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SERVE Center - The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Reducing Stereotype Threat

Black male studentResearchers at the SERVE Center have explored various mechanisms for disseminating research for classroom practice. In January 2010, SERVE Center piloted an application-focused dissemination effort with a small group of middle school teachers. The content of the study group was organized around a report entitled Reducing Stereotype Threat in Classrooms: A Review of Social-Psychological Intervention Studies on Improving the Achievement of Black Students. This research presents three social psychological strategies designed to reduce stereotype threat and improve minority achievement.  

The structure of the study group sessions was based on a cycle that included:

  1. learning about a strategy and the research supporting it, 
  2. applying the strategies in the classroom, and 
  3. reflecting on and discussing the experiences of both teacher and students.

 Using this structure, we provided research articles for participants to read prior to the session on a particular strategy. We highlighted the major components of the research and discussed possible ways to adapt the strategy to participants’ classroom situations. The participants were asked to ‘try out’ the strategies in their classrooms before the next session. Participants would bring their comments about their challenges, successes and student reactions to the group for discussion.

Based on the the findings of three experimental studies of interventions to reduce stereotype threat in grade 7 classroom settings, as reported in the Issues & Answers report, Reducing Stereotype Threat in Classrooms: A Review of Social-Psychological Intervention Studies on Improving Achievement of Black Students, the study group focused on the following three strategies:

  1. Reinforce for students the idea that intelligence is expandable and like a muscle, grows stronger when worked.
  2. Teach students that their difficulties in school are often part of a normal “learning curve” or adjustment process, rather than something unique to them or their racial group.
  3. Help students to reflect on other values domains in their lives, not only in school but also beyond, that are sources of self-worth for them.
The classroom teachers who participated in the study group will meet on an on-going basis for further study on how these strategies can be further applied in various classroom situations.

Issues & Answers 076

Reducing Stereotype Threat in classrooms: A Review of Social-Psychological Intervention Studies on Improving the Achievement of Black Students

Stereotype threat arises from a fear among members of a group of reinforcing negative stereotypes about the intellectual ability of the group. The report identifies three randomized controlled trial studies that use classroom-based strategies to reduce stereotype threat and improve the academic performance of Black students, narrowing their achievement gap with White students.

presentation  Building Bridges from Social Psychology Research to Educational Practice presentation to the Study Group on Reducing Threat to Improve Achievement of Minority Students.

website Visit the Doing What Works website to access video and resources on the expandable ability of the brain.

website  View the Two Mindsets - a diagram based on Carol Dweck's research that illustrates the difference in the way students may respond to challenges, successes, failures, and criticism depending on a growth or fixed mindset.

girls at Science Fair

Participants have had the opportunity to try out the three strategies in their classrooms. Here are some of their comments:

"It helped me be aware that sometimes students don't realize that difficulty is part of learning. I think I take it for granted."

"This was something that fits in all areas of life so there are many non-academic as well as academic connects."

"After implementing this into class discussion, I was able to see the importance of self-affirmation and what a significant impact it has on learning."