Friday, August 21, 2009

Communicate High Expecations

"Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone -- for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts." (Chickering and Gamson)

One of my favorite ways to begin a session with students is by playing this three-minute video from Stanford's Education Center. In it, Tina Seelig passionately urges her audience to "Be Fabulous!" It's our job as instructors to raise the expectations of our students, and the best time to do that is right at the beginning of the relationship. Before telling students how to achieve, tell them why achievement is important. Give them a reason and a desire to do well in your class. When they make important points in an online session, "reward" them with happy faces or applause (the emoticons), and/or verbally congratulate them. Cultivate an atmosphere in your online classroom of curiosity and mutual support. Keep your sessions positive and "fun" - in short, be fabulous.

Ted Panitz offers this experience:

1. I send my students a letter prior to class describing the cooperative nature of the class and my expectations. I ask them to write a math autobiography, get the text, read chapter 1 and work out as many problems as they can. I give them my home and work phone numbers just in case the letter causes an anxiety attack. The effect is marvelous as reported by my students.
2. I collect and read all the autobiographies and respond with personal notes of encouragement and/or verbal responses when appropriate. The fact that we are writing back and forth opens up a line of communication about each student in the context of the course.
3. I ask the students to sign a Success Contract which I sign outlining what I will do and what I expect them to do. I actually refer to it throughout the semester and remind them of their commitment to the course and themselves as well as to me.
4. I ask my students to do a written analysis of the 7 principles as they apply to math classes and cooperative learning. Number 6 often receives a lot of discussion because students are not used to hearing high expectation expressed about them. Again I write back explaining my thoughts and experiences. In a way this establishes a peer relation versus that of student and teacher.
5. When students are working in groups I resist providing quick answers and encourage them to seek answers themselves by relying on the abilities of their members. I comment that someone in the group will be able to find a solution and working together they will certainly be able to answer each members questions. It takes them a little while to get used to this but after they do they revel in each group members success.
6. At the end of each exam or assignment I ask students to comment on how they feel they are doing and how the class is going. I also ask if they have any suggestions for me which might improve the class. This is optional and not graded. It tells them that I respect and value their opinions.
7. I provide a lot of verbal encouragement throughout the semester...
8. I try to learn something about each student that I can relate to and I discuss things with them which will help them understand my background and interests better. I always explain my rationale for doing things. I share my experiences with them and the class and encourage them to do the same. Many students have told me that knowing me personally sets high expectations since they do not want to let me down. They see me as a friend and mentor.
9. I use a mastery approach to testing where I check exams for correct answers and return the papers for corrections during the exam... The emphasis is on understanding the problem, not the grade and all students become capable of obtaining a perfect test. The effect of this approach is to empower the students, create a positive assessment atmosphere and encourage the students to take more responsibility for their learning and success...
10. Cooperative learning techniques set high expectations of students. Students work in groups collaboratively in all my classes during every class session. I encourage them to help each other and express their opinions about their problem solutions. As they get comfortable with this approach and with their partners their self esteem grows and the expectations of what they can accomplish rises dramatically. People who previously approached math with great anxiety suddenly see themselves as tutor/teachers, not just recipients of someone else's knowledge. Cooperative learning carries with it a presumption that students can learn the material together and then demonstrate their abilities individually through a variety of assessment methods including exams, oral presentations, written assignments and working on the board.
11. During the semester I periodically survey the students to ask their opinion about how they feel the course is progressing. Is it meeting their expectations, what could I do to facilitate their learning, what could they do to help the class and themselves?

This isn't simply a matter of teaching philosophy: research indicates that "there is a clear relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement." Read this article to see what I mean. You owe it to your students (your profession, yourself) to energetically, enthusiastically, and wholeheartedly communicate high expectations in your classroom.

Let me know how you do this.
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