This week in psychology, we are learning about the positive and negative effects teachers can have on their students’ overall confidence and intelligence levels. We were told to watch three videos: one about Jane Elliot’s blue eyes/ brown eyes experiment, stereotype threats, and the discovery of the Pygmalion effect.
All three of these videos discuss different scenarios in which a teacher’s certain expectation of their students can impact the way they perform in that class or in their school in general. In the first video, Jane Elliot’s classic experiment to teach her students about discrimination is described. In order for her students to personally experience discrimination, this elementary school teacher placed her students into two groups: those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. She told the class that the blue-eyed children were superior to the brown-eyed children. The blue-eyed students were told not to play with the brown-eyed students during recess and vice versa. As the school day went on, the “superior” blue-eyed students began calling their brown-eyed peers names and overall, treated them as lesser individuals. Jane Elliot also noticed that her students with blue eyes performed much better on spelling tests on average than those of her students with brown eyes. When she changed which group was receiving the discrimination, however, saying that brown eyes were superior to blue eyes, her students with brown eyes performed better on the spelling tests. This begs the question of whether or not a teacher’s expectation (low or high) of a particular group of students has an impact on their intelligence level and how well they do in the class. In the second video we watched, the concept of stereotype threats was explained and tested. In the video, stereotype threats were described as the feeling an individual gets when they think that if they perform a certain way in a specific situation or test, it will confirm a typical stereotype about them. This very fear/hope often results in the individual living up to their specific stereotype, whether it is a negative or a positive one. In the third video, a group of elementary school students were given an exam in order to test their current and potential future intelligence levels. Although, it is impossible to predict how a child’s intelligence will grow in just one year, the teacher of these students was instructed to inform the class on which students would grow in their intelligence that upcoming year, based on the tests they had taken. At the end of the year, the same class of students were tested again to see how much, if any, their intelligence had grown in the past year. On average, the students who had been randomly chosen as the ones who would have the potential to grow intellectually, in fact did. And the students who weren’t given any specific expectations from their teacher did not grow nearly as much as the others. This is just another example of how much a teacher’s expectations of a student can affect not only the way they view themselves, but their actual intelligence level and how well they perform in the classroom setting.
In my personal experience as a student, I believe that a teacher’s view of a student can affect the way they perform in that class or in their school, overall. During my freshman year in high school, it was my first time taking a Pre-AP class instead of a regular class. During my Pre-AP Biology class, I really enjoyed learning about the material and I often got high grades in the class. I remember one time we had taken a quiz in class and I had gotten a C. Since this was unusual for me, my teacher seemed a little disappointed that I had not done so great on the quiz. Because of this, I studied the material I had not understood and made a larger effort not to get any more low grades in that class. In my case, this negative reaction from my teacher made me motivated to do better on the next quiz and the next test after that.
If we want to see improvement in the school system, however, I believe the first step is to help teachers understand their important role in these children’ lives, especially the younger ones. I think it is impossible to have just one method in order to help a student succeed in a classroom. Every individual is different and I believe it is the teacher’s job to see each and every student differently, not in a negative way, but in a personalized way in order to help them grow intellectually. For some students, firm encouragement is the best method to get them motivated to do school work and to make better grades on a daily basis. For some students, however, they need to be reassured they have what it takes to make good grades and they just need to apply themselves. The teacher can then ask the student what he/she thinks will help them complete schoolwork. This way each child can be specifically helped, based on their own needs. Often, in the school system, kids who get mediocre/poor grades in school are seen as not that smart. When, in fact, these students may be used to teachers ignoring them or disregarding their effort in school. Instead of focusing on the “good” students in class, teachers should take a look at the struggling ones and ask them: How can I make this easier for you to learn and succeed?