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Attributional Retraining

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Attributional Retraining is the process of “changing how students think about their academic successes and failures so that their beliefs work for, rather than against, their chances for academic success.” (Kallenbach and Zafft)


As a means to improve motivation, Attributional Retraining can be accomplished by many means. At its core, the process focuses on helping students identify (1) what they think is the cause for their challenges or failures then recognize (2) what is or is not true about that cause and what the student can do differently under the circumstances.

This mindshift can be accomplished by:

  • Student modeling: invite past students (or record and show videos) to explain how their thinking changed and what they did differently to be successful
  • Analyze successes and failures: while the approach is intended to identify action amidst failure, analyzing successes to find causes and actions that produced success can be equally influential on changing thinking
  • Role-play: simulating situations can be an effective way to get students thinking from other perspectives. Consider having students write reflections in the third person about successes and failures.
  • Discussion: have students reflect on and discuss their perspectives around challenges or failures.


Read more at the National College Transition Network

Watch a thorough explanation of Attribution Theory here:

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