Causes and Consequences of Student Stress


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ETAP 623 Spring 2009

Reducing Student Stress Through Instructional Practice (main page)

Unit 1: Causes and Consequences of Student Stress

Unit 2: Role of Instructional Practice in Student Stress

Unit 3: Implementing Instruction Practices to Reduce Student Stress

Let's Begin!

Unit 1 Objectives:

At the end of this unit, it is hoped that you will be able to understand the symptoms and causes of student stress, as well as identify why it is important to reduce student stress, in order to improve student academic performance and course satisfaction within the classes you teach!

What is Stress?

Stress comprises both a physiological and psychological response to external events or stressors. These stressors can either be positive or negative, but they have similar effects on the body. The main body system response revolves around activation of what is known as the sympathetic nervous system; hormones released into the blood stream and neurotrasmiters released in the brain, give us extra energy in order to deal with the event. Psychologically, our attention tends to narrow and we filter out broader distractions and concentrate on the task at hand.

The stress response is fairly primitive and has been an important component of our, and much of the animal kingdom's, biological history. However, humans, seemingly uniquely, have generalized this stress response to not just external threats or the thrill of the hunt, but common everyday occurences which we see as an opportunity or a threat. Almost any demand upon us psychologically and physically ellicits some type of response and can be considered a stressor.

Stress in Schools

Schools and Universities can be extremely stressful environments. Several of the reasons revolve around the numerous tasks in which both teachers and students must engage. K-12 teachers in the US system can have anywhere from 5-10 separate subject lessons per day. Each subject lesson requires planning and implementation. Students must also participate in this somewhat grueling schedule. In high schools, students often have homework assignments for each subject they attended during the day. If a student attends 6 classes and receives a 30 minute assignment for each, it results in a minimal homework load of 3 hours. If any of the assignements require more than 30 minutes, this homework load can quickly increase to a time commitment that infringes greatly on a students need for sleep. Worse, in order to complete projects, homework, and/or study for tests, students sometimes use stimulants in order to stay both alert and awake.

Student stress.jpg

Below is a quick summary of sources of increased stress as they may relate to a job (in this case the job is being a student). Please keep them in mind as you proceed through the course and study the resources.

The Physical environment - depending on level of noise, temperature, busyiness, number of people in a given room, etc.

Lack of control - stress increase when humans have little or no influence over daily events, actions, or tasks which must be performed. How much control do students have in their schedule, number of tasks, what they can and cannot do, etc?

Level of status in a group – a higher level of status is often seen to lower stress. However, this effect may be reversed if a higher social standing, forces individuals to conform or obey rules of behavior which they disagree with, and/or go against perceived ability to deal with the issue (your people pleasing perfectionist AP student or teachers pet). Conversely, adopting the bottom or mid-level of social standing, where those above you stop making demands, generally ignore, or give up on you, can lower stress in regards to certain issues.

Recognition and advancement – when a person is neither recognized (sincerely) or receive positive reinforcement, stress levels can increase. (Sarafino, 2002, pg.86)

What else is important to consider?

Below you will find a video on the science of stress, a short reading regarding stress in school, and finally another video on how student stress can lead to drug use and abuse. Each reading or video is accompanied by questions to reflect on prior to viewing or reading. After reviewing the resources, please read "the case study of Jackie" and use the discussion page provided to answer the discussion questions. Create one post that addresses the questions and then respond to at least 2 other participants posts.

The Science of Stress (Unit 1 - resource 1). As you watch the video below reflect on how the process described would apply to students in a k-12 school setting when the child goes from home to school to sports or clubs to home and then dinner and homework.

Can School Shrink Your Brain? (Unit 1 - Resource 2). As you read the following article keep in mind the contrast with the articles title and our purpose as educators. Also, be aware of how the information applies to you as a teacher! Most of us have more deadlines and work piled up on a daily basis than the students... Can School Shrink your brain?

Stress May Lead to increasing student drug use (Unit 1 - resource 3). Are students in your school abusing stimulants and other drugs to deal with stress? Video Link

The Case Study of Jackie

Jackie a high achieving 11th grader is taking a standard courseload for someone in his position. He is taking 3 Advanced Placement courses this year: psychology, English, and US History; in hopes that high scores on these AP tests and in the classes themselves, combined with his participation in varsity soccer, the National Honor Society, and the student council will help him get into Georgetown University, an Ivy League School. Next year, he plans to take several more AP’s in Calculus, Physics, English, and Computer Science. In order to get into AP Calc., he needs to get above an 85 in Precalculus; and in order to get into AP Physics, he needs to be talking Calculus at the same time. AP Computer Science also requires math up to at least a pre-calculus level with a grade of 85 and above. He has one meeting a week for each: student council and NHS, as well as soccer practice 3 times a week with games on Saturday. Even with all of that, Jackie still feels he’s not quite up to the level of getting into Georgetown and has been contemplating doing an internship at the local state assemblyman’s office. (If you have trouble understanding that, imagine being Jackie and having to do it!)

Discussion Questions

Talk:Causes and Consequences of Student Stress

Focus on the following questions and issues within your discussion.

1. What are some of the causes and effects of student stress? How would these effect Jackie?

2. Without mentioning names, compare your experiences of student stress with that described in the notes, article, video, and case Study of Jackie.

3. How do you think reducing student stress might aid students in your class or other classes that you know of?

What is the Role of Instructional Practice in Student Stress?

Now that we have examined what stress is, some of its causes, and a few consequences; the next unit will deal with the role of instructional practice and how it can unintendidly, add unnecessarily, to student stress...

Unit 2: Role of Instructional Practice in Student Stress