‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn’
Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada
Your students will live up (or down!) to your expectations. Student achievement is strongly affected by what the teacher expects of them and this has been demonstrated by many educational researchers. The first and most famous experiment is known as the Pygmalion effect.
Researchers, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment at a primary school where all the students sat an intelligence test. The experimenters then gave the 18 teachers the names of the students who scored in the top 20%, telling them that this meant they showed exceptional potential and would achieve high results within the year.
Unbeknownst to the teachers, these students were randomly selected and the testing showed no such prediction. When all students were tested again 8 months later, the so-called ‘gifted’ students performed significantly higher than the rest.
Rosenthal and Jacobson referred to this as the Pygmalion effect.
Robert Marzano found that when we have high expectations of students we act differently. We call on them more often, wait longer for their answers, and give them more opportunities to succeed. For more on the Art and Science of high expectations for students, read here
Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: How You Can Achieve Your Potential tells of a researcher by the name of Falko Rheinberg, who studied how students’ academic achievement and progress is influenced by the teachers’ mindset about intellectual ability. What he found was that when teachers believe that ability is fixed, the students end the year at the same level as when they began the year i.e. if students were in the bottom group at the beginning of the year, then they were in the bottom group at the end of the year. When teachers taught with a growth mindset, it didn’t matter where the students began, all students progressed and developed to a much higher degree. There was much more movement between ability groups as students learned and improved.
It is more helpful to ask,
‘How can I teach these students this content?’
rather than “Can I teach them?’
‘How will they learn best?’
rather than ‘Can they learn?’
Early in my career I taught a boy who was repeating Kindergarten because at the end of a year of school he still could not read his name or even the word ‘I’. At the end of another year of schooling in my class, he could still not read.
I often think about him and how there must have been something different that I could have done. Perhaps he had decided that he would never be able to learn to read because of his experiences. I cannot help thinking that more of a growth mindset on my part and would have made a difference. To read more about why fair does not necessarily mean the same read our fascinating blog post on the topic.
How to set high expectations for students in your classroom:
- Convey confidence in your students. Let students know that you believe in them and speak positively about students to other staff. If you know the task is particularly difficult tell the students, but also let them know that you are sure they will do well if they work hard. Develop rapport with students through non-verbal signals such as smiling and nodding to give encouragement.For more ideas on non-verbal signals read this.
- Give opportunities to contribute. When students are given a chance to voice their opinions and learning in a validating atmosphere they learn better and achieve higher results. For more on how to get the most from your students see here.
- Give specific feedback. Individualised feedback (not simply ‘good job’) has one of the highest effect sizes on student achievement, according to many educational researchers, allowing students to use the feedback to improve.
- Provide high levels of support. For students to achieve their potential they need:
a) positive relationships with caring adults;
b) additional and varied teaching;
c) varied modes of presentation;
d) to be explicitly taught how to access assistance; and
e) consistent, specific feedback.
- Use the Goldilocks principle. This means providing tasks that are not too easy, not too hard, but just right! For students to be motivated they need to feel that the task is achievable, but not so easy that it doesn’t challenge them. It is about finding the ideal level of work that will stimulate the desire for learning without disheartening the student.
Do you set high expectations for your students? Do they respond?