African-American middle school students narrowed the achievement gap, relative to their white peers, after they were asked to produce written essays in which they reflected on their personal values, according to a new study.
Published this month in the journal Science, the study, a randomized field experiment, found that the gap separating the grades of 7th grade African-Americans from their higher-achieving white counterparts narrowed after they took part in the writing exercises, which the authors described as “self-affirmations.”
All of the student groups studied saw their grades decline, which is typical in middle school, explained the lead author, Geoffrey L. Cohen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. But the declines were less steep for African-American students with the writing intervention.
The students’ essays focused on important personal values, such as relationships with family or friends, their musical interests, and other topics. The authors say that the writing process helped the black students overcome stereotypes and build confidence, “shoring up self-integrity” and helping build academic performance.
A version of this article appeared in the April 29, 2009 edition of Education Week