High Expectations Make a Difference in Student Achievement
By Theresa London Cooper
As we begin another exciting school year, it’s the perfect time to set a tone that let’s our students know that, with our support, we expect their best performance—socially and academically. There is a body of research that indicates the impact of high expectations on student performance. What are the implications of this for classroom teachers’ practice? How do we demonstrate high expectations in the classroom? I have a few ideas I’ll share.
At the beginning of the school year, tell your students that each one of them begins with an A, level 4 in every subject or whatever language/terms you use. It is their job to keep the grade, but they will not have to do it alone. Help and teach them how to hold onto the grade as you believe they are all capable. Inform them of all the people who will support their success: parents, other teachers, guidance counselors, assistant principal, principal, and peers.
Make your expectations clear (Principles of Learning). In this regard, student must know what the expectations sound like, look like and feel like. Therefore, role-play can be a vital tool in conveying clear expectations. Remember, telling is not teaching.
Another important factor is language. Language is critical in conveying high expectations. Therefore, we must be mindful of what we say to our students and how we say it (tone). Use positive presupposition indicating that you believe in their ability to excel. Teach students strategies that will help them grapple with difficult content and be successful.
Highlight the expected behavior in the presence of the class by calling attention to it so that it is repeated. Use positive, constructive critiques for undesirable behavior – drawing attention to what is incorrect, and what could be done differently next time. When you must correct student behavior that you think is a personal matter and this correction would not benefit your classroom community, see students in private.
Get to know your students by using informal and formal assessments and surveys. Build relationships with them and encourage them to build relationships with each other by establishing a classroom learning community and accountability system. Engage students in conversations about what is necessary in order to have a productive learning environment. Post the characteristics to help students remember and implement them. Refer to the chart throughout the year so that it is not just “wall paper.”
Behind the scenes in your planning, be thoughtful about how you present each lesson and ensure the success of each student. Use differentiated instruction when presenting lessons by considering the needs of auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners. After this, engage students in ongoing conversations about what they could do to keep the grade.
Familiarize students with various test formats and test-taking strategies. Some of the teacher-made tests should mimic the form/structure, language, and content of the standard test students will take. Homework should do the same. In this way, at the time of testing, students can focus on their performance without the structure being an obstacle to their ability to convey their knowledge. From the start of the year, prepare a “DO NOT DISTURB” testing sign that you post when administering tests. Try to mimic the environment that students will encounter on standard test-taking days. Refrain from repeating directions more often than you would on a testing day. Do not allow students to ask questions or talk to you or each other as you would not on a testing day. Debrief the process periodically after some tests so that students can ask questions and share their thoughts. Use a timer so that students acclimate to monitoring their management of time and develop a sense of what one minute is, what five minutes are, and so on.
Provide students with multiple opportunities to own their learning by expecting that they will take responsibility for their learning. For example, refrain from reading the directions to your students when students can read the directions for themselves. Encourage students to use what they have learned in order to answer their own questions. Refuse assistance until students are able to tell and show you what they have done to address their own questions.
Students should be able to articulate what is expected and in student-friendly language establish, convey and monitor their own goals. Students should have opportunities for conferencing with their peers and the teacher. As often as possible, assessments should be reviewed to help students determine what they already know and what their challenges are. In other words, timely and specific feedback is essential. In this way, they are able to formulate authentic goals.
Be sure to implement a system of progress monitoring so that you are aware of student progress or lack thereof. Having this information will help you determine your next steps as you move students toward higher achievement.
Finally, think of and exhibit as many ways as possible to let your students know that you expect their best socially and academically as YOU model the way.
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