GP 8 Communicate high expectations

In essence

Students need clearly articulated expectations so that they can strive towards clearly defined goals. Expectations need to be suitably high within the context of the discipline or profession and be appropriate to the level of the student. When learners, educators and institutions hold high expectations and make extra efforts, performing well can happen.

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What you can do

Create a learning and teaching environment that inspires students to work hard, by: teaching to promote understanding, assessing understanding, using projects to actively engage students, taking responsibility to motivate and stimulate students, developing supportive teacher-student relationships and promoting student-student relationships through discussion and projects.

To demonstrate your high expectations, you can use a range of constructivist teaching strategies such as setting students to work in mixed ability groups, promoting student autonomy in learning, carefully communicating concepts, asking open question and providing clear feedback.

When you set reading lists, for instance, give explicit guidance in how you expect students to use them to engage in ‘resource discovery’ to help develop independent learning skills

Provide examples of work that demonstrate a range of standards, use technology to communicate or generate explicit evaluative criteria, set challenging assignments that encourage students to develop their cognitive skills, incorporate peer evaluation and publish students work to the web.

Run workshops in topics such as study skills and time management for students.

Emphasize to students the importance of putting hard effort into their learning and be confident that the improvements that they make are for the long term.

Tell students that what they are doing is important, that they can do it and that you won’t give up on them.

Take the view that students develop their ability incrementally. You can encourage this by: providing resources and not judgment for learning, focusing on learning processes and not outcomes, considering errors to be useful activities for learning rather than signs of failure, giving feedback that acknowledges effort and personal standards and encouraging students to be intrinsically motivated.

What it looks like

Students are confident about their abilities and work persistently and independently (Brophy, 1998).

Teachers with high expectations explicitly state their expectations, spend equal amounts of time interacting with high and low achieving students and stress the relationship between effort and achievement (Cross, 2008).

Teachers support students to realize that high achievement is often the result of listening, trying, trying again, reading, asking questions, paying attention, asking for help, being serious, and reading critically. Being smart could also be defined as being ‘tenacious’ (Cross, 2008).

Students have positive perceptions of workload and are inspired to work hard towards high quality learning outcomes (Kember & Leung, 2006).

Myths busted

More effective teachers assume their demands are reasonable and are not too difficult for students, therefore encouraging students to shake off individual and mistakenly pessimistic expectations and perceptions of their own abilities. Less effective teachers are worried that their tasks are too difficult for students (Brophy, 1998).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

What should you think about when implementing the communication of high expectations in your teaching

Answer Yes to these

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches for communicating high expectations which characteristically emphasize constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt high expectations strategies. I can incorporate the communication of high expectations into my course.

Commitment: I can identify a ‘communicating high expectations’ champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

All students need to believe that they can succeed (Cross, 2008). Some students approach learning with low self-expectations and give up at the first sign of any difficulties (Brophy, 1998). Students need to be encouraged to keep their self-expectations high and adopt positive esteeming strategies for learning in order to enhance their options for success and improve their performance (Thompson & Musket, 2005).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

Communicating high expectations comes about by setting high standards for your students, demanding high effort from them as well as providing them with strategies for coping with frustration and failure (Brophy, 1998).

By providing learning and teaching environments that focus on teaching, supportive teacher-student relationships and active student-student relationships, a recent study determined that students can be influenced to work hard without perceiving workload as excessive. It was found that deeper learning was a key benefit of such an approach (Kember & Leung, 2006).

By encouraging students to take a mastery approach to academic learning rather than an ability-based approach, it is possible that they can learn beyond their initial expectations (Thompson & Musket, 2005). Mastery goal orientation is motivated by a desire for academic competence while performance goal orientation is characterized by comparison and demonstration of ability in relation to others (James & Yates, 2007). Students who take a mastery goal orientation tend to display greater persistence to their learning (Thompson & Musket, 2005).

Directing encouraging behaviors such as providing challenging material to the whole class rather than individuals has been found to be more effective for communicating teachers’ expectations of students (Rubie-Davies, 2010). At the same time, teachers who create supportive learning environments and have affirmative and respectful attitudes about their students’ interests and motivations are more likely to enable students to experience positive self-perceptions and high achieving learning (Rubie-Davies, 2010).