The anxiety that comes with feeling like an outsider in the classroom can hinder students' learning and, ironically, teachers could be making it worse, according to a new study by a Michigan State University researcher.
New research seems to suggest that the way students are treated by teachers could have a huge impact on their future attainment, nothing new there you are saying. But this research seems to look at some often overlooked phenomenon which while uncomfortable to think about is often true.
The research looks at stereotypes and the impact they can have on learning and in particular how teachers treat others. Peter De Costa, assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages who specializes in identity and language learning in essence seems to be saying that to improve attainment we must recognise the perceived identities students have. He believes that it is important that we realize how events and time periods throughout students' lives shape their identities -- something teachers often forget, he said.
I wrote about this a lot here and talked about the impact cultural legacy and constructive cultivation can have on young people and their ability to attain what they are capable of.
In my experience we can often look a child and judge attainment by what they are capable of, without even trying first to understand what they think they are capable of, let alone if they want to achieve what we think they should. Often we take into no account the layers surrounding achievement and individuality.
In this study, published in the journal Linguistics and Education, De Costa illustrates his argument with the story of Daniela, a high-achieving student from Vietnam who came to the high school on a government-issued scholarship.
While Daniela was at the top of her class in Vietnam, she was simply average in Singapore. Yet, because of her perceived elite status, envious students often excluded Daniela from classroom conversations and activities. Eventually, she crumbled under pressure and became even more socially isolated.
Daniela's story may have turned out differently if her peers and teachers had better understood the many layers of Daniela, which in turn could have relieved her self-induced anxiety, De Costa said.
"For someone who's used to being the star in her previous school, this was terrible for her," De Costa said. "Daniela went from high profile to invisible. Essentially, Daniela moved from princess to nobody."
This is a concept that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book David and Goliath too and he argues that bright students are sometimes better off going to a college/university where they will be top of the tree rather than aiming to get into the best college/university where they may just be average. He cites many cases where very bright people have given up when moving from the top of the class to distinctly average.
I'm not sure this research holds any new answers for us but I think for me what is great about it is that it is starting to ask questions and look at the other things that could affect young students . Treating everyone as equals is sometimes not the best policy and to really understand what is going on with student we need to look deeper than their grades and look at their identity.