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Help Students Avoid Stereotype Threat


Social-Emotional Learning All Ages Strategy



Help Students Avoid Stereotype Threat

All students, particularly those who lack self-confidence, have a fixed mindset, or belong to a group that has historically been under-represented

Teach It!

  1. Objective: Reduce the potential long-term underperformance of non-majority students who often underperform as a result of a negative reinforcing cycle of low self-perception and microagressions about their ability to succeed. Adults can avoid language or lowering expectations (subconscious or otherwise) related to gender, race or socioeconomic status.
  2. Instruction and Practice: (a) Consider how students might internalize your words as they are not capable, even if you did not intend them to be hurtful. Avoid references to any given group of students not performing as well as another group such as "Girls tend not to do well in this class," or "Students like you might find this challenging." (b) Offer reassurance that all students can perform well. Create a safe environment where all students believe they can make mistakes, learn and succeed without feeling labeled or judged. (c) If appropriate, address stereotype threat head-on. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but making students aware of the stereotype threat is shown to help students at-risk overcome it. (c) While you should not lower expectations for any student, do provide scaffolds or supports to help students succeed, such as one-to-one support or extra practice.
  3. Exercises: (a) Before an important test, discuss what successful learning looks like. Avoid discussions of failure or what happens if you do not do well. (b) Provide students with images of successful people in the subject who "look like them" in terms of race, gender or came from a similar background. Seeing similar people succeed will reinforce positive beliefs. (c) Teach students about growth mindset and have them write about the importance of growth mindset. The act of writing down the importance of self-belief has shown to be most effective (rather than just discussing) in non-majority groups.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Research on stereotypes shows that negative stereotypes, even subtle references, raise doubts and anxieties, resulting in students under-performing relative to their capabilities and can be long-lasting. While it is most important to avoid making students feel stereo-typed, proactively addressing known stereotypes and helping students understand and overcome them can be most effective when handled with sincerity and empathy.