This week’s topic of applying social psychology to education is one of the more important subjects to read and know about in my opinion. A good education is the very tool that allows us to be able to overcome a lot of the obstacles that we face in life, by allowing us to know right from wrong, to be able to make informed decisions about the next right step for us.
I was raised in a family that stressed the importance of education from early on in my childhood – so I grew up with the notion that continuing to a getting a higher education was a must for my brother and I. Although this upbringing has allowed me to be the person I am today, it also meant that my family, especially my father, had very high expectations of me. I do believe that his high expectations are what instilled a sense of mastery and achievement in me in high school, and not to toot my own horn, but I did very well in high school—I was an A student, involved in extra curricular activity, president of student council and so on. This expectation of me to go above and beyond did not only come from my family, but also from my teachers. A lot of my teachers expressed quite regularly to me about their approval of my work and how they expect me to do well on future assignments. They did pay particularly more attention to my and a couple other student’s progress in the courses. I was known as the ‘teacher’s pet’ all throughout high school, and was not particularly liked by my classmates. In retrospect, I did not know how this ‘special’ treatment could have had an effect on my academic achievement and the effects it could also have on the other students’ learning experience.
This week’s reading highlighted an experiment conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) that highly resonates with my high school experience. The impetus behind Rosenthal and Jacobson’s Pygmalion in the Classroom experiment was their observation that teacher’s had higher expectations for the achievement of good students, and wanted to explore whether this expectation could have an effect on the students’ academic performance (Schneider et. al., 2012). Rosenthal and Jacobson told teachers at the beginning of the school year that some of their students showed above-average potential, which they labeled as ‘bloomers’. In reality, the ‘bloomers’ were a group of students that were randomly selected at so did not show more potential than the other students in the class. The results at the end of the school year revealed that the students who the teachers thought were ‘bloomers’ showed significant increases in their IQ scores in comparison to the other students (Schneider et. al., 2012). Rosenthal and Jacobson suggested that the reason that these group of students thrived is because their teachers began to treat them differently when they believed that they were ‘bloomers’ – the teachers gave more attention, support and encouragement to these students, gave them more challenging material, provided them with more feedback (positive and negative) and allowed them to have more opportunity to participate in class. This ‘special’ treatment allowed this group of students, who were on average no different than the other students, to go above and beyond. The teachers did not change their treatment of the bloomers on purpose though, but fell prey to the self-fulfilling prophecy – which states that having expectations about another person will influence how you perceive and behave towards the person (Schneider et. al., 2012).
This experiment allowed me to think about my own academic experience in a new light, and made me realize that both my parents’ and teachers’ expectations and treatment of my academic life contributed to my success in that area. What could have happened is that I responded to my teachers’ high expectations of me by becoming more interested in succeeding and working harder, which could have in turn been cause for my teachers to invest even more time and energy in my schoolwork.
Knowing that the expectations of parents and teachers could have a pivotal impact on a child’s learning experience, both parents and teachers have to be aware that the same amount, or probably even more, attention needs to be geared towards students who seem to be lacking motivation and need an extra push to be able to reach their potential. Of course the teachers don’t intentionally provide special treatment to students who they perceive as ‘bloomers’, but by making this notion more salient, it could potentially allow them to be aware of their behavior, and make adjustments in order to provide every student in the class with the same opportunity to succeed and thrive.
Thank you for reading,
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications