How the Dunning-Kruger Effect continues to get me!

Have you ever walked into a cafe and been disappointed with the service and overall experience? You look at the costs of their products/services and think, “How hard could it be?” That’s basically the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s been described as “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area.” 

Surely it can’t be that hard making coffees all day?

My experiences with the Dunning-Kruger effect

Your misguided knowledge leads to an over-confidence and you then go out and decide to open up your own cafe (well I did)! I have found myself experiencing this effect on many occasions throughout my life. For example, when I was in my 20’s and thinking I knew a lot about rugby league and then meeting Brian Smith, a man with almost 700 games of professional coaching experience and realising, actually there’s a lot I don’t know about the game! 

Not surprisingly, Brian Smith knew a lot more about rugby league than I did!

This year as an educator, has certainly been one of those years. Having taught in high schools for almost 10 years, having a mother as a primary school educator and having business experience, I thought, “Why are our primary school students entering high school in such a poor state? Surely, it can’t be that hard to fix!” Into the K-6 system I went and I’m now starting to understand both how difficult it is and also how much I underestimated this problem.

Now, I don’t necessarily look at the Dunning-Kruger effect in a negative way, because you don’t know what you don’t know. If we truly knew how hard everything would be, what would we actually try? Despite having personally been on the receiving end of some very humbling moments, each of those experiences has taught me truckloads and allowed me to develop as a person. 

I am forever trying to remind myself of this effect whenever I start to feel confident about something. I now stop and ask myself, “What else do I need to know?” “What other ways or mental models are there to look at?” “Who is an expert in this area that I can trust and follow?”

The flip side to the Dunning-Kruger effect is that the more you understand about a concept, the more you realise you don’t know much at all! As I continue to research, reflect and refine my teaching methods, I have also discovered how many differing points of view there are in education. I believe that every teacher goes into the profession for the right reasons, however it hasn’t stopped a myriad of wars from within, for example:

  • Reading: Phonics vs Whole Word/Language
  • Curriculum: Knowledge vs Skills
  • Mathematics: Whole Math/Reform vs Traditional

Teaching is not simple, teaching is rocket science!

The Dunning-Kruger Effect in Education

In education, the Dunning-Kruger effect can impact all stakeholders including students, teachers and families. In the classroom, students may say things like, “We already know this!” When in actual fact, they still have misconceptions and that there are other methods to learn.

Another example is a teacher who has been teaching a certain way for many years and believes that it is a successful way of teaching because their students are “engaged”. However, when we dig a bit deeper, we agree that they are quiet, but they’re not actually learning. The teacher is teaching, but the student is not able to transfer any new knowledge to their next task.

I have also seen this effect many families. For example, I have had parents who blame other students for doing the wrong thing, when their own child has also been involved with the misdemeanors. There are many areas that parents have a lack of knowledge in during these scenarios, including:

  • not knowing about their child’s behaviour at school (it may be different to how they behave at home)
  • having different expectations to what is acceptable
  • not having any knowledge about the backgrounds of other students. They may have special needs, experienced trauma or other personal factors

How I will help prevent the Dunning-Kruger Effect from getting others!

My next few blog posts are going to focus on what I have learned about education over the past 12 months and what misconceptions I had (although I am not going to say that I am an expert on them). Some of the things that I will look at will be:

  • behaviour management
  • curriculum
  • leadership
  • assessment
  • how we learn
  • what learning actually is
  • literacy

My hope is to add some practical teaching strategies, provide evidence-based places people can go to for more information and challenge people to prevent the Dunning-Kruger effect from getting them too!

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