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Great Expectations – The Impact of Suggestion

If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.’ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Arguably, the rule of expectations uses hope to influence reality and create results. As human beings, we tend to make decisions based on how others expect us to perform. Expectations have a powerful impact from those we trust and respect, while an even greater impact is measured from those whom don’t know us as well. When we know someone expects something from us, we will aspire to please him or her to gain respect and be liked.

We communicate our expectations in numerous ways, through our language, our voice inflections, or our body language. Think of the last time you were introduced to somebody, if they introduced themselves by their first name, then you probably did the same. Every day we accept cues from others regarding their expectations.
Student achievement is strongly affected by what the teacher expects of them and this has been demonstrated by many educational researchers. One of the first and most famous experiments is known as the Pygmalion effect. Researchers, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment at a primary school where all the students sat an intelligence test. The experimenters then gave the 18 teachers the names of the students who scored in the top 20%, telling them that this meant they showed exceptional potential and would achieve high results within the year. Unbeknownst to the teachers, these students were randomly selected and the testing showed no such prediction. When all students were tested again 8 months later, the so-called ‘gifted’ students performed significantly higher than the rest (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985). Educational researcher, Robert Marzano found that when we have high expectations of students we act differently. We call on them more often, wait longer for their answers, and give them more opportunities to succeed. Falko Rheinberg, studied how students’ academic achievement and progress is influenced by the teachers’ mindset about intellectual ability. What he found was that when teachers believe that ability is fixed, the students end the year at the same level as when they began the year.

A collaborative goal for ATC this year has been to challenge and improve boys’ writing. Establishing high expectations around this goal in the Humanities, has been upheld by four pillars. Firstly, valuing writing and demonstrating confidence in our boys to achieve, has conveyed the importance and likelihood of success. Next, providing opportunities for boys to contribute feedback to this process, through surveys, has given them a voice in a validating atmosphere. Thirdly, by providing individualised feedback (not simply ‘good job’) has one of the highest effect sizes on student achievement, according to many educational researchers, allowing students to use the feedback to improve their work. And finally, the ‘Goldilocks Principle,’ writing tasks that are not too easy, not too hard, but just right! For boys to be motivated they need to feel that the writing is achievable, but not so easy that it doesn’t challenge them.

Year 9 Religion students have watched the ‘Film Pay It Forward’. The Middle School teacher asks his class a poignant question, ‘What does the world expect of you?’ These are the answers that our 14 and 15 year old boys gave: keep good health; be loyal; treat those in it with care; be myself; improve it; give back to it; help people in need; look after it- the people and the environment; be yourself…be the best you can be!

Lisa Holohan, Head of Humanities.