In many ways, behaviour expectations are the easier to articulate, in terms of the school and the class. It is the nuances of learner expectation where considerable thought is needed.
The term expectation does have the benefit of anticipating a dynamic event, so I have been considering an expectation mind-set. Some teachers intuitively have these skills, they are natural project planners, while others may need to reflect further to embed expectation in every aspect of their toolkit. While some aspects are natural, others take time and effort to embed to provide 3D expectations; the linearity of anticipated learning and the breadth of achievement.
Take writing as an example. Working with early career teachers, it is clear that they do not have an understanding of the progressive improvements that children can make; what it looks and reads like. This can take a considerable time if they focus on the children’s outcomes on a day to day basis, as the build-up of knowledge can be slow. Taking examples from the year above or below can provide additional insights.
As a comparator, selecting a set of books and seeking to put them in order of quality can develop an understanding of the range of outcomes. Describing the differences and thereby the improvements seen, creates a series of “steps” of progress. By identifying the essential steps, it is possible to articulate to learners their personal progress steps and it is this personal understanding that drives the learner effort.
Expectations and how they are derived, described and aspired to, have to be premised on notions of what it is reasonable to expect of any participant in an activity. While, in the early stages of a career, or perhaps in the early weeks of a new year with a new age group class, these expectations are somewhat generic, over time, they become more specific as the class outcomes show the nuanced differences between the children.
All expectation has to be premised on knowing the participants/learners well, otherwise inappropriate expectations, based on inaccurate assumptions, can create tension, both in the learners and the teacher. The fine tuning of expectations to individual needs/capabilities would seem to be the significant aspiration of all human systems.
As I write this in March, the school year is half way through. Teachers who have worked with the same class for the past six months have a very good insight into their children at an individual level, which will manifest itself in many nuanced ways that can have impact on learning.
Knowledge of the children derives from records and discussions with teachers, parents or other adults who have worked with them before. While it is important to use this information to develop the structural elements of running the class, care should be taken to allow every child to develop a good relationship with the new teacher. Knowledge of prior capabilities, as escribed through the records, may enable the teacher to define challenge levels for the class, with adaptations to different needs.
Despite the “mastery” mystery agenda, children will still exist in a stratified world; you can’t stop some achieving easier than others. Even within “whole class teaching”, observation demonstrates that teachers will adjust their language form and vocabulary to suit individuals.
Growing a learner mind-set:-
Can a child, as a learner, exceed what (s)he perceive as current capabilities? With encouragement, carefully set challenges, guidance, support and a clear visual model of what is being sought, (s)he can put effort into trying to do so.
What if (s)he achieves at the aspirational level? On achievement, (s)he has the understanding of the effort across the whole process that is needed and what it feels like to achieve, so that (s)he can repeat the process and seek to repeat and possibly surpass those outcomes.
By showing that (s)he has that new capability, it is reasonable to see it as a new baseline of expectation. If the teacher then sets a slightly higher goal, (s)he can then seek to make further progress, by unpicking what (s)he has to do next.
The teacher/expectation mind-set that enables this:-
- expects something specific to change as a result of the carefully matched learning opportunities being offered,
- supports her or him in looking at the resulting activities and discerning the nuances of behaviour that suggest ease or difficulty being encountered.
- drives conversations seeking to unpick areas of concern or to understand the fact that they’ve taken five minutes to complete a task you’d planned for twenty-five.
- creates the start point from which adjustments to the expectations are made
- ensures that the learner(s) make(s) progress and provides food for thought at the end of the lesson about next steps.
Expectation mind-set in a teacher supports the preparation and the mental rehearsal of a lesson, in which a teacher anticipates the points in the lesson where (possibly specific) learners could exhibit misunderstanding or simply encounter a block. This allows preparations which ensure that issues are addressed appropriately and in a timely way.
Clarity of expectation is essential, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. Quantitative expectations can determine how much is achieved in a time scale, whereas qualitative will determine the depth of challenge. These expectations can be set out as “Success Criteria”, sharing the elements that make up a quality outcome. These also form the framework for context marking, while there will also be personal expectations. An example would be writing a letter, with context specific criteria, and individualised sentence construction or spelling needs.
Every planned “loop” through a theme provides new evidence for the teacher to refine their understanding of the learners in their class. Over time, and certainly by the summer term, a classteacher, like any good coach, knows the children in detail and can interact with ease with learning and other needs.
Then the cycle starts again, hopefully building on what has been achieved.
Why not take exercise books to the new class to establish baselines from the beginning of the term? They can go home after the first couple of weeks.
Not all children will be world class high jumpers, but they need the chance to have a go at their own level.