Dunning who?

Dunning Kruger Analysis is doing the rounds in my school – it’s the current buzz phrase. I’ve been in this game for too long and am always sceptical of new initiatives, but this one did catch my eye and I think it has some mileage.

The theory has been around for nearly 20 years and was first applied, like a lot of the new ideas coming into teaching via business models.

The idea works by applying the idea the people who do not have (a) the skills or (b) perhaps more importantly, the knowledge in certain fields (i.e. Chemistry) can suffer from two setbacks.

1. They make mistakes (due to poor knowledge).

2. They are unable to see their mistakes due to their poor knowledge.

We will all have come across a typical, Dunning Kruger student. You know the one: overconfident but never hitting the high marks in tests. They show plenty of potential in class but never seem to reap the rewards. Usually (but not always), this student will be male. It will be the student who you see after they have sat an exam and upon asking them how the exam went, they reply: ‘it was easy, I finished with loads of time to go’. If you are like me, when you hear these words your heart sinks as you know they will not have got a great grade, and that when the student finds out the grade they will be disappointed. The aim of the Dunning Kruger Analysis is to stop this happening, especially before their final exam.

It is summarised nicely in the following video clip:

As Donald Rumsfeld once famously said: ‘There are known knowns, things we know that we know; and there are known unknowns, things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we do not know we don’t know (!)’

It’s that last point that we are trying to get over to our Dunning Kruger students – becoming much more aware of the things you don’t know you don’t know. But how do we do this? It sounds easier said than done … or does it?

We reckon you can help students to see their faults in tests (and I don’t just mean by marking things wrong!) but using a system that helps rank their confidence in questions. It works better with multiple-choice questions but could be used in structured questions if you wanted to.

Next to each question, you ask the students (once they have completed the test) to rank the chances of them getting the answer correct as:

1. Very confident

2. Confident

3. Unconfident

4. Guess

You will probably be not surprised to hear that the Dunning Kruger students rank themselves as being very confident in a large number of questions. This can then be a tool to use once the test is marked, getting them to look at the questions they thought they knew but didn’t. It’s also important for them to use this as motivation to go back through the work they thought they were happy with and to see where they went wrong.

I hope you have found this article interesting. You can read much more out there on the web but if you do have any questions, please post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.