Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blink and How it Relates to the Classroom

I've wanted to do a post for some time about Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink and how it relates to the classroom, but I just haven't found the time. A link from the KnowHR blog called Top 10 Best Presentations Ever led me to a presentation by Gladwell at the SXSW Conference about Blink. Although short, his presentation provided just enough information to get me thinking about my post again.

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?
There is so much more to think about in Blink. Gladwell covers the topic of rapid cognition in thought-provoking depth, forcing readers to consider how they make decisions.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had never thought about the student record as being a means to "delve" into a student's past. I remember when I received my student file after High School graduation. There were items in the folder that I wished I had been able to bring home to my parents- school projects, pictures, creative writing stories. I never knew it was being used by the school system as a kind of "blueprint" to my education. This kind of blew me away. And I agree with you about the judgement we, as teachers, would make if we saw these things before meeting the child. I think it would be useful if you had a child you weren't connecting with, or you thought might be exceptional- but after the fact of meeting them and knowing who they are as a person in your classroom. Even so, how would that change your behavior toward them? I am interested in the book "Blink" It seem like a good resource for how one thinks so rapidly and the effects of the thoughts/judgments. I am glad I read this. I think now I'll be a little less interested in "knowing everything." Maybe there is more to asking questions yourself than using the tools you know are at your disposal? Very interesting topic.