Blink is about rapid cognition, the kind of thinking that takes place in the blink of an eye. One of the stories from the book concerns a European musician named Abby Conan. Gladwell gives an account of her audition for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, and how, playing behind a screen which conceals her identity (and the fact that she is a woman), she wows the judges, only to be greeted with astonished silence when she steps around the screen. Expecting a man, the judges instead get a woman.
Gladwell talks about how we tend to think of judging auditions as concious, deliberate, drawn-out processes. This is false. Auditions actually belong snap judgement kind of thinking. "You hear and you know," he says. He goes on to say that snap judgements play a much bigger role in more than just auditions, but in how we make sense of the world in general. Furthermore, these judgements are heavily influenced by our personal biases. So to be better decision-makers, we must sometimes do more with less. This goes against our cultural assumption that quality decisions are based processing vast amounts of information.
So how does this relate to the classroom? I'll answer a question with a few questions.
- How much information do we need about a student to help them be successful? The beginning of the school year is the time for many teachers to dig through student files to get as much information about them as possible. I have never done this. I don't disagree that there is much to be learned about a student by looking at their history. But I guess I like to see every student as a clean slate and make it my job to fill that slate with my personal impressions as the year goes on. I do not want to be influenced by test scores, previous teacher comments, etc. as I know that these could possibly affect my behavior toward the student.
- How often during the day do we make a snap judgement about a student that could be detrimental to their learning simply due to our biases? There are many factors that affect how we treat our students: race, sex, age, socioeconomic status, etc. Do these influence our snap judgements about them? Something that Gladwell refers to in the book is the Implicit Associations Test, which measures your level of "unconscious prejudice." That's the kind of prejudice that you have that you aren't aware of, that affects the kinds of impressions and conclusions that you reach automatically, without thinking. You can take the IAT at Project Implicit. I highly recommend it. You'll be surprised at your results.
- Priming is another topic that Gladwell tackles in the book. Priming refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes. Do we unconciously prime students to perform better/worse in school?
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