A new study from Stanford shows that a simple teaching tactic may help close the achievement gap between Latino American students and their white peers. Geoffrey Cohen, a professor of education and psychology at Stanford, and David Sherman of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and their fellow researchers explored the negative effects of "stereotype threat," and came up with a finding, published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article below by Marguerite Rigoglioso explains in detail.
The matter comes down to overcoming the negative effects of "stereotype threat," a phenomenon that researchers have identified and documented over the last two decades. What they have found – in numerous studies – is that the stress and uncertain sense of belonging that can stem from being a member of a negatively stereotyped group undermines academic performance of minority students as compared with white students.
Cohen and his colleagues have been looking for remedies to stereotype threat. In the first study described in the article, the researchers devised well-timed "values-affirmation" classroom assignments given to both Latino and white students as a part of the regular classroom curriculum. In one exercise, middle schoolers were given a list of values, such as "being good at art," "being religious" and "having a sense of humor." They were asked to pick the ones that were important to them and write a few sentences describing why. In a second exercise, they reflected in a more open-ended manner on things in their life that were important to them, and in a third they were guided to write a brief essay describing how the things they most consistently valued would be important to them in the coming spring.
Students completed several structured reflection exercises in their class throughout the year. The tasks were given at critical moments: the beginning of the school year; before tests; and near the holiday season, a period of stress for many people.
The control group was guided to write about values that were important to other people, but not themselves, or about other neutral topics.