Social Belonging

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"I/people like me don't belong/can't fit/can't succeed at my college <or high school AP Computer Science course>". 

There are research studies that describe the academic gaps and rates of completed postsecondary education between students of Low-SES (socio-economic) and diverse backgrounds and or English as a Second Language (ELs) learners, with other groups of students even though all of these groups are equated on prior preparation. 

Students of Low-SES and diverse and or EL learners may go through challenges of commonplace difficulties, i.e. maybe not doing well on a project and/or exam, and feel that they "do not belong" or "not good/smart enough."; and, as a result, they may withdraw from the social/academic environment such as institutions of higher learning and/or high school AP computer science courses.

On this Connection to Community web page, we hope to  provide you and your students some Social Belonging Interventions that you can consider using for your students that will provide them a Connection to Community and a sense that they do belong and that it is okay to go through this commonplace difficulties and overcome them (normalizing struggle). We also do hope that your students will gain confidence and strive to continue with sustained engagement in the social/academic environment including high school AP Computer Science courses.

Key Components on Providing Social Belonging Interventions

This appendix outlines some key components of Social Belonging Interventions. 

Providing Intervention content to students

"After students are provided introductory materials of Lay Theory, students review intervention content. This can consist of survey results and stories from older students, a scientific article, or both".

We can share with our students that it is not one specific group or individual that "they may feel that they do not belong/can't fit/can't succeed at my college <or high school AP Computer Science course>"

Sharing with them information from surveys (we are reviewing and seeking this information to share with you in the future) and stories from older students experiences that many of their peers from all groups feel the same way is important for them to understand. You can share the following stories with your students as examples.

SUGGESTION: Near the end of the school year, ask your students to write and share their experiences in the AP CS A (or other CS courses) with future students coming into the course. Ask them to focus on two key ideas:

OR, you can ask students to create a 1 -3 minute responding to these questions to future students taking the AP CS A course. You can create a library and have future students review these videos. The study specifies a writing task; but having an option for students that are challenged by reading and/or writing by creating a video , or doing both, is up to you. Student choice voice and choice is always encouraged. 

Please review your district's policy for permission slips that will allow you to use the writings and videos in the future.


Content Example 1: “When I first got to college <or took the AP CS course>, I worried that I was different from the other students. Everyone else seemed so certain it was the right place for them and were so happy here. But I wasn’t sure I fit in – if I would make friends, if people would respect me, if it was the right school <or course> for me. With time I came to realize that almost everyone comes to college <or the AP CS course> and feels uncertain at first about whether they fit in. It’s just something everyone goes through. Now it seems ironic – everybody feels different first year, but really we’re all going through the same thing.”

Content Example 2: “When I got into [school name] <or AP CS course>, I was so excited about becoming a student at such a great place <course>. But sometimes I also worried I might be different from other [school name] students. And when I got to campus, sometimes it felt like everyone else knew they were right for [school name] <or course>, but I wasn’t sure if I fit in. At some point, I realized that almost everyone comes to [school name] <this course> uncertain whether they fit in or not. Now it seems ironic—everybody comes to [school name] <or into this course> and feels they are different from everybody else, when really in at least some ways we are all pretty similar. Since I realized that, my experience at [school name] <in the course> has been almost one-hundred percent positive.”

Writing OR Video Task

After reviewing the intervention content materials, students are asked to complete a writing exercise. They are asked to write "a brief essay about how and why these initial worries about belonging are likely to diminish over time as students come to feel at home in college <or in AP CS courses>. Students were told that their essays might be provided, anonymously, to future students to improve their transition to college <AP CS courses>."

OR, you can request students to create a 1 to 3 minute video (if they need more time, you can certainly make a decision about letting them do so) and share it with you and future students.

Please review your district's policy for permission slips that will allow you to use the writings and videos in the future.

The Lay Theory student also outlines that "The purpose of the growth mindset intervention is to teach students that intelligence is a malleable quality that can be developed when students put forth effort and use effective strategies on challenging tasks."

The CSAwesome E-book provides a Growth Mindset Section: Growth Mindset. We highly recommend that you review this section with your students.

A Summary of Research of Social Belonging Interventions

Pre-college and 1st year of College Interventions on a Large Scale 

(Social Belonging and Growth Mindset)

This study , Teaching a Lay Theory, explains/describes/examines a pre-matriculation/preparatory (or as students are starting a high school AP CS course)  lay theory, i.e. "a reason" for why the transition to college is difficult, shifting the meanings of difficulties that students of Low-SES and diverse backgrounds and/or as EL learners may experience. For example, "People like me don’t belong or cannot succeed" changes to "it's common to go through challenges like this and overcome them.

From the study itself, it suggests: "However, taking a psychological approach, it may be helpful to provide a lay theory (9) of the transition—a starting hypothesis that many challenges in the transition are common and not cause to doubt one’s prospects of belonging and success (10, 11). This kind of lay theory may help people make sense of challenges they later face and take steps to overcome them, for instance, by helping students feel comfortable accessing support services and reaching out to peers and professors."

This works by conveying that everyone struggles at first and that these struggles can be overcome. (Although the study is done with participants that are college students, we feel that this intervention will work within the context for our high school AP Computer Science students.)

Improves STEM Outcomes for ESL Students

This study explains/describes/examines how social belonging Improves STEM Outcomes for ESL Students. English as a Second Language Learners are also an underserved and underrepresented group in Computer Science as well as in STEM.

In the study, the authors outline their study of ESL students, and "investigate the impact of a social-belonging intervention on anticipated changes in belonging...; These interventions have been effective at bolstering underrepresented students’ anticipated sense of belonging before they have matriculated into college, as well as their academic persistence and performance during college (2527)."

Wise Feedback and "Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust"

This study explains/describes/examines a "the effects of a strategy to restore trust on minority adolescents’ responses to critical feedback". It outlines how students of diverse backgrounds receiving critical feedback from teachers can "break a cycle of mistrust" by "emphasizing the teacher’s high standards and belief that the student was capable of meeting those standards", a strategy known as "wise feedback".


Low-SES Student Needs and Teacher Actions


Reflection Activity Facilitator Slides (link coming soon)

Consider the following questions: