Confirmation Bias - Steve Barkley

Confirmation Bias

I was introduced to the term confirmation bias in Jim Knight’s recent book, Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High Impact Instruction. Citing Heath and Heath (2013) in the book, Decisive, Jim describes confirmation bias as the habit of developing a quick belief about a situation and then seeking out information that bolsters that belief.

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“…..When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisting attitudes, beliefs, and actions.”

A Science Daily article adds that we tend to under weigh evidence that would disconfirm our hypothesis:

A recent analysis of psychological studies with nearly 8,000 participants concluded that people are twice as likely to seek information that confirms what they already believe as they are to consider evidence that would challenge those beliefs.”

Another article  on this topic states that humans work mostly in an intuitive mode where they use impressions, associations, and feelings in order to understand the world around them. The reflective mode is where humans take a deliberate look at the decisions they make.

That reflective mode is what we want our professional development, PLCs and coaching actions to trigger….a time where we actually seek information and data that questions our existing beliefs, decisions, and practices.

Knight describes how easy it is for a teacher to identify four or five students successfully exhibiting understanding of a lesson and conclude that everyone “has it.” He also identifies how our anxiety created by students not learning can lead us to seek proof that we are not the cause. In Focusing on Teaching, Knight identifies how video as a part of teacher learning that that focuses on goal setting and celebrates the professionalism of teachers can lead to increased student success.

Often in my pre-conference conversations with teachers, I ask them what question they are looking to answer. As I seek to understand the question I am gaining permission to collect whatever data might be helpful in arriving at the answer. I do my best to avoid reaching a conclusion to the question, just to identify what observation data might be helpful.

Example: Teacher’s question? Is the time I am spending pre-teaching the English Language Learners (ELL) prior to the learning activity having a sufficient impact?

My questions:

If the pre- teaching is effective, would it change the ELL’s learning behaviors during the whole group lesson?

What behaviors would you hope to see emerge or increase due to your investment in the pre-teaching?

Observing in that classroom, I would identify the ELL students and record as specifically as I could, their learning behaviors. In the post conference I would share those observations and allow the teacher to reflect on the information along with her question. This reflection could lead to an insight or another connected question the teacher wishes to answer. Both outcomes can lead to future coaching activities. The opportunity to video the ELL students during this lesson gives the ultimate opportunity for the teacher to observe, analyze, and assess the generated student learning behaviors.

Classroom learning centers and cooperative learning activities are two learning strategies that I believe are terrific spots for introducing video feedback for reflection and coaching.

Both activities can consume a substantial amount of learning time and without the appropriate learner behaviors/actions, produce minimal learning results. Both activities are difficult for accurate teacher observation and assessment and thus are prime candidates for confirmation bias.  Because these videoing activities can have “no teacher on camera” they present a lower risk for many teachers new to learning from their own video.

I can see a PLC of common grade level teachers asking a coach to video learning centers or cooperative groups in each of their classroom over a few days or weeks. These video clips could provide great PLC reflection and learning as teachers created modifications in current centers or cooperative tasks and then watched future videos for an increase in the desired learning behaviors.

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