This week in psychology, we are discussing the fascinating topic of learning and intelligence. I chose to answer the first prompt which required me to watch three short videos. These videos examined Jane Elliott’s “blue eyes vs. brown eyes” experiment, stereotype threat, and the Pygmalion effect.
I found the video discussing Jane Elliott’s experiment to be particularly disturbing. The footage of the children interacting with each other in a discriminatory manner based purely of the color of their eyes was bizarre especially since they had no previous major conflicts amongst themselves. It didn’t really come as a surprise that discrimination and negative expectation can play a powerful role in education. I have a sister with dyslexia and before we realized that we were growing increasingly concerned about her reading and spelling performance in school. Unfortunately, her spiraling grades and our worry gave her the impression that she was just bad at reading and that we all expected her to do poorly so she started soring even lower. She is doing much better now that the issue has been diagnosed and she’s is getting the assistance she needs but we are still careful to make sure she understands that a poor performance is not due to inherent weakness but, instead, being unprepared.
Stereotype effect was interesting to me because at first I wasn’t really sure it would work. I thought that if you were aware of certain stereotypes that you would work harder to prove people wrong and that it would be a benefit but after watching the video I can understand how that kind of unnecessary pressure could work against you. In my own education, I experienced stereotype effect in English. We were often told that girls were generally better writers because they were more eloquent and creative when writing than boys were. This frustrated me and in trying to prove otherwise, I would often go over the top making my writing unnecessarily complicated and lengthy. This unfortunately meant that a lot of what I wrote was superfluous and wasn’t well received by teachers which only reinforced the stereotype and my frustration. Thankfully, I’ve managed to overcome that for the most part and choose my words more carefully.
The Pygmalion effect was, perhaps, the topic that resonated the most with my own experience with the education system. From my early years in elementary school through high school, most all of my teachers gave me a significant amount of attention compared to my peers. I had, at the very least, amicable relationships with my teachers and they all treated me warmly. I received positive feedback for work well done and, more importantly, a lot of constructive feedback when something was done wrong. I often felt as though I had a responsibility to do well since a teacher would invest so much time and energy trying to help me improve. This was a significant motivator for me throughout my schooling that continues to affect my education today. In general, I try and make sure I do well on everything in my classes. Otherwise, I feel as though I am disappointing my professors and mentors.
In regard to improving the education system, I think that there are a few key points to take away from these videos. First, teachers should work to limit or remove negative expectations in the classroom. Second, special care should be given to what a teacher says in order to avoid reinforcing or triggering stereotype threat especially before an assessment of any type. Finally, teachers should try to have positive expectations for all of their students in order to help all of their students reach their potential.