Gr8 Expectations

In a lot of things I've been reading recently, the topics of high expectations and self-fulfilling prophecy have shown up a lot. It's really had me thinking. What are my expectations for my students? Honestly...I don't think I've communicated any expectations at all. Except maybe to bring a pencil every day.

How do we express high expectations? How do we express expectations at all? What expectations have I expressed without knowing it? When I think about it, I imagine a grandiose speech at the beginning of the year where a teacher says what they expect. The end. How do you go about raising the bar and holding them accountable to higher standards? How do you hold them to it?

I had to write about this for my midterm in my graduate teaching methods class. First I had to tell of a personal account with a teacher and self-fulfilling prophecy. It was the hardest question on the entire test for me. I couldn't think of one single example, good or bad. I couldn't remember a teacher every saying anything that affected me that way. Then we had to write three action steps for raising expectations in our own classroom. I had to google it because I sure didn't know how! This is what I came up with:
One action step I could take to raise my expectations would be to implement the participation points contract mentioned in question number six. This would be a great way to clearly define my expectations for student behavior in my classroom. By having students read, check mark, and sign, they are agreeing to a higher level of behavior.

A second action step I could take would be modeling. I am thinking of implementing math portfolios in my classroom next year. What that means is that a student would be responsible for writing a skill description, creating an example and working it out, and explaining the problem solving process for the essential skills in any given unit. I would have to model for students an excellent, average, and unsatisfactory example so that students know my expectations are higher than just scribbling down a sentence. 

My third action step would be to hold students accountable by consistently providing detailed feedback. Whether on homework, tests, classroom participation, or on portfolio assignments, by giving students detailed feedback on their progress, I am letting them know where they are and where I expect them to be. I’m also communicating to them that they cannot just slip by unnoticed and that they are expected to improve. Along with that, I am providing direct instruction to support and assist them with improving.
Am I totally off the mark here? The main thing I found during my googling followed along the themes of modeling. If I expect more out of them, then I have to clearly model what I expect. But clearly modeling expectations doesn't necessarily mean they are high expectations. I guess what I'm truly asking is, what are high expectations? What should I expect out of my students? And then, how do I express that? 

I suppose modeling behaviors, exemplar assignments, and using rubrics to grade are ways of clearly defining what is expected. But how do you hold them to it? What do you do if they are not performing according to your expectations? I imagine a stern face, arms crossed, deep voice: "I expect better out of you."  But that can't be it. It has to be more than just talk, right? Right?

How can I have great expectations when I don't know what great is or how to express it?


  1. For college students, I've found that to best way to express high expectations is to provide detailed feedback on assignments and to have assignments that are challenging. Allowing students to redo assignments until they meet expectations (up to the end of the grading period) also helps to keep students from giving up when they get lower grades than they expected.

    It also helps to have a fairly strict grading policy, so that an A really does represent excellent work, and not just meeting the minimal requirements of the assignment. Grade inflation in some disciplines has made it impossible to express high expectations, since even very poor work is given high grades.

    I have had many students who rose to the challenge after a slow start and done quite well. I've also had a few who failed a required course with me repeatedly (one failed the course 3 times, another failed twice and managed a bare pass the third time through).

    I've not found that "a grandiose speech at the beginning of the year" has any effect. Students have all heard those speeches before, and most of them are meaningless, as the teachers do not follow through with high expectations in their feedback and grading, so students have learned to ignore those opening remarks. (Maybe younger students are less cynical than college seniors and grad students, but I suspect that by middle school the inspiring speech is pretty much useless without some more solid follow-through.)

  2. Yeah, I'm usually somewhat confused and feel it's useless when others advise us to "set high expectations". I agree, setting low expectations is certainly not the way to go, but setting high expectations on their own are no solution either. It's easy to set high expectations, the challenge is how do we provide the support to make these expectations accessible to our students? Otherwise it's like trying to No-Child-Left-Behind ourselves to success.
    I like your ideas of modeling and providing rubrics since that does seem to give clearer ideas of what the goals are and how to get there. I also like gasstationwithoutpumps' idea of letting students redo assignments. I've tried that myself with some assignments and although I can't provide evidence that it furthers learning, I can just say that I felt good about it. :oP :o) I had an assignment that was worth credit only if they turned in a proficient level of work. However, they can resubmit the assignment as many times as possible. Each time they submit it and it doesn't meet expectations, they receive it back with useful feedback. I felt this was fair since they knew how to achieve proficiency, they just had to put in the time and effort. Instead of saying "It's a 3 out of 4, pretty good" and leaving it as that, the message was "This is not about getting 'enough' points for a grade, it's about showing me you fully understand the idea." This is definitely not doable for lots of assignments, but I felt it was appropriate for that assignment (writing a clear lab procedure).

  3. I struggle with letting kids redo assignments:

    1) Students these days are LAZY! They expect things handed to them. I think it is a disservice to them to allow them to continuously redo assignments. In the working world you don't just get to redo things. Clients/Superiors expect your work to be done appropriately and to a high standard the first time. There are no redos. THose redos go to another company or your have to do them on your own time (aka you don't get paid for that second round! = CONSEQUENCES!) I think redos don't teach kids that there are consequences to failure.

    2) If we as teachers are continuously allowing students to redo things, then we are grading grading grading, rather than thinking about 'how do I make this lesson better? How can I differentiate better so that everyone understands? How can I make it move investigation based for the students but allows for communicating that I am here to help them?"

    Does this mean that I don't allow some students to redo things? No.

    The senior in geometry is going to get more chance for redos because I know they are putting in the time, working during independent work time, asking questions when unclear, but still failing exams.

    The freshman/sophomore in geometry is not going to get the same privileges when I see them screwing round during independent time, they do not follow directions that are in the syllabus, given verbally, in big/bold/underlined letters on the assignment and explicitly pointed out to them the first time they make the mistake. And they turn in non-completed HW.

    And truthfully, I am much harder on my freshman because technically it is a honors level class for them (we don't have an honors track in math). Just because someone has always gotten A's in math doesn't mean they are going to get an A in my class. And some kids learn this the hard way.

    I give feedback, I use a grading rubric. Do I have room for improvement...sure. Are my methods perfect...hell no! But at some point students need to learn from their mistakes. What can I do differently on this exam then I didn't do last time? OH yeah...STUDY, come in for extra help, ask questions!!!!! But by giving them endless redos, you are taking away the responsibility from them and putting it back on your plate. "Oh I don't need to study, I can just do it again if I fail this time" -- that doesn't happen in the real-world...or college for that matter!!!!

  4. I guess I should be clear about what my "assignments": HW/Practice Problems, they have the entire chapter to get their act together. I only assign odd numbers and if it is a worksheet, they get an answer key. I only collect this once...at the end of the chapter. They have the entire chapter to ask questions and "redo". Tests/Quizzes...redos = NO WAY!!!!!!

  5. ER, your viewpoint about redos is definitely shared among many others (and probably most) teachers, and is very understandable. I recently read an article here (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov11/vol69/num03/Redos-and-Retakes-Done-Right.aspx) that gave me a lot of food for thought regarding those arguments. Unfortunately you have to be a subscriber to read that article.
    I won't rehash the whole article, but here are a few things to address your points, a bit from the article and a bit from my own views.

    1.) Teaching responsibility. My primary goal is to teach content. Yes, as teachers, we want to teach students to be better people, prepare them for the "real world", etc., but professionally and legally, if my job is a physics teacher, my responsibility is to make sure they learn physics. The other ideals are secondary. By disallowing a retake on a test or by settling for less learning when I know a student is able to learn the concept correctly, I am shortchanging their learning. For what? Supposedly to teach them a lesson about responsibility. I've done this (and most teachers probably) give these "lessons" to students through "natural consequences" to teach students well, basically through "I told you so". I have yet to see any evidence that this actually teaches them any lesson. Think of your students who slack the most. Do you think their teachers before you tried to teach them the same lessons? Whereas if you require them to do retakes before they get full credit, the message we send is "Do it right." If we theorize and extrapolate these "lessons" to the "real world", one could argue just as much that allowing students *not* to retake is like training them in the real world to shoot for "getting by" with subpar work enough not to get fired. (Depending on your level of cynicism or jadedness, this could be the sad case for some jobs ha... maybe that's how their teachers trained them ;o) ) I'm not really arguing that, but I'm saying that could be theorized just as well as arguments for the opposite side.

    2.) Amount of work for the teacher. Yes, allowing retakes is definitely extra work for the teacher. However, you can provide fair opportunities and follow through with the philosophy of "I need you to show me you can do it right" *without* your policy being "open season for retakes". For example, you can require them to present evidence of reflection or practice before attempting a retake. I have my students first correct their quiz mistake and write how they know the answer is correct. If it's a skill that must be practiced, I give them old worksheets to first complete (after making sure they can do a few on their own). I may ask them a few questions verbally. You're right that it wouldn't be fair for a student to just come in repeatedly and waste your time. So set up a system that doesn't allow that. Make sure it's more work on them.

    In the end, you should be teaching them responsibility through "You're turning in crap? That's worth nothing. Now you have to do even more work to get credit." *That* may be a more effective way to train them to do the job right the first time than just taking away their hope and opportunity to learn by disallowing any form of retake. The expectations are still high, and you're providing students the proper support to get there. You're just putting more responsibility on their plate.

  6. I have moved to a sbar approach this year. Many of the students just don't get it as all of the other teachers use a more traditional method and this is the first time they have seen sbar in all of their classes (now 16-17 yo). I realize that some will be satisfied with a passing grade (their is a group that sees this as a win-win -- they passed but did the least amount of work possible). i have found that it IS working for my motivated ELL students and the conscientious lower achiever. In time They have to show me that they have worked problems that they had in the previous assessments. Rarely do they have to do it more than once and about 10% of the students retake assessments. I do not grade or collect HW this year as well.

  7. Pumpless,
    Thanks for mentioning challenging assignments. Your mention of detailed feedback goes hand in hand with my clear guidelines (rubric) so basically we are agreeing on clear, detailed communication.

    I agree with your NCLB analogy, which is obviously why I hesitate in moving forward. "Support" is a good word. I guess I need to think of it in terms of developing a support system that supplements the high expectations.

    While I definitely agree that there are lazy kids nowadays, I'm going to have totally disagree with your theory on redo's. In fact, I think you've contradicted yourself by saying 'But at some point students need to learn from their mistakes.' You want them to learn but you're not willing to let them? Aren't you teaching them that if they can't do something perfect the firs time then they might as well give up? I have to agree with Frank. You're another teacher in a long line of teachers who didn't allow redo's and obviously they haven't learned the lesson yet.

    You also said there are no redo's in the real world. Again I have to disagree. Let's take the profession we know best- teaching. When I was evaluated and I made a mistake, I wasn't fired. I sat down with my evaluator and listened to suggestions on how to improve. And we as teachers are routinely given the chance to remake and redo ourselves.

    And if we're talking about the real world, consider this article http://alwaysformative.blogspot.com/2011/10/my-real-world.html These students are experiencing their own real world right now.

    And I think we can all appreciate the beauty of second chances.