Reducing Stereotype Threat in the Classroom

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Diversity in STEM

Reducing Stereotype Threat in the Classroom

Despite a concerted effort at both the national level and even from the largest technology companies in the world to increase the number of girls pursuing a career in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, recent reports suggest that the results of these efforts have been underwhelming.

To address persistent gender gaps, researchers and educators alike have begun to focus on and combat a concept known as stereotype threat, a phenomenon that occurs when “members of a marginalized group acknowledge that a negative stereotype exists in reference to their group, and they demonstrate apprehension about confirming the negative stereotype by engaging in particular activities.”

For example, if from a young age girls begin to become aware of the long-debunked stereotype that girls are less adept at math than boys are, through cultural messaging, they are more likely to believe this false messaging. Belief in this stereotype has been shown to produce “math anxiety,” which can negatively impact academic achievement in this area.

In this way, stereotype threat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if students believe a negative stereotype, it can have detrimental effects on their confidence and real-world performance.

One way for teachers to mitigate stereotype threat in the classroom is to reframe the purpose of tests and quizzes to students, promoting the idea that these assessments are simply reflections of their current ability, and not at all a reflection or judgment about their permanent ability. This strategy also has the added benefit of promoting a growth mindset, the idea that one’s ability is not set in stone and that improvement is always possible.

Another technique is to promote the importance of inclusivity and diversity. Having a diverse group of figures that students can see themselves in will naturally allow them to dispel the idea that their gender or ethnicity is a limiting factor. At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), this idea is part of our DNA, and through our education programs and Collegiate Inventors Competition®, we seek to highlight a diverse range of innovators as a way of showing students what they too can achieve.


How Do You Combat Stereotype Threat?

Do you have any effective strategies that you use to fight the negative effects of stereotype threat? We’d love for you to share them with us on our Facebook page

For more ideas and support in encouraging healthy perspectives, promoting greater inclusivity in learning environments, and guiding our next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, we invite you to visit our blog!

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