belonging to a social group (such as your community or school club)
spiritual or religious values
sense of humor
Write about why the values you selected are important to you. Focus on your thoughts and feelings, without worrying about spelling and grammar or how well written your answer is.
Look again at the values you selected. Write on the back of your sheet about the top two reasons why these values are important to you.
Cohen, Geoffrey L., et al. “Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap.” Science 324 (17 April 2009): 400-403.
———. “Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention.” Science 313 (1 September 2006): 1307-1310.
Miyake, Akira, et al. “Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation.” Science 330 (26 November 2010): 1234-1237.