AST often emerge from negative school experiences and

AST is an intervention targets on year 5 and 6 pupils with
anxiety problems, but all Year 5 and 6 pupils would be involved to improve
general emotional conditions. This 12-session programme involves
academic-related games in classroom, which children would work in pairs and
take turns to be “tutor” and “tutee”. There are 3 main components in each
session, starting with “teaching points and demonstration”. In this part,
children would be given instructions and possibly exemplar guidance on how to
give feedback as a tutor. In “Practice” section, tutors would be given the
solution in each task, and they need to provide feedback for tutees for their
performance. When the tutee succeeds, the tutor should validate his/her ability
and attribute success to both ability and effort/strategy use; whereas, when
the tutee fails, the tutor should attribute failure to lack of effort and/or
inappropriate strategy use. Besides, the tutor should also encourage the tutee
to try harder, and provide them the right strategy or solution when needed. Following
the practice, children would be given time to discuss in group, and to reflect
the effectiveness of the “guided” attributions.


Attribution retraining was chosen because it could break
the negative cognitive and emotional cycle.  Maladaptive attribution styles often emerge from
negative school experiences and are shown in low achievers (Robertson, 2000;
Sinha and Gupta 2006). Attribution theory proposes that sense of
controllability of attributed causality depends on 2 dimensions: stability and
locus (internal/external) (Arbic & Anderson, 2009). Pupils would be easily
amotivated if they always attribute performance to uncontrollable factors,
especially if they see failure as internally stable but success as luck (Reyes
et al., 2002).  Maladaptive attribution
styles have the tendency to perpetuate. When pupils consistently experience feelings
of uncontrollability, they would protect own self-esteem by withholding effort
(Toland and Boyle 2006). Such vicious
cycle could end up with learned helplessness, low self-esteem and lack of
confidence (Sinha & Gupta, 2006), and probably be the source of anxiety
problems. In a systematic-analysis, studies generally shown that effort
attributions to both success and failure outcomes had positive effects in
school-aged children (Robertson, 2000). The programme setting is based on both
theoretical perspective and previous experiment of ineffective outcome.
Regarding the age range, target group is set to be Year 5 and 6 because
literature has suggested inability to distinguish the distinctive contribution
of effort and ability on achievement in children before the age of 9 (Toland
& Boyle, 2006; Arbic & Anderson, 2009). Without a proper concept of
“stable ability” and “unstable effort”, maladaptive attribution may not be the
source of anxiety in younger pupils. Hence, AST is expected to be ineffective
for them. Pupils are encouraged to overly guide their partners in practice
because training is shown to be more effective when students verbalize the
attribution statements aloud (Robertson, 2000). Nevertheless, teachers in
previous study reported difficulty in engaging pupils in practice due to the
reprimand for individual overt self-talk (Horner & Gaither, 2004). Therefore,
the practice section in AST is recommended to include verbalization of attribution
statements, but is collaborative in nature.  From Vygotsky’s viewpoint, it can still
achieve the same effect as self-talk since social speech would internalize to
private, and to inner speech.

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Attribution retraining could help pupils become more
resilient, and break the negative cycle by altering thinking style to positive
ways. An adaptive attribution style is significantly related to reductions in
negative affect as it promotes achievement motivation and sense of control
(Hall et al., 2007). When pupils regain the sense of control, they could be
more confident in their own ability. In the
experiment by Toland and Boyle (2006), children aged 10-11 experienced
significant improvement in motivation and self-esteem.  With self-fulfilling prophecy (Jussim & Harber, 2005), it is expected that pupils
would eventually perform better. Such positive cycle would then reduce anxiety.
The increased optimism and reduced mental health problems after children had
received attribution retraining were shown in studies (Sinha & Gupta, 2006;
Ramexani et al., 2015). More importantly, the effects of attribution retraining
seem to be long-lasting. In Mueller and Dweck’s study (1998), children were
more willing to take challenge and shown better long-term performance when
children were praised for their effort for solving math problems. In addition
to attribution retaining, AST also includes strategy provision in practice
section, which “tutors” are advised to provide solutions to “tutees” when they
fail to pass the task. The long-lasting effects of strategy training are
demonstrated in an early experiment with low-achievers in elementary school,
with better performance than control and group received attribution training
only, and continuous adoption of taught strategies (Carr et al., 1989).
However, this study also noticed that strategy training was useful only when
children were aware of its effectiveness. To ensure that pupils could attain
the awareness, they are given opportunities to experience success with provision
of appropriate strategy. It could foster them to attribute their previous
failure to strategy misuse rather than incapability. The shift of attribution
from uncontrollable to controllable causal factor can then decrease the
likelihood of learnt helplessness. As Sinha and Gupta (2006) shown, children
felt much more confident after problem-solving training.


sum up, literature generally provides good evidence for the effectiveness of
combining attribution and strategy training. Nevertheless, most of the studies
available are relatively short-term. To evaluate the long-term effectiveness,
the 12 sessions could be implemented on monthly basis. This means that the pre-
and post-programme measurements would be a year apart. The age-appropriate instruments
for assessing anxiety and attribution style in children are Children’s Test Anxiety
Scale (Carey et al., 2017) and Children’s Attributional Styles Questionnaire-Revised
(Gurley, 2011). AST is not a costly programme, but it is necessary for teachers
to receive trainings from professionals, like educational psychologists. 


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