I Like What You Like, You Like What I Like
Small Bites Friday Five 2-26-21
20-30m – Explore this article by David Palank to see how likely it is that halo bias influences your teaching (spoiler alert, a lot). Then choose two strategies to mitigate your own biases, like grading anonymously or ALWAYS using a written rubric. Finally, reflect on a time when the halo effect likely played a part in a decision you made.
15-20m – Start with your youngest learners using this rich well of art and literary projects. Mandisa’s website is designed for toddlers but the projects can be easily scaled up for PK-4.
10-15m – Use this Precious Children article from PBS to help you understand why teaching acceptance is important early on, then prepare at least one of the activities for your class or personal kids and grands. My favorite line, “If your group is not diverse, display images of diversity in your community or in U.S. society.”
5-10m – Review this Nielson Group article that explains halo bias and think about how it affects your teaching.
0-5m – Write down 5 people you know who you attribute certain traits to. For example, Kevin is tall, he must play basketball; or My co-teacher is really pretty, she must have been popular in high school. Now, write down all the reasons your assumptions might be false.
Did you know that mirroring is a real thing in which people subconsciously mimic the affectations of those they like? And even among invertebrates, there is sexual mimicry in which one sex imitates the other sex to signal interest. If you are a scientist or social scientist, you are probably cringing right now. But for us lay persons, I think the gist is clear. Imitation is more than the sincerest form of flattery, it’s how we align ourselves with those we admire.
If we like someone, we also imitate, or at least buy into, their beliefs and values. And usually, if we believe one thing that they believe, we tend to believe it all. We also tend to minimize or write off any negatives or character flaws. Conversely, if we don’t like someone, we are likely to magnify their faults, disavowing them and whatever they stand for.
We see this play out in politics, but how does this play out in education? Well, in the hundred and one discretionary decisions you make daily, it can affect students in a million and one small and large ways. For example, if you like a student, you might be tempted to round up in grading, if you dislike a student, you may round down, or just not round up. If a student impresses you, you are likely to recommend them for awards, AP courses, write reference letters, etc. If you don’t particularly fancy them, you might write them a college letter, but will it be glowing? The adjectives you choose are more likely to be based on your feelings about the student than on performance or achievement.
We say, know better, do better. But that is more than a notion unless you are committed to being a reflective practitioner in a very real, honest-with-yourself-until-it-hurts way. If you really want to be a change agent and make education better, be willing to start by taking stock of your feelings about each student. Start by reading this article, reflecting on how this bias played out in your classroom today; then make plans to course correct.
That’s how real change begins, with you doing your best for each child in front of you. Make it concrete: Read, reflect, make your own plan to be more intentional in dealing with the students you support now.