By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Monday, January 16, 2017


“[T]he stereotype threat that goes with certain social identities in school and on tests can dramatically affect intellectual performance….” (p. 67)

The benefits [of reducing stereotype threat] are sizable, reliable, and often long-lasting.  And the interventions themselves are low cost and relatively easy to do…. establishing trust through demanding but supportive relationships, fostering hopeful narratives about belonging in the setting, arranging informal cross-group conversations…, representing critical abilities as learnable, and using child-centered teaching techniques.” (p. 181)

“[P]eople have to be able to trust that, despite the relevance of a bad stereotype about their group, they won’t be judged by it, that their goodness as human beings will be seen.  Trust like that is hard to come by…. When interactions between people from different backgrounds have learning from each other as a goal, it eases the potential tension between them, giving missteps less significance.  Trust is fostered.” (p. 209)

Join me in a virtual Diversity Book Club.  In this and upcoming posts, I’ll summarize books and provide classroom applications and resources for teachers interested in building welcoming and inclusive environments in their classrooms and schools.  We begin with Claude M. Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2010).

Readable and recognizable, Claude M. Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi illuminates a human condition people encounter in any diverse society: stereotype threat. 
·      We know (and worry about) what others will think about us based on what groups we belong to or identities we have such as racial, economic, gender, age, nationality, religious, and more. 
·      Our concern about what others may think about us and whether we will confirm their negative stereotypes about “our type of person” affects what we do and often detracts from our performance. 

In school settings, with which we are most concerned, we may see female students drop out of advanced math classes, Black students in predominantly White classrooms may do poorly on standardized tests, and White students in predominantly Black environments offer opinions they think are expected rather than sincerely held, for example.

Steele offers numerous examples of the research that identified and named stereotype threat.  He also offers practical suggestions, some of them mediated by the work of his colleague Carol Dweck, whose book Mindset, I heartily recommend.  Dweck’s work centers on growth versus fixed mindsets: learning to learn from our mistakes and/or relative weaknesses rather than seeing them as fixed and unchangeable liabilities.   

Classroom & School Applications & Resources:
After his account of numerous experiments identifying and attempting to ameliorate stereotype threat, Steele offers numerous practical recommendations to which I have added suggestions and resources for classroom teachers:

1.    Demand high standards from all students and tell them you expect them to meet these expectations.  This can diminish the stereotype threat some students experience by interrupting their own negative narrative that teacher/peers deem them less able than students of different groups.  (See discussion, p. 163.)

2.    Affect the negative narrative or feeling of stereotype threat by sharing a different narrative.  One example is that of junior and senior class students at an elite university sharing their feelings of being frustrated, unworthy, inept, and unwelcome during their freshman year.  They explain to incoming freshmen that they have overcome these feelings, achieved at a high level, made friends, and used the resources at the school to good purpose.  In an independent school in which students from underserved communities may experience stereotype threat, for example, fostering a mentorship relationship of upper level students with middle and lower school students might be helpful.  (See pages 165-166.)

3.    Affect negative narratives by fostering discussions among many different kinds of students in which they share their fears and hopes.  In this way, all students see that everyone feels nervous at a new school, that some people share some of the same values, and that many people share the same hopes.  (See p. 167.)

4.    Teach all students, and particularly those facing stereotype threat (Black students in predominantly White classrooms, for example) that human intelligence is expandable and that we learn, grow, and build our intellectual skills by learning from our mistakes and failures.  One experiment invited Stanford students to write letters with such information to “ostensible minority elementary students.”   Students in upper grades in independent schools could write real letters to students in lower grades, or sixth graders could write to rising fifth graders, for example.  (See pages 168-169.)

5.    Invite students to affirm their most important personal or family values and explain their importance.  This exercise was part of an experiment in a seventh grade classroom.  Black students who affirmed their values showed continued improvement in academic performance over Black students who did not do this exercise.  Students in our sixth grade English classes write about personal and family values, and we see benefit for all students as they contribute to building of a caring, warm, and supportive environment.  (See details on pages 174-175.)
6.    Make the classroom a mistake-making, growth-oriented place.  Overtly discuss growth versus fixed mindsets.  Learning is the goal that brings all students together and mitigates students’ perceptions of stereotype threat. “When interactions between people from different backgrounds have learning from each other as a goal, it eases the potential tension between them, giving missteps less significance.  Trust is fostered.” (See p. 209).  Doing this early in the year and as I begin each new project, I attempt to foster just such an environment of encouragement, risk, and learning with each other.  Further, after we complete long-term projects, we openly discuss our obstacles and how we faced them.

7.    Make the school/classroom a safe place for all by fostering: “positive relationships with students; more child-centered teaching; use of [our] diversity as a classroom resource rather than following a strict strategy of colorblindness; teacher skill, warmth, and availability…”  (See page 180.)  To assist this process, teachers can share their identity-related experiences of facing stereotypes, for example, thus allowing students to see us as human and like them.  Read Shane Safir’s post about identity workshops to foster identity-safe classrooms:  It includes a terrific workshop tool!    

8.    To help students feel safe to tackle unsafe topics I use the “Circles of Culture” exercise explained in a previous blog.  Taking time to create a caring place for daring conversations makes all the difference in the student (and teacher) experience and forges our bonds as a community of readers, writers, and upstanders, ready to build a welcoming and inclusive community in and out of school. This is relevant teaching and learning: today and every day. (Sample questions: In which of your circles of culture do you find safety/refuge?  Why?  In which of your circles of culture do you find discomfort or lack of safety?  Why?)  Read more: 

9. Teachers in early childhood and elementary grades may find Michele Borba’s Unselfie a useful resource.  Read a summary and find classroom applications in my August 2016 post:

10.    Have a study group read Whisling Vivaldi at your school.  Use chapter discussion questions prepared Deb Hoskins, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin at La Crosse:

11. For an academic reference for your work on reducing stereotype threat utilize the website created by two social science professors, Steve Stroessner and Catherine Good: 

12. Host a showing and discussion of the movie Hidden Figures at your school, or read and discuss the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race: (Background story and movie trailer here)

Dr. King’s vision is oft-quoted, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But the reality is that people do judge others based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, and other features.  And fear of such judgement does affect performance.  Stereotype threat is a real force to reckon with in our classrooms.  We can use such resources as Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi to make our classrooms ones in which each student—and teacher—thrives.

Susan Gelber Cannon, January 2017

No comments:

Post a Comment