Engaging All Learners

First Impressions: A Reflection on our Snap Judgments of our Students

by Katie Beres, Instructional Liaison, CTTL

As your students file in on the first day of class, what assumptions do you make about them?

At the recent Winter Institute, the keynote speaker, Dr. Nina Ha, helped to bring to light the assumptions we make about others and consequently our students. Through her keynote address, (Re) Discovering the Faculty/Student Body: Engaging Multiple Identities on the University Campus, she introduced two helpful lenses through which to consider our students and ourselves.

From Ronald Jackson II’s work, Scripting the Black Masculine Body, Dr. Ha introduced the concepts of scripting, covering and reverse covering as a framework for how we consider our students and ourselves in the classroom.

Scripting is the action of applying inferences about the identity, personality, and other characteristics of a person based solely on the person’s appearance. This action is done by you to someone else.

Covering describes the action of “playing down” perceived characteristics of our identity to gain or maintain social status or power in the dominant culture. These characteristics are categorized in four areas:

  • Appearance (our body, clothing, hair)
  • Affiliation (cultural identity)
  • Activism (politics of our identity)
  • Association (our relationships, lovers, friends)

Alternatively, we may choose to reverse cover and “play up” one or more of these characteristics of ourselves as a means of obtaining status or power.

Reflecting on how you present to your students and them to you provides insight into challenges and opportunities to the learning environment in your class.

As you begin the start of a new semester, ask yourself these questions:

  • What scripts do I put upon my students when I first meet them? How do these scripts reflect my values, beliefs, and past experiences?
  • What do my students choose to emphasize about themselves or hide and why?
  • What do I assume “engagement” in my class looks like?  In what ways might students have to cover – or reverse cover – in order to meet those expectations?
  • What scripts do my students read about me?
  • What do I choose to keep private or emphasize about myself in the classroom?