Welcome back to longtime listeners, and a special welcome to newcomers, too. I am Dr. Garvey Pyke, and I want to thank you all for coming. This episode of “Teaching & Learning Matters” is about communicating high expectations to our students—why it is important and how we can do it.
Regular listeners will note that communicating high expectations is one of the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (1987). Chickering and Gamson note that by setting high expectations for students, and then explicitly communicating these expectations to our students, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for them: they often will rise to meet the challenge. We need to let our students know that we understand that learning can be difficult and that we expect great things of them and that we know they can achieve through proper effort. This has a wonderful motivating effect on students. Our communicating high expectations will cause them to rise to the challenge and often exceed our expectations.
So how do we do this, exactly? What are some means or methods for communicating high expectations to our students? Well, first off the bat and foremost on students’ minds is our grading scale. We can set up a course contract with the students, outlining expectations and explaining the grading scheme. We should also try to provide lots of variation and challenging aspects to the course content, to seek higher order thinking and prove they are using higher order skills. Thus, we should expect student participation—active learning, not passive, and incorporate this into the grading scheme.
Clearly stating our expectations goes beyond the syllabus, too—we should do so throughout the course materials and assignments as well. Something that many students really respond well to is the use of rubrics, which show them the various factors that we include in grading projects and the levels of performance we expect.
We should not forget to model high expectations, too. We need to be well prepared and organized when teaching and pay attention to the details. And we can provide stellar examples of past student projects or papers for our current students to refer to. One professor I spoke with—he teaches technical writing—he said that he always includes exemplary work from past semesters in his course syllabus. And student work has gotten better and better every single semester since he started doing that. In fact, it continues to improve so well that he has to keep changing the exemplars! Now there’s some work a teacher doesn’t mind doing. In a similar vein, it is always nice to be able to celebrate in-class success—go ahead and name the students or groups who have done well. We can even make student products more “public” by putting assignments online or creating public venues or showcases for their work. If we use online discussions as part of our classes, how about promoting a “post of the day” or “post of the week” to the course homepage—or several such posts, and have students vote on the best one? This models expected performance, and it drives student traffic to come view and vote on products in the realm of excellence.
We can also communicate high expectations when we provide corrective feedback to our students. We can let them know what went well, what did not go well, and what to do differently next time. Or we can give elaborative feedback by suggesting extra readings, et cetera, to support key points and objectives.
Now just take a moment and think about some of the ways you are already doing this: how are you communicating high expectations to your students? Are you letting them know about their performance on a regular basis—AND letting them know what you expect? There are so many ways to go about this, but the key is that we are explicit in telling them and leave nothing to chance!
Want to learn more about communicating high expectations? Come on over to the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte, and we will talk about some strategies that fit your style, your students’ needs, and your subject area.
Thanks for listening, and please tune in next time, where we will talk about respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.
Until then, so long, and remember: Teaching and Learning Matters.