In Dr. Steven Novella’s book The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe, he cites an idea called anchoring. Basically, the premise is this: The number you start with is your anchor number. Any number on either extreme of that number will cause you to react. For example, if I said that I just gave out 100 dollars and then handed you a 5 dollar bill, you would feel slighted. Never mind the fact that I was giving it out in 5 dollar increments, you are anchored to the higher number. The same goes in reverse. Novella cites a study where workers are asked to complete a minimum of 550 of a task per day. When asked to increase that number, they said it couldn’t be done. However, the control group, the group who wasn’t given an anchor number completed 2100 tasks per day.
So how does this affect our teaching? Expectations matter. If I set a low bar expectation, the student is going to struggle to reach above that, even if they are more than capable. The lasting effects of low expectations are detrimental to student outcomes and take a long time to overcome. In fact, Novella also cites a study of teachers who set expectations and the outcome was the same. What’s more, is that some teachers who were told that some students were high achievers were visibly upset when other students, the “low achievement” group performed well. I face this challenge all the time where students surprise me when they shouldn’t. We have it so ingrained in our heads what the norms are of who our academically gifted students are and who are our troublemakers.
So now my question is, how to I get better?