EducationHigher EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: First impressions

I debated whether to call this piece “snap judgements” instead of “first impressions” because that’s really what it’s about. In jodee’s column, she reminded us that the first week of college started for most places.  I think I survived that week…

One pattern I have noticed in my time teaching is how I assess students even in that first week.  Which students should I worry about?  Which students do I *know* will succeed?  I’ve written before about the utility of stereotypes,  but what about first impressions?

This article at NPR describes some science about how we make snap judgements based on voices, other studies show how faces drive our first impressions in incredibly short time frames, etc.  One thing I catch myself doing is sorting students by whether I think they will do well or not very early in the course.

Part of that is purely practical – who will need extra support in the class?  Who should I keep a close eye on?  Who can I assume is ok until I see a red flag?  When there are a larger number of students in a class, it helps to have these “bins” of students so that you can make good decisions about how to handle the class as a whole, how to help each student, etc.  I scaffold my class a lot, which means my students have already turned in some preliminary assignments even on week 1, so my first impressions are not based on faces or voices only, but can I trust those impressions?

This article is behind a paywall, but the abstract implies that people know if their first impression is accurate or not.  Anecdotally, I can say that I feel I’m pretty good at the initial sorting, but there’s always at least one student per semester who surprises me as being either more or less successful than I anticipated.  Given that track record, I try to remain skeptical about my own first impressions and my class sizes are small enough to monitor individuals throughout the semester, but at bigger institutions, I wonder how well such a system could work.

Here’s my question to you: how soon do you “know” if you/your student is going to do well or will struggle?  How often are you right or wrong?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.

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