The thrust of the article is that One.Simple.Assignment, assigned to students a few times throughout a single school year, showed that students who completed this assignment had better grades and were promoted more frequently than students who did not two years after the assignment was given. I was absolutely dumbstruck by this article and I don't know why it hasn't been the talk of the town among ELA teachers with at-risk populations. The assignment is very simple: Students are asked to write about one or two values that they cherish and why the values are important to them. The designers of the study opine that this assignment, which they refer to as a kind of self-affirmation disguised as a straightforward academic assignment, focuses students on their potential and their strengths, and, renewing this mindset several times over the course of the school year, students' self-efficacy grows.
I know there's good reason to be skeptical. We hear "self-affirmation" and think of Stuart Smalley reminding himself that he's "good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like [him]." Self-affirmation sounds silly, shallow, even narcissistic. But hey, Stuart Smalley made it to the U.S. Senate with that kind of thinking. So is there any good reason not to try this in your classroom? If nothing else, it's a pretty decent diagnostic writing assessment. It will show you if students can organize an essay, if they can use concrete details to back up abstract concepts, etc.
I'm going to give it a shot during the first week of school. I'll let you know how it goes.