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Inside Teaching : October 2010
Inside Teaching | October 2010 RESEARCH 42 Is it better for a student to be a ‘big fish in a little pond’ and feel self-assured and comfortable with their abilities, or to be the ‘little fish in a big pond’ and continually be challenged and encouraged to improve? This was the question at the back of Dr Marjorie Seaton’s mind when she embarked on a University of Western Sydney (UWS) study, which included a review of the international research into the academic self-concepts of high-ability students. Dr Seaton says her review overwhelmingly demonstrates that a student’s academic self-concept has a reciprocal relationship with their academic performance. ‘A student’s academic self- concept – that is, how they think and feel about their academic abilities – tends to grow in accordance with their academic results,’ says Dr Seaton, who is based in the Educational Excellence and Equity Research Program within the UWS Centre for Educational Research. ‘If their academic results improve, their perceptions of their abilities will also improve. And if their perceptions of their abilities improve, so too will their academic results.’ This reciprocal nature of academic performance and self-concept is great news for the ‘big fish’ of the classroom – those students who experience minimal competition from their peers and therefore have fewer opportunities for their confidence in their abilities to be challenged. For the ‘little fish,’ however, the picture is not so positive. The threat is that, by continually comparing their performance Big fish, little pond Research indicates there are clear benefits to being the ‘big fish in a little pond.’ DAN IELLE RODDICK reports.