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Positive psychology
Positive education
Character strengths
Academically at-risk/low-progress learners
Issue Date: 
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Singapore
Caleon, I. S., King, R. B., Liem, G. A., Tan, C. S., Tan, J. P.-L., Lam, R., & Nur Qamarina Ilham. (2020). Nurturing positivity: A positive psychology intervention to enhance well-being, engagement, and achievement among at-risk students. National Institute of Education (Singapore), Office of Education Research.
This research had a two-fold objective. The first objective was to develop an intervention programme that was grounded on positive psychology and tailored for academically at-risk students, that is, students who, by and large, achieved lower aggregate scores than the cohort mean in the national test given at the end of primary education. The second objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of each of the components of the intervention programme in terms of improving positive emotions, well-being, and academic outcomes of academically at-risk students.

Three positive psychology interventions (PPIs) were developed to form the intervention programme. Each PPI comprised five core activities, with a wrap-up session that was conducted after the core activities. The Gratitude PPI comprised the following activities: Gratitude Collage, Counting Blessings, Mental Subtraction, Facing Challenges with Gratitude, and Gratitude Card. The Hope PPI featured activities such as Goal Setting and Goal Mapping, Journaling, Best Possible Self, Savouring Success, and Sharing Formula for Success. The Strengths PPI involved activities such as Identification of Top Strengths, Journaling about Top Strengths, Identification of Signature Strengths, Journaling about Signature Strengths and then Create a Superhero.

The evaluation of the effectiveness of the PPIs involved six sub-studies, with two sub-studies tied to each PPI. For each PPI, the first sub-study, which utilised a quasi-experimental design, served as the first trial to test the impact of the PPI and identify areas for improvement; the second sub-study utilized a split-plot experimental design (i.e., each participating class was randomly split into group A and B and all students in group A formed the intervention group while all students in Group B formed the control group). The six sub-studies involved 305 academically at-risk students.

The results of four sub-studies support the potential of two (i.e., Hope and Gratitude PPIs) out three PPIs in cultivating positive emotions and well-being, and enhancing adaptive motivation and learning strategies. In terms of promoting students’ well-being, the effect of the Gratitude PPI was found to be more consistent and stronger than that of the Hope PPI. Specifically, the Gratitude PPI has generated greater increase in students’ life satisfaction and reduction in depressive symptoms than the control activities did. The Hope PPI seems to be more effective in terms of preventing the worsening of the students’ self-reported depressive symptoms, rather than directly reducing them. Concerning academic achievement, the effects of the PPIs were generally weak.

All the PPIs did not generate a significant effect on academic engagement; however, when it comes to academic motivation, results associated with one PPI was promising. In particular, the Hope PPI was found to have beneficial effects in terms of preventing the decline in students’ intrinsic motivation.

The general results of the present investigation also point to the effectiveness of the Hope PPI, but not the other two PPIs, in increasing students’ use of deep learning and elaboration strategies. The Hope PPI was found to be more effective than the usual CCE activities in enhancing the students’ use of these adaptive learning strategies. The effects of the Hope PPI on these outcomes were not significantly mediated by the students’ academic hope (i.e., positive expectations to achieve school goals). These results suggest that the Hope PPI may operate directly, rather than indirectly through enhancing academic hope levels, in improving adaptive school outcomes.

The benefits that can be derived from the PPIs appear to be stronger and more amenable to measurement when a considerable period has passed after the students’ exposure to PPIs or after booster sessions were conducted. These results suggest that some effects of the PPIs may take a while to manifest and that state-like measures may be more appropriate in capturing the effects of such PPIs accurately.

Overall, the results of the six sub-studies have shown the potential benefits of PPIs, particularly the Hope and Gratitude PPIs, in enhancing adaptive school and well-being outcomes for academically at-risk students in Singapore. The Gratitude PPI appears to have relatively stronger effects on well-being while the Hope PPI seems to be more effective in promoting the use of productive learning strategies and in preventing the decline in intrinsic motivation to study. Educators and interventionists may select the PPIs that suit the needs and profiles of their subjects, or implement the PPIs in combination and in longer duration to generate optimal impact.
Note: Restricted to NIE staff only. Contact author for access to report.
Project number: 
OER 06/13 RBK
Grant ID: 
Education Research Funding Programme (ERFP)
Funding Agency: 
Ministry of Education, Singapore
Appears in Collections:OER - Reports

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