Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

An Easy Way to Help Students Develop Better Judgment

New data suggest it’s a skill and thus can be improved upon
By Carey Morewedge — January 24, 2024 3 min read
What's the easiest way to help students develop better judgment?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What’s the easiest way to help students develop better judgment?

I answered this question recently, along with others, for Character Lab in a Tip of the Week:

What is judgment, and why is it important?

Judgment is getting as close as possible to the best answer. Everyone can have true and false beliefs about the world or calibrated and uncalibrated expectations. Part of our job as parents and teachers is to help kids figure out the difference. Kids have expectations about what will happen to them, and things may not turn out as expected. If a student says, “I failed that test,” you could ask them to think about how accurate their judgment might be: “What are the reasons why you think that’s true? Now, what are the reasons why it might not be true?”

How can people make better judgments?

To make an optimal judgment, you need to identify an objective function that you want to maximize and consider the variables involved. Let’s say you’re trying to choose a summer camp for your kid. Do you want to find the camp that will give them the best educational experience? That’s a different objective from trying to choose the camp they will enjoy the most. Then you have to consider all the differences between camps: Do they have different staff—say, college students versus adults? Do they do different kinds of activities? One might be STEAM-focused, and another is more about the outdoors. How expensive are they?

But it’s usually not possible to think through every variable. Instead, people often take mental shortcuts to make the decision easier. Rather than research everything, you might base your judgment on the reputation of the school that the camp is held at rather than look at the curriculum. These shortcuts can be useful, but sometimes they lead us astray. Particularly consequential decisions—say, where your child goes to college—or ones that play out over and over again in a cumulative way, like what they eat for breakfast every day—those are the ones you’ll want to spend more effort on.

What’s a common mistake people make in judgment?

One big issue is confirmation bias. When making judgments, we tend to overweight information that confirms our beliefs. At the grocery store, I might try to decide whether a box of organic cereal is healthy or unhealthy. If I believe organic foods are healthy, I’ll tend to look for information on the box that suggests that the cereal is healthy (say, the fiber and protein content). And I’ll tend to overlook information that suggests the cereal is unhealthy (such as sugars and additives).

What’s the easiest way to help students develop better judgment?

I think it’s useful to get kids to not just look for reasons why their idea is right. Push them to think about evidence for alternatives or reasons why their idea might be wrong. Help them think about questions such as Am I thinking about all the information available? What would suggest that this idea is wrong? Is there information that would refute the idea that I’m testing?

You could do this in your classroom when you’re thinking about issues together—have one person argue against whatever you’re suggesting. Kids like to do that. They’re contrarians by nature. Give them practice playing devil’s advocate with your ideas.

What’s a research finding you’re currently excited about?

We have some really cool data where we’re looking at expert decisionmakers and novices—the kinds of experts whose judgments drive what risks countries devote their budgets to prevent, like fires and floods. What we find is that these experts tend to be less biased both in the areas in which they achieve expertise and in similar kinds of problems in other areas. But the experts and novices both benefit from de-biasing strategies equally. This upends a lot of earlier work suggesting that the benefits of expertise are limited to the domain in which someone is an expert.

A big debate for the past 50 years is if judgment is a skill that can be improved, like algebra. Or if judgment is a perception that can’t be improved, like seeing the color green. Our data suggest there’s a lot of skill there. Knowing this makes me think we need to teach more people de-biasing strategies. Because if judgment is a skill, then learning how to do it better is good for people and good for the world.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion What Does the Dangerous Political Climate Mean for Schools?
Educators and researchers offer advice for navigating political polarization in the classroom.
5 min read
Grunge Collage styled urban graphic of US election
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Q&A Why Educators Need to Better Understand What Drives Kids' Cellphone Addictions
As more school and day-to-day tasks are completed on smartphones and computers, teens struggle to manage their screen time.
3 min read
Young man and woman without energy on giant phone screen with speech and heart icons above them. Addiction. Contemporary art collage. Concept of social media, influence, online communication
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock
Student Well-Being Q&A When Social Media and Cellphones Are Lifelines to Kids Who Feel Different
Like it or not, social media is an important venue for teens to find community and hone their identities.
4 min read
Young girl looking on mobile phone screen with multicolored social media icons. Finding community, belonging. Contemporary art collage. Concept of social media, influence, online communication and connection.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock
Student Well-Being Q&A ‘It’s OK to Not Be on Your Phone’: An 18-Year-Old on Teaching Cellphone Etiquette
Whether it's asking permission to take a photo of someone or dimming a screen in a movie theater, kids need lessons in cellphone etiquette.
3 min read
Photo collage of hands holding phones with communication symbols superimposed. Learning phone etiquette.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock/Getty Images