Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stereotype threat in 20% projects, or just more "wall candy"

As I keep planning for our 20% project, some ideas of possible difficulties keep bouncing in my head. What about my students that do not see themselves as scientists or innovators? What about those that already believe that they cannot accomplish the goal? How can I counteract these fixed mindsets?

I just finished reading "Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do to" by Claude Steele, and came away with some big ideas that I wish to share:
"The identity contingencies that made the biggest difference in our functioning seemed to threaten or restrict us in some way... Remind test takers of identities that counter the relevant stereotype"
Steele's studies suggest that environmental cues could have a lasting effect on the performance of individuals under stereotype threat. In this case, "Would an environmental cue, like the one that follows, overcome the influence of the negative stereotype associated with minorities in Science, by reminding students that all ethnicities present in my classroom have accomplished greatness?", or will it just become one more piece of wall candy?

The hope is that this information will enable my students to create a more hopeful personal narrative, by allowing them to see themselves in the faces of the individuals.

The second big idea, critical feedback is well, critical. How can I ensure that my feedback is not seen as alienating, but rather as an opportunity for growth?
 "By changing the way you give critical feedback, you can dramatically improve minority students' motivation and receptiveness."
Steele suggests using what he dubbed "the Tom Ostrom strategy". Basically it boils down to the feedback giver explaining that  he/she used high standards in evaluating the work, and that he/she believed the student could meet those standards. This implies that any criticism is offered to help the student meet the standards, and not as a critique of the individual or a confirmation of a bad stereotype.

With this in mind, and Carol Dueck's research on growth mindset, I need to work towards fostering in my students the idea that the 20% project is an opportunity to practice, and train ourselves to become more intelligent than we were before. It is not a confirmation of intelligence reserved only to those bright enough, but rather a way to develop the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even if things do not go well.

100% of my students will achieve greatness, now let's get started.

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