Cognitive Error: Anchoring

We all make mistakes and we are often wrong. Show me a teacher who hasn’t dropped some clangers.

Some errors we might say were avoidable but some not so.

An important concept in understanding the errors we make is that of cognitive bias, and the influence this can have on our decision making.

Cognitive biases, also known as ‘heuristics’, are cognitive short cuts used to aid our decision-making. A heuristic is like a cognitive ‘rule of thumb’ or cognitive guideline that we subconsciously apply to a complex situation to make decision-making easier and more efficient.

One cognitive bias we need to be aware of is the anchoring effect or focalism.

The anchoring heuristic is demonstrated when a teacher may settle on a decision or ‘diagnosis’ early in an assessment process and subsequently become ‘anchored’ in that view.

Teachers may also become anchored in a specific symptom or sign and as a result of this anchoring, they may discount other information and accept only that which supports the original assessment.

For example, we might steadfastly cling to a label of dyslexia even as conflicting and contradictory information emerges. During your decision making, you might use an initial piece of information given by a parent to make subsequent judgments.

Once a diagnostic label has been assigned to a pupil by another teacher or professional it is very difficult to remove that label and interpret with fresh eyes.

There is a good chance that many of the labels children carry around with them have been given in error and they act as educational anchors that are hard to shift.

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