What do you see first when you look at this image? This prompt gives you a hint that there is more than one answer – if there is a “first” perception then there must be future, different possibilities as well. Much of what we see depends on how it is framed. This in turn depends on how the image is presented and how we construct our reality.

Behavioral economists Daniel Kahnemann and Adam Tverskey did work in the early 1970s that culminated in the book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Kahnemann was awarded a Nobel prize based on this work. When we teach, we have a certain “frame” that we bring to the experience. How we contextualize experiences for students can have an effect on their learning that cannot be underestimated

  1. The Learning Environment

As teachers we bring our attitudes and biases to our work every day. If we present our classrooms as the epitome of awesomeness our students will accept that frame. If we are ambivalent or even negative about our learning environment, again, students will accept this as well.

Recently we have had to rapidly, drastically, reconfigure our “classrooms”. How do you feel about your classroom now? I suspect that this experience has been awkward, unsettling, and intense. If these biases are conveyed to students and families, can you see the danger? As a teacher you have the power to “set the tone” for an experience. Let’s draw a parallel for a moment in another situation: “dating”.

2. The Date

You have met the person of your dreams, the person who you want to be your partner for life! It is love at first, second AND third site! Now you want them to go with you on a date. What would that be like if you walked up to them or called or texted that you would like to take them to dinner and a movie and promise an awkward, unsettling and intense time?!!! I hope you are laughing! I can imagine their answer as some form of the word “no”.

Let’s rewind and try this again. What would it be like to ask them if they wanted to go to dinner and a movie and promised that it would be a familiar, comfortable and relaxed experience?!! Do you think the result might be better??!!

This applies to educational environments as well. Now, our students do not come to see us physically and we have to invite them. We are inviting them on a date to a learning experience. Consider that. We are not inviting them to dinner, not a movie, not a video game, but a learning experience. If we invite them and give them the vibe it will be awkward, unsettling and intense, how are we framing this for them? How does this affect their pre-existing cognitive biases?

3. Overcoming Your Biases First

I was an ed tech early adopter. In the late 1980s I was a high school teacher working with Gallaudette College on what a temperature sensor might look like and how it might work. Imagine doing this with an abacus albeit a high tech abacus and you get the picture. I wanted to bring that tech to my students to their benefit. It was awkard, unsettling and intense to use. I will add “frustrating” to this description. However, as a physics teacher, success depends on converting the frame of the student to one of curiosity, wonder, and adaptability. I set the tone as such and the students responded accordingly.

I want to encourage you to think about remote learning the same way. I fully understand how jarring teaching has been since March. However, if you frame this as an adventure, or as a “real world” experience, and infuse a sense of curiosity, wonder, flexibility, adabtability and relaxation into it, you will be framing an amazing learning experience. Most of all, you will find students responding positively because of their unconscious, cognitive biases.

If you want to dive into this more deeply I recommend Kahnemann’s book and the TEDTalk embedded below. What is your frame for your learning experiences that you drive? Can that be adjusted to make learning better? Is it awesome? If it is, tell us about it!!! As a great friend of mine used to tell me and helped frame my day: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!”

One Comment on “Teachers Protecting Students: Biases

  1. I think that rethinking education to fit what is going on is a great opportunity to incorporate what is supposed to be advanced technology into students’ worlds the right way.

    Like

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