UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Self-fulfilling prophecy : how teachers' attributions, expectations and stereotypes influence the learning opportunities afforded Aboriginal students Riley, Tasha Anastasia


In Canada, the issue of low graduation rates among Aboriginal students is a growing concern. Educational researchers assert that racism and discrimination in schools and in the wider society are factors that impede the success of Aboriginal and other minority students. Since teachers’ decisions potentially have consequences for a student’s educational and life chances, it is imperative to determine the basis of teachers’ decision-making in order to determine whether it is discriminatory. This study combines the insights of the micro, data-driven theories of self-fulfilling prophecy and attribution in order to consider the ways in which discrimination occurs or is reinforced by the decisions teachers make about students. Twenty-one teachers recommended twenty-four fictional students for remedial, average or advanced programs based upon the program eligibility criteria. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the thought processes teachers used in arriving at their decisions, they were asked to think aloud as they made decisions. Teachers were also asked to respond to questions about the basis of their decisions. Interviews probed teachers’ ideas regarding issues of race, class, gender. Of the twenty-one teachers interviewed, only one teacher placed student record cards accurately according to three different levels of achievement. The study indicates that, while teachers think about how a student is assessed, the way they think about their students often appears confused and arbitrary. Findings also revealed that some teachers’ recommendations were influenced by arbitrary factors such as the students’ group membership. Further, although teachers may not intend to make discriminatory decisions based on students’ ascribed characteristics, they are capable of biased decisions that denies opportunities to some learners. In order for teachers to recognize the influence of their biases upon student placement, the author proposes a consciousness-raising technique for improving teacher decision-making.

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