Teacher Curiosity

DeathtoStock_Wired9For years I’ve been fascinated by Claude Steele’s and Josh Aronson’s work on stereotype threat.  Now I’m equally intrigued by research studies centered on student performance and “over-effort.”  Steele discusses U of TX (Austin) math professor, Uri Treisman’s work in this area in his latest book, Whistling Vivaldi.

Treisman wanted to figure out why the African-American students in his college calculus classes performed poorly in relation to their white peers and even more poorly in relation to their Asian-American peers.  His curiosity led him to follow students outside of class.  In doing so, he learned that the key to Asian-American students’ high performance was the fact that they worked together in groups to understand and solve challenging math problems.  They didn’t go it alone, and they didn’t view their group work as separate from their social lives.  They enjoyed their social time through their math group time.

These observations led to subsequent research and, ultimately, Treisman setting these groups up specifically for women and for African-American students in his courses.  The results have been astounding.

Fascinating what curiosity and a desire to reach every student can do!


  1. Deborah on September 11, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Aronson’s Education Week article on Stereotype threat was part of my ethics readings for juniors. It really resonated with the students, particularly how non-overt pre-testing prompts (such as asking students to write about whether they lived in a co-ed dorm) could trigger students to think about their identity (as say, males & females) and create statistically significant changes in test scores. Makes you wonder about bubbling in those identity questions immediately before taking high-stakes tests.

  2. Gayle on September 11, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Deborah, I love the fact that you discussed this article with them. I used his and Steele’s work with grad students in conjunction with Sue’s work on racial micro-agression. It was incredible how much of an impact these ideas had on students’ thinking, especially in relation to their teaching. I love the idea of talking about these ideas with students at younger and younger ages.