The importance of a positive academic self-concept, especially for pupils with a specific learning difference, is in no doubt, with a growing body of research that has explored the self-esteem of pupils in different settings. Nonetheless, there was little research with younger primary age pupils. My research adopted semi-structured interviews to listen to the voices of the participants and explore their thoughts and feelings and how these perceptions shape their academic self-image and feelings of self-esteem, before and after a resilience-based programme.
The study revealed how much anxiety and stress affected the pupils’ cognitive processing capacity and metacognitive thinking, consequently their approach to challenges in learning. One participant displayed natural protective factors, with acceptance of their difference, enabling them to demonstrate self-efficacy and resilience to deal with the difficulties they encounter. Learning to notice, challenge and reframe unhelpful thinking; the use of calming strategies; developing a growth mindset, self-advocacy and self-acceptance, were all factors that the young participants expressed as helping them. Developing these protective factors leads to greater self-efficacy and resilience which in turn enables a pupil to control their anxiety, embrace their difference and strengths, and approach challenges in learning with greater confidence, motivation and perseverance.
Dyslexia or a specific learning difference is a life-long challenge to cope with, hence acceptance is crucial. Consequently, when life throws additional challenges, having developed strategies to exercise resilience, these challenges can be worked through. It is important to reiterate that individuals can still display sadness, self-doubt and anxiety in the face of difficulty, challenge and mistakes, but it is the resilience developed, the coping strategies that they can trigger, the ability to notice unhelpful thinking, challenge it and reframe, that enables them to cope, adapt and carry on. Working through such situations when they have these coping strategies and a stronger self-efficacy, enables pupils to gain positive experiences, be successful and thrive. These in turn demonstrate how they can influence situations and outcomes, so boost their self-efficacy further and feed into a positive academic self-image and raised self-esteem. Young learners, with a specific learning difference, need support to ensure they develop these protective factors and have an environment where their strengths are valued.
The research was a small-scale case study, consequently the study acknowledges that the responses heard will not be representative of all the dyslexic population of this age. This study does not make simplistic claims as what works for some individuals is unlikely to work for all and generalisations cannot be made from such a small-scale study.