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NOTE: This is one of a series of ten blog posts on cognitive biases that have applications in education.

People rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision. For example, donors are likely to donate more money if their choices are $100, $500, $1000, and $2000 than if the choices are $25, 50, $100, and $200. What is important to realize is that the donor always retained the power to choose exactly how much he or she would like to donate, but the suggestion of larger donation amounts anchors the donor’s decision to a higher amount.

 

Implications for working with other teachers
Anchoring may play a role in places we haven’t realized.  Think about how we decide how many classwork or homework problems to give students.  Perhaps we have an amount we prefer, but perhaps it is also a factor of how many problems there are to begin with.  For example, worksheets or textbooks with more problems per page are likely to influence us to assign more problems to students than if the worksheets or textbooks had few problems per page.  In theory, the number of problems we assign students should be independent from what is available.  Obviously we can always adjust the amount we assign (for example, just even or odd problems), but having more problems on a page likely influences us to assign more of them.

 

This may also play a role when trying to reach collective decisions with your colleagues.  When asking your fellow teachers to commit to something such as a measure of growth, anchoring may be useful in getting teachers to commit to a level that is closer to what you are looking for. For example, if you want teachers to include at least ten higher order thinking questions per unit, consider the difference between these two statements:

  • “We were thinking that each unit would have about ten higher order thinking questions per unit. How many higher order thinking questions do you think we should do per unit?”
  • “How many higher order thinking questions do you think we should do per unit?”

If the first question is asked, teachers begin with a baseline amount anchored to their minds and may be more likely to state a number closer to 10. With the second question, any answer is acceptable. Teachers may respond with lower numbers than you had hoped, which makes it harder to increase that amount later.

 

Implications for working with students
Consider the usefulness of anchoring when establishing goals with students. For example, when asking students to study more, consider the difference between these two statements:

  • “I am hoping that you will study for 30 minutes each night for the exam on Friday. How many minutes do you think you should study each night for the exam on Friday?”
  • “How many minutes do you think you should study each night for the exam on Friday?”

Again, the first question establishes a baseline that will influence the student’s response. If they choose to study, that number will be in their mind and may affect the overall amount of time he or she spends.

 

Where else does anchoring occur?  How do you suggest preparing for it or using it to make progress?


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