Written by: Emilia Marcyk
Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources
One of the most thought-provoking sessions I attended at the recent ACRL conference was one of the last; contributed paper on teacher bias in the classroom from Kathleen Lagan of Western Michigan University. I’ve heard of teacher bias/teacher expectancy in the context of the “preschool to prison pipeline” (such as in this recent article from the Washington Post), but never connected the phenomenon to the information literacy classroom. How do the attitudes and expectations we bring to the classroom change the way students behave and learn? Lagan cited some evidence that students live up to expectations and learn more in classrooms where the teacher has higher expectations (see conference paper for discussion of this theory).
Lagan’s session helped me articulate better to myself why comments disparaging students (which I’ve heard all too often at conferences, from teaching librarians no less), can actually be harmful to student performance. If we expect that students are disengaged and uninterested in learning, and take that attitude with us into the classroom, how will students react? What if we assume that they want to learn from us, but maybe are unsure about their own research skills, overwhelmed by the library, or poorly prepared in their high school English classes?
Some of the specific biased behaviors Lagan mentioned to avoid:
• Dogmatic or authoritarian attitude
• Overemphasis of mistakes
• Covering too much material
• Absence of consequences or appropriate feedback
During her presentation, Lagan also talked about the important role of critical thinking in IL instruction, something that I am grappling with in my own practice. This plays into expectancy – we expect that students won’t be able to use databases, professors expect us to show students how to use the catalog, and somewhere along the line, some of the important critical thinking skills get pushed aside. While I don’t have an answer, Lagan’s presentation has given me a useful starting point to examine my own demeanor in the classroom.
If you are interested in exploring the role of teacher expectancies or bias in the classroom, I recommend Lagan’s extensive bibliography on the subject (included in the conference paper). I know I’m going to be delving into it for some time.
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