Stereotype threat is the added pressure some individuals may feel in certain situations and how it affects that individual’s performance. For example, Steele (2010) discusses a study with white college students being evaluated on their natural athletic ability. Overall, white students performed poorly when told the test measured “natural athletic ability” when compared to a group of students that were told nothing about the task. These white students felt the pressure to perform and disprove the stereotype that whites don’t have a natural athletic ability. All identities have a negative stereotype threat. Weather you are old or young, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, there will be situations in which you will be seen negatively based on your identity.
As instructors, we must reduce this threat to make a fair learning environment for all our students. The one method that spoke to me as a physics teacher was promoting a growth mindset. Often, so many students come into physics with the preconceived idea that physics is hard, and they won’t be able to understand it. Students should instead see intelligence as something that grows with effort, not something that is fixed. I’ve noticed that some students believe that I know all the answers to every single physics question and that solving these problems is so simple to me. However, this is not true. I struggled in a lot of my physics classes in college and it would take me multiple attempts to solve just one problem. If I shared this with my class, perhaps they may see that making mistakes and struggling is a great way to learn physics. One of my physics professors called it the “productive struggle.” I also liked the idea of having my current students write letters to my future students on how they struggled in physics and how they overcame it.
In addition, in my class quizzes are only 7% of students’ overall averages. This low-stake assignment provides my students with the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them without completely jeopardizing their grades. They can then perform better on tests which are 60% of their marking period averages.