I’m not Whining, I’m just sayin’ it’s the illusion of competence

In all my blogging years, this, I think is the first blog post I’m writing from a teaching perspective. I’ll make it short. I’ve always preferred to blog as a writer, reader, book reviewer, and so on, but strange events  over the past few days have made me reflect on my work as a teaching professional, the values I try to instill in my students, what I would do if I were one of my students… hence this post. Believe me, I love my job, I love my work, and today I had a few moments to ponder over a case of one of my students who is not happy with the grade I gave. Remember it’s always one. It doesn’t matter if 49 or 101 are satisfied, as long as one is not, you’ve got work to do, or so I thought, until I came across this article on illusion of competence that makes so much sense and reminds me of the psychology lessons I learnt in the past during my stint as a practicing psychologist. This I have observed and confirm: When most A students  are filling forms on self assessment, they’ll suggest that the grade they’re likely to receive is a B or B+. The rest who may not be A students will however indicate that they expect nothing short of an A. Why, you may ask.

It looks like a tiger, doesn’t it? But is it really a tiger or even better, the tiger?

According to this article on illusion of confidence, “some people mistakenly assess their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. This ‘illusion of confidence’ is now called the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’, and describes the cognitive bias to inflate self-assessment.” This has been studied and tested. Research suggests, “students who scored the lowest in these cognitive tasks [grammar, logic and joke] always overestimated how well they did – by a lot. Students who scored in the bottom quartile estimated that they had performed better than two-thirds of the other students!” There it is! This not only relates to students by the way, but also folks in their everyday lives. If you’ve watched talent shows, you might recall some characters who so believed that they were freaking awesome and deserved the medals and therefore could not understand how they got skipped when the results were announced in the end. That’s the phenomena we’re addressing. If you were in the audience watching you probably just smiled and shook your head because, really, it was clear who got the talent, but you also couldn’t possibly stand up and say it loud, just out of compassion, you know.

For teachers out there, if ever you have a student complaining about a grade, and you’ve done your best to explain how they got that grade but for some reason you get the sense that you’re speaking Latin or Greek or Afrikaans, try the lemon juice idea; let them read this article on illusion of confidence. It is backed up by neuroscientists. If your students still don’t get it, then you’ll know Confucius was right: “real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance.” Good luck in building the nation!

 

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