That Threat Isn’t Real, Is it?

While developing the second portion of this blog, I discovered an interview on RadioLab where the show’s hosts explored the validity of the stereotype threat. Consequently, I postponed writing a follow-up blog until I listened and reflected on this interview. You can listen here. Michael Inzlicht, a researcher, shared his experiences regarding his inability to replicate the stereotype threat in Canadian students. As a researcher, I have some serious concerns about the setting and historical backdrop for the replication studies, but I will leave that for another blog!!

In my last post, I promised I would share how we can we can potentially minimize the stereotype threat for our K-12 learners. One word- language!

Using the two examples below, I will show how words can yield positive and powerful outcomes for students and possibly reduce that threat in the air.

Loving Language

Language can be a driving force when diminishing the stereotype threat which can develop early on in a child’s academic career. I believe our words can transform the ways in which young people see themselves. To eliminate the stereotype threat, we should: 1) be intentional about building confidence when learners approach new tasks, 2) use challenges as growth opportunities, and 3) help learners embrace the process of learning and not just the final product or answer. Take the example dialogue where a student felt defeated by the curriculum.

Student: This math equation is too difficult. I feel dumb!

Teacher: Jasmine, it’s not that difficult! I don’t think you are trying hard enough on this one.  

Intentional Student Feedback: Let’s break this down. Tell me what you do understand, and we will begin to utilize what you know to bridge the gap between your knowledge and this new topic.

King’s Clapback

King’s response to his teacher was found comical on social media, and this journal entry went viral within days. King, a young Black male, wrote his unfiltered opinion about the instruction he received on that day.

In this case, the teacher’s comment is an example of how language can further fuel the stereotype threat in students.

Actual Teacher Response: King, I am very disappointed in your journal entry.

Intentional Student Feedback: King, you have raised some interesting points in your journal entry. Sometimes historical facts are distorted, so can we have a conversation regarding what you know about this topic? I would really like to learn more from you. We will take some time to discuss one-on-one this Wednesday.

Before we provide feedback to students, we must ask “will this build their confidence or solidify negative stereotypes perpetuated in our society about the learners I serve.”