Connections Over Compliance #1: Confirmation Bias and Low Self-Esteem

What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation Bias is our predisposition to pay closer attention to information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.

This can affect us in small ways, for example, believing that we are very in tune with our friends because we are ‘always thinking of them when they call’. Most of the time, when we are thinking of our friends, they don’t call, but we pay extra attention to the time when our belief was confirmed by their name appearing in our hand at the same time as it appeared in our head.

This can affect us in all sorts of ways and it is one of the reasons it is so important to be aware of our internal biases, because confirmation bias can have such a swing effect on our perception of any kind of information we receive, even if it comes in the form of statistical data.

How does this affect our work with students who struggle with their self-esteem?

If the internal bias of a student leans towards any variation on “I am useless and stupid”, their experiences of education are going to be impacted by their own confirmation bias towards this as a fact. In practice, this means that they are going to pay more attention to the times where they have struggled. They are more likely to remember, and place value on, the moments in their education that confirm their pre-existing belief.

How can we support these students as tutors?

It’s no use just telling them that they are good enough.

We need to help present them with an overwhelming evidence base that they are capable. We can go about this in two stages.

The first is creating an environment where they don’t ‘fail’. But learning should be challenging, I hear you cry!

Yes. But not yet.

We are working with a student, in this instance, who believes that they can’t do it. We must present them with overwhelming evidence that they are in a safe space where they are good enough. If we are telling them that they are capable and that they can achieve, we must also present them with conditions where the outcome correlates. Otherwise we only serve to further compound their belief that they are not enough.

The second stage is that, once we have established an environment where the student feels safe enough to participate in the sessions and they are approaching tasks with more confidence, we can start to show them how to fail successfully.

We can slowly guide them towards more challenging tasks and, via the process of modelling, scaffolding and providing supportive feedback, we can show them that, when they make a mistake, that is just one more step in the process. Once they can see ‘failure’ in this light in our tutoring sessions, they stand a greater chance of believing in themselves in other contexts.

It is no coincidence that Hattie’s Rankings rate Collective Teacher Efficacy as the number one strategy for improving student outcomes.

We must be responsible for holding onto some hope for our students, even when they can’t see it themselves.

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