For 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!