You may have noticed that in almost every school where students change classes, there is a group of students who will be perfectly behaved in one classroom and out of control in another. Why does this happen? It may have to do with teacher expectations. You get what you expect! Students tend to live up or down to the expectations afforded them. Effective classroom managers possess the highest of expectations for student success and put plans in place to ensure that those expectations are met.
The research on expectations started in the 1960s. It began at Harvard University in the experimental psychology classroom of Dr. Robert Rosenthal. Dr. Rosenthal’s students were charged with the task of getting white mice to run a maze in the shortest time possible. He divided his class into an experimental and control group. Students in the control group were told that their mice were regular, run-of-the-mill lab mice. Students in the experimental group were told that they had carefully bred, top-of-the-line mice and to expect great things of them.
The rest is a matter of record. The mice in the experimental group ran the maze three to four times faster than those in the control group. In fact, there was no difference between mice in the two groups. They were just randomly assigned to the experimenters, but the students in the experimental group used more motivation and supportive interactions — and look what resulted! You get what you expect!
Robert Rosenthal teamed with a researcher by the name of Lenore Jacobson to ascertain whether what worked in the laboratory would work in a school system. They told specific groups of teachers in the Los Angeles County schools that they were being given students who had been identified by a test as late bloomers and to expect great achievement from these students this particular year. Other groups of teachers were told nothing out of the ordinary. Well, you guessed it! The students whose teachers expected great things far exceeded those whose teachers did not have the same high expectations – not only on achievement tests but measures of aptitude as well. The study became the note-worthy Pygmalion in the Classroom. You get what you expect!
What the Research Says
A teacher’s expectations are the greatest predictors of actual outcomes in the classroom (Allen & Currie, 2012).
Teachers should not lower their expectations to make it appear that students are successful when they are not. Instead, they should help students see that the route to achieving the expectation is attainable (Cooper & Garner, 2012).
The self-fulfilling prophecy is communicated to students through two forms of communication – explicit messages (i.e., what teachers try to say consciously) and implicit messages (i.e., what teachers say unconsciously) (H.A. Davis et al., 2012).
Make It Happen
- I have taught classes in which I randomly call on a student and the student looked at me and asked, “Why did you call on me? I didn’t have my hand raised.” Communicate your high expectations to all students by creating the expectation that both volunteers and non-volunteers will be called upon to participate. Use random ways of involving students, such as writing their names on Popsicle sticks or index cards, placing those sticks or cards in a can or box, and pulling a student’s stick or card whenever a question is asked or involvement needed. Some teachers use a computer program that randomly flashes students’ names on a screen.
- Being near students during independent seatwork enables you to communicate your high expectations and provide students with individual assistance when necessary. A technique by Fred Jones (2000) called praise, prompt, and leave allows you to help more students in a shorter period of time. The three steps in this technique are as follows: (1) When you look at a student’s independent seatwork, make a positive comment or praise statement about what has been done so far; (2) if there is an error, provide a clue or prompt to move the student in the direction of a better answer; (3) then leave that student and move on to the next student. If the prompt in step two is not sufficient, assign a close partner or another student to work with the student needing the help. This frees you to quickly determine whether students actually understand or if reteaching is necessary.
For more examples of how to expect the best from your students, consult the 2nd edition of my best-selling book, Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites.