Values affirmation (VA) is an exercise that reinforces students' feelings of integrity and self-worth in a learning environment. VA writing activies ask students to identify values that are important to them, and then write about how they incorporate these values into their lives. VA activities are thought to buffer students against negative emotions caused by stereotype threat. Students who (either consciously or unconscously) feel at risk of upholding stereotypes or being judged based on stereotypes (termed “stereotype threat”) experience lower academic performance because of decreased working memory, which may distract individuals from difficult tasks, such as high-stakes exams. Stereotype threat has negative impacts on college-level course performance, especially in STEM disciplines, and can also have long-term impacts, such as students distancing themselves from a discipline with which they once identified. VA activities have been shown to be effective for reducing achievement gaps in introductory STEM courses for under-represented minority and first-generation college students.

What does a VA activity look like? Students are given a handout with a list of 8-15 items they might consider valuable in their lives (independence, athletic ability, membership in a social group, etc.). After selecting two to three values that are most important to them, they write a brief response explaining why those values were important.

VA interventions requires little to no in-class instructional time and very little student effort. Each application can be administered in class, or online, and takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Most researchers recommend it be repeated twice in a term, with the first activity occuring early in the semester (weeks 1-3), prior to the first exam. The intervention is easily implemented and scalable. Some instructors read the students' written responses, while others do not.

For an in-class VA assignment, one potential way to introduce the assignment could be:

"We will do a lot of writing in this class, but today we are starting with a special 10-minute writing exercise. This is designed to give you additional practice in both critical thinking and writing, which are essential parts of any career. We are starting with topics about you and your values, to help us all feel comfortable with in-class writing. I will read your responses to learn more about you and your values, but no grades will be assigned. Just by taking part you will get full credit.”

[Note that some studies and some instructors choose to not read the students' assignments. In this case, you could have the student responses be anonymous, or not turned in, or tell them you are not going to read them.]

Values Affirmation Assignment

 If you give the assignment a second time, you may want to change the list of values in order to make the assignment feel fresh. Here is a list of values that other studies have used that you could draw from:

Being creative/artistic; your family; friendships; government or politics; independence; learning and gaining knowledge; athletic ability; belonging to a group (such as your community, cultural group, or school club); music; career; spiritual/religious values; sense of humor; your social/cultural/racial identity; money/wealth; helping others; appreciation of nature; honesty/integrity.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (NSF #1832558). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Updated: March 20, 2023