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Trumping Student Stereotypes

The USA Today's ScienceFair blog reports on a new study showing that writing a simple essay about their personal values helped female college students markedly improve their grades in an introductory physics course. The researchers believe the short compositions enabled the students to "buffer" themselves against the stereotype that women are less capable in math and science than men.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it's not the first such finding. The new study builds on previous research we've mentioned finding that writing personal-values essays helped middle school African-American students significantly boost their performance across subjects.

It's pretty interesting stuff, showing both the breadth of internalized stereotypes and the power of writing and reflection to overcome them. You have to wonder why there hasn't been more of an effort (as far as we're aware) to translate this research in some systematic way to regular classroom practice. I mean, if you've got something that looks like it can narrow various kinds of achievement gaps—and isn't that like the Holy Grail of education these days?—why aren't we seeing this used or even talked about on a broad scale? Not flashy enough? Too new-agey? Enlighten us ...

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