How teachers can empower their students by raising expectations.
Feb 04, 2021
Professor John Hattie, in his work on Visible Learning, cites 'self-reported grades' as being one of the biggest effect sizes when it comes to improving student outcomes.
So what is this actually talking about? Hattie has since said that if he would actually re-label this to be 'student expectations', as this is a more accurate label of this concept.
What this is referring to, is first of all ascertaining what students are currently expecting of themselves, by asking your students to 'predict' their grade for an assessment or unit of work. Hattie asserts that students are actually very good at predicting the grade that they will get, based on their past performance, and their current levels of effort and engagement.
But that is not where it stops. The next, very important, step is for the teacher to use this information to encourage or 'push' students to raise their expectations (ie. to set a more challenging, yet achievable/ realistic goal).
It seems that when teachers have higher expectations of students, and (importantly) a genuine belief in their students' abilities and potential, then students are more likely to then raise their expectations of themselves, and in turn take action to meet those expectations, resulting in a higher result that would have previously been the case.
So how does this work exactly? Is it really as simple as just raising your expectations and telling students that they are capable of achieving a higher result? Is this akin to some kind of woo-woo 'manifestation' technique, as espoused by The Secret?
Well, here are my thoughts on the matter. It would seem that there are a couple of factors at play here that are supported by cognitive psychology and neuroscience.
First of all, cognitive psychologists often refer to a concept called a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. Ever heard the saying 'whether you believe you can, or you believe you can't, you're right'?
According to this concept, if you believe something about yourself, you are likely to act in a manner that will confirm your belief and make it 'true'. For example, if you believe that you are likely to become an alcoholic because you have a strong family history of alcoholism, then you may then use this as a excuse to drink heavily and eventually become an alcoholic, therefore fulfilling the 'prophecy' that you created.
On the other hand, if you believe that despite your family history of alcoholism that you are capable of breaking the cycle, then you are more likely to take action or seek support in order to live in accordance with that belief.
This can also relate to your beliefs and expectations of others. For example, if you as a teacher believe that a particular student is is not capable of improving their result for whatever reason, then you are less likely to take action to help them improve their result, and your low expectations will influence your student's way of thinking about themselves, leading to limiting beliefs and a fixed mindset.
This concept can also be seen through the breaking of the 4 minute mile barrier. Prior to Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile barrier in 1954, everyone believed that it was simply not possible for a human being to run that fast. However, very soon after this, more and more people began to break the record. Why? Because they now believed it was possible.
This is why streaming classes can sometimes work against students, especially those at the lower end of the ability spectrum. Students are fully aware when they are put in what they perceive as the 'dumb' class and instantly lower their expectations of themselves, which makes it very unlikely that they will try to improve their results. The teacher's expectations might also be low, feeding further into this overall mindset.
Another factor at play here, that is supported by neuroscience, is that when we set goals that are challenging, yet achievable, and we approach this goal with a growth mindset (that is, we believe that we can achieve the goal if we put the effort in) - and, we practice regular visualisation techniques, where we imagine seeing and being that ideal future version of ourselves, then our brain actually creates new neural pathways (this is referred to as neuroplasticity). This is because our brains can't actually tell the difference between reality and what we visualise/ imagine in our minds.
This then makes it more likely that we will start acting in accordance with our goals - that is, we will start forming new routines and habits that will naturally lead us towards achieving our goal, which then further strengthen the new neural pathways, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
Therefore, if students have high expectations of themselves, and that is supported by a belief in themselves to achieve that goal (and further supported by the teachers expectations and beliefs of them), then they will naturally start acting in a manner that will lead them towards achieving their goal. They might start dedicating more time and effort to their studies, for example, or seek further teacher support and feedback when they are trying to improve a specific skill.
So, in short, yes - if you, as the teacher can raise your student's expectations of themselves, and help them to set challenging learning goals that they believe they can achieve, then this can have a very large impact on their learning.
In my next blog article, I'm going to talk about some practical strategies that teachers can use in the classroom to raise expectations and help students establish challenging learning goals. You can read it here
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