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How to raise the level of expectations in students

For many teachers across all key stages, this time of year is the moment when everything you and your students have worked for comes under scrutiny. From SATs through to GCSEs, BTECs and A-Levels, the important work done in the classroom is finally graded at an external level. Every educator wants their students to succeed, it’s why we enter the profession, and we think we can all agree that it’s devastating to see a child or young person failing to meet their true potential.

In the 1960s a pair of researchers ran an experiment where they chose students at random and told their teachers that they had the potential to be high achievers. When they returned at the end of the academic year, they discovered that all the chosen students had, on average, significantly outperformed their peers. They decided that the combination of aspiration and expectation had helped to raise the students’ own expectations of themselves.


Aspiration vs Expectation

Aspiration is commonly defined as a desire to be better, whilst expectation is a belief in a likelihood of success. When the two are balanced well and introduced at the right time they can have a significant impact in raising the expectations and confidence of students. So, what steps can teachers take to implement this change?

Introduce expectations at the start of the school year or for new topics

We all want to know what we’re working or travelling towards so introducing a set of expectations at the start of the year or when introducing a new topic can help learners in knowing what they need to do to achieve. Imagine taking your driving test without ever being told that you had to be able to do an emergency stop; you just wouldn’t want to make the effort.

Expectations can start small. There’s no need to daunt students with an ‘Everest’ of things to work towards. As they start meeting each one, compliment them on their achievements and stretch them with something new. Each time they meet an expectation, it’s another step towards a basecamp on the mountain. If expectations are achievable, a student’s confidence will grow as they meet them. If they are out of reach, it becomes an impossibility that isn’t worth working for.


Be realistic

Within expectations and aspirations, it’s also important to be realistic. Some students will perform better than others, that goes without saying, but they can also have different things to aspire to. If you think about the TV show Bake Off, some of us can watch it and aspire to be able to make perfect and complex cakes, others just want to be able to bake something without it tasting like a piece of cardboard. For each person, reaching that goal is an achievement and may create a new aspiration (opening a cake shop for example).

Explain how students can get top marks

This goes back to the driving test scenario. If students know what is expected of them and what they need to do to achieve it, it makes it so much easier than feeling around in the dark. There’s nothing wrong with knowing how to achieve something. Think of it as a ‘recipe for success’. This can be done in so many ways, but one of the easiest is to have a visual prompt that explains how to achieve each skill/grade/level.

Support Independent Learning

Any seasoned teacher will tell you that a student left undirected to do independent learning, probably won’t learn very much. That’s because they probably don’t know what to look for, where to find it, or what to do if they do find it. Just imagine all those wasted hours in IT suites and libraries.

But, if they have a guide on where to find things and what to look for, it’s astounding what they can gain from it. One idea is a shared resource folder, full of interesting and useful information, web sites, activities, and articles. This provides a gradual introduction to guiding their own learning and means fewer wasted hours.

By enabling students to feel that they’ve discovered and learnt on their own, independent learning also allows them to stretch their aspirations and expectations of themselves further.

Finally, where possible, pull in parents and carers. Let them know what your expectations are and how they can support their child in achieving them. As one teacher told us, “Never underestimate the power of a good phone call home”.

As a leading teacher recruitment agency, 3R’s are always on the hunt for more amazing and inspirational teachers. So, if you have any friends who are looking for supply work please put them in touch with us, 0345 1303338


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