Ohio Wesleyan Professor Contributes to New Textbook on ‘Challenging Deficit Thinking’
DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University’s Michele McMahon Nobel, Ph.D., is passionate about training great teachers. And she thinks such talented teachers share some common traits.
“We want teachers who help students persevere when tasks are tough,” said Nobel, assistant professor of education and director of OWU’s Special Education Program. “We also want teachers to be aware of racist and classist systems or policies that may contribute to deficit thinking and actively work to remove these barriers to promote more inclusive schools and classrooms.”
Nobel explores “deficit thinking” in a chapter she wrote for the newly released textbook, “Handbook of Research on Challenging Deficit Thinking for Exceptional Education Improvement.” Her chapter is titled “Challenging Deficit Thinking in Our Schools: It Starts During Educator Preparation.”
“Deficit thinking is framing situations or people in the negative rather than from a position of strength,” explained Nobel, a member of the OWU faculty since 2018. “It could be a negative thought, stereotype, or assumption based on race, status, ability—any demographic, really. In the education world, an example could be a teacher not expecting as much from a student who learns differently or comes from a challenging home situation.”
In her chapter, Nobel explores why deficit thinking exists in schools and what research shows educator preparation programs can do to challenge deficit thinking and, subsequently, help young students to succeed.
“For future teachers, I hope they can see the difference when we approach teaching from students’ strengths and assets compared to deficits,” Nobel said. “Rather than finding all the things students are not doing well or making excuses for students’ behavior or performance, getting to know students as humans and seeing what they do well can help teachers leverage those strengths to improve skills and performance.”
In addition to publishing her new textbook chapter, Nobel also recently presented information at the Council for Exceptional Children’s annual conference discussing how teachers can foster resilience in their classrooms.
She also is writing a textbook chapter exploring how the Ohio Wesleyan Department of Education works to train socially conscious and resilient teachers. She and colleagues Sarah Kaka, Ph.D., and Jennifer Garrette Lisy, Ph.D., are preparing to share antiracist educator work at this month’s annual meeting of the Association for Teacher Educators. And colleague Bona Kang, Ph.D., will join them for a related presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in March.
Learn more about Nobel and Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Education at owu.edu/education.
Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “Best Colleges” lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at owu.edu/experts or learn more at owu.edu.