Doing What’s Expected of Me

It’s hardly breaking research, but it came up again on my news feed a few days ago and I was reminded how profoundly it affected me when I first heard it.

Experiments have shown that students perform pretty much as well as their teachers expect them to.

There’s a great account of the experiment on  Mindshift. That I recommend you read, but the gist of it is that

After the kids took the test, he then chose from every class several children totally at random. There was nothing at all to distinguish these kids from the other kids, but he told their teachers that the test predicted the kids were on the verge of an intense intellectual bloom.

As he followed the children over the next two years, Rosenthal discovered that the teachers’ expectations of these kids really did affect the students. “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,” he says.

Imagine that! What teachers expect of children has such a profound effect on what happens to them! To me, this is one of the strongest demonstrations that teaching, and other measures we put in place to ‘assist’ development, are not the simple things we would like them to be. This is why we can not ever expect teaching, or mentoring, or parenting, to be simple or cleanly analysed.

As Rosenthal did more research, he found that expectations affect teachers’ moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.

Here we have the key to children’s development in action – and that is the relationships they experience. And if the teacher’s expectations change their development, how much will children’s development be shaped by the expectations of their parents? And friends, wider family, the community?

Although this research is old, I think it is showing similar behavioural patterns to the more recent research into children’s behaviour around kindness.

As home edders, it is easy to ignore educational research. So much of it is not really applicable to the home setting, where learning is a very different form from what takes place in the classroom. But I think research is interesting, and in this case, I think it sheds light on our own practices. What we expect of our children matters! If we expect children to be driven to learn, to seek an appropriate level of challenge for them, to be active, reflective learners, it doesn’t hurt to start from the perception that they already are.

I’m going to step off my soap box now, and get on with my day, and try to remember that in the everyday actions, the day-to-day hustle and bustle, that what I expect of my children matters. How I see them will affect what they become.


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