This post explores how we as educators can become more open, inclusive, and invitational to our gifted and talented students who come from a variety of backgrounds. This material is adapted from professional development modules used in the Duke TIP eStudies staff training, which are adapted from Implicit Bias training from Dr. Ben Reese’s work with Duke University’s Office of Institutional Equity. Duke TIP eStudies serves gifted youth grades 7th-12th.
How does implicit bias we all carry form immediate opinions in our minds–before we’ve even seen our students’ gifts?
A 2016 study by Vanderbilt researchers found that black students with comparable high test scores were “half as likely as white students to be assigned to gifted programs.” In Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding’s words: “our results show that identification of gifted students depends, in part, on factors having little to do with student performance or ability that lead students to be assigned disproportionately on the basis of race and ethnicity.”
How much might implicit bias play a role in identification processes? We need to keep researching this question. The problem is real, so let’s do some self-examination in an areas where we don’t need to wait–the research of ourselves.
How do you overcome implicit bias so you can better see your students’ gifts? Share with us below!
We all carry it with us. Implicit bias activates involuntarily, without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. It can immediately and negatively impact our assessment of our students, colleagues, and administrators. We can’t turn off the process until we’re aware of it.
The first way our eStudies staff will meet students is via the profile picture in our Canvas Learning Management System, while face-to-face teachers in our residential programs often meet a student as they cross a threshold into a classroom. The second way our staff may meet students could be via a short email written as if it were a text. The third way might be a text-like response in the Blackboard Collaborate chat window, or the sound of a voice on mic. All of these contexts can be ripe for implicit bias to reign. What biases are immediately activated in your brain by faces or pictures, writing or speech?
Individual qualities we can be biased against include someone’s
- language. accent or rhythm of speech, slang or vernacular
- dress, piercings, and/or tattoos
- perceived age
- perceived race (complexion, facial features, hair, etc.)
- perceived gender
- pedigree—school, work history, writing skill, etc.
- perceived culture
- perceived sexual orientation
- perceived economic status
Check out this video on blind spots. See any in yourself?
What conditions might encourage implicit bias about our students in particular?
- time constraints (we’re rushing through our grading);
- ambiguity (we can’t immediately name or locate someone according to our prior knowledge and experience, and our culture encourages us to label people by race, for example);
- cognitive overload/stress;
- lack of curiosity about our students and their experiences;
- lack of focus on task (we’re operating with multiple distractions);
- lack of acknowledgment of personal areas of potential bias (we’ve never thought about it before);
- and limited life experience and encounters with a diverse group of people.
Why are we so biased?
Some of it is written in our genes! The similarity bias—where we are drawn towards people who remind us of ourselves—was a survival tactic of our ancestors. Shared social identities had certain survival benefits, and so today we still lean toward unintentionally giving opportunities to others who remind us of ourselves.
Mental shortcuts are strategies we use to process and manage all the data we receive every day. It’s an efficiency response to a busy world of incoming information.
Not all bias is bad. The halo effect is a good thing: that’s where we favor a person based on positive first impressions. What we don’t want is the horns effect, where a person is defined by a negative first impression, that is based on implicit bias. We also need to be careful about confirmation bias. Confirmation bias—where we look for evidence that supports our current beliefs and ignore evidence that contradicts them—is dangerous.
Implicit bias, unchecked and unnamed, has harmful, debilitating, and long-lasting effects in the educational system.
Students who experience our implicit bias are denied a full educational experience. Gifted students may not be identified and provided with needed differentiation due to implicit bias.
What helps us overcome bias?
- Acknowledge it. Recognize our immediate reactions. Note our strongly-held preferences, likes, dislikes, inclinations, and beliefs. What are my blind spots, propensities, and stimuli that lead to bias, based on my life experience? For example: “I grew up in an all-white community and never encountered people of different racial backgrounds till I went to college. I didn’t understand white privilege until I encountered people who had suffered because of it.”
- Deepen your understanding. Reflect carefully about our assumptions and behaviors. Slow down your thinking. Why is this thought coming into my brain? What are the associations and assumptions I’m making about this person? How are they positive and/or negative?
- Implement increased vigilance. Be aware of our first impressions and their relationship to confirmation bias. How can we do a course correction? What was my first impression of this student, and why? Is that impression being used as my filter for the subsequent behaviors, and is that filter fair? How can I challenge myself to think new thoughts?
- Change perceptions with new habits. Dr. Reese recommends placing reminders in your life–such as a new phone screen, a post-it note where you’ll see it often, or other visual ways to trigger a memory. In his case, he puts “IB”–Implicit Bias–on his phone screen so he catches his unconscious bias–and a post-it note near his phone to remember to listen without bias. You can take a high-frequency behavior, he says, and pair it with something you wish to change in order to develop new habits of perception and action in your life.
- Focus on the task and the work, and the rubric for skills and competencies you are measuring. Distinguish those measures from the implicit bias “measures” you’ve unconsciously or consciously followed, due to perceived attributes or behaviors you have seen in an individual. Does this student’s work meet the skills and competencies required on the rubric, or am I layering on additional expectations, assumptions, and associations when giving a grade? When appropriate, ask a colleague to take another look at a student work sample to get another opinion.
- Be ACC: Look for talent Aggressively, Comprehensively, and Creatively. How can I get to know each student better in small ways? How can I design curricular questions, activities, and opportunities that welcome a diversity of thought and perspective, prior experience and academic readiness, and talents and interests?
- Examine our networks. Who’s in it? Who’s not? How can I invite others in to my inner circle? How can I listen better? How can I be more curious? How can I encourage idea sharing? How can I give more people a voice?
- Explore resources that help you become more aware of student needs and that help you move beyond your unconscious bias. Here are a few to get started:
- “How Can White Teachers Do Right by Students of Color?”
- Four Ways Teachers Can Support Students of Color
- Duke University’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity
- Blind Spots: Your Brain on Autopilot
- Teaching Tolerance: Religious Diversity
- Teaching Tolerance: (Politically) Polarized Classrooms
- Take Harvard University’s implicit bias test and contribute to research. The test is here
- 6 Questions to Ask to Build a Culturally Inclusive Classroom
Join the conversation! As you think about overcoming implicit bias, consider dialogue with your colleagues and administrators about these questions:
- What are forms of implicit bias that you have personally experienced, or what forms of implicit bias have you witnessed others experiencing?
- What methods do you recommend for overcoming bias about students?
- How do you look for talent in students “aggressively, comprehensively, and/or creatively”?