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The point we want to make here is that students who are on the low end of the achievement gap—usually children of color and often also of poverty— have been getting messages about their “ability” all their lives and have expe- rienced being behind academically so long that many have bought that story. How could they not? So if we are to eliminate the achievement gap, we have to change these students’ minds about their ability and persuade them about the possibility of becoming good students.

Strand 3 develops that premise by examining 10 arenas of classroom life that are vital in our efforts to build student confidence and convince them we be-

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Video: You Can Do It

Videos: Growth Mindset Explained, Growth Mindset MoJo 1–5



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lieve in them. Without focused attention to these arenas of everyday interac- tion, there is little chance of getting discouraged, uninvested students to invest their effort in school.


High Expectations Teaching: Ten Arenas of Classroom Life

What opportunities can we seize daily to convince students that “Smart is something you can get” and build their confidence and conviction that they can achieve proficiency? An arena is a place, structure, setting, or interaction in which regularly recurring events happen and can be observed. The arenas listed below in Table 14.1 represent opportunities for a teacher to communicate behaviorally to students what is important, and that he or she believes they have the capacity to achieve it. Reflecting on these arenas and our practices within each one affords us the opportunity to consciously align some of the most subtle behaviors and practices with sending powerful and positive high- expectation messages to all students.

Table 14.1 Ten Arenas for Communicating High Expectations

1. Calling on Students

2. Responding to Student Answers (including when students don’t answer)

3. Giving Help

4. Changing Attitudes Toward Errors

5. Giving and Negotiating Tasks and Assignments

6. Feedback According to Criteria for Success: • Unmet expectations • Students doing well • Significant change in performance

7. Framing Reteaching

8. Tenacity When Students Don’t Meet Expectations

9. Grading

10. Grouping



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Arena 1: Calling on Students

The notion that teachers communicate their impressions to students about their academic ability by subtle and indirect messages is not new. In a landmark study, Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) called attention to ways in which teacher perceptions of student ability result in differential treatment of students and have a positive or negative impact on their inclusion in classroom discourse and ultimately their performance in the classroom. Teachers were given falsi- fied records of students’ IQ scores: high-performing students might be repre- sented as having high, average, or low IQs and low performers as having high, average, or low IQs. And that information, rather than the students’ actual IQs, influenced how teachers dealt with their students and, most importantly, how the students achieved. Cooper (1979) later organized these differential teacher communication behaviors into five categories:

1. Climate: “It was found that teachers who believed they were interacting with bright students smiled and nodded their heads more often than teach- ers interacting with slow students. Teachers also leaned towards bright stu- dents and looked brights in the eyes more frequently” (p. 393).

2. Demands: “Students labeled as slow have been found to have fewer op- portunities to learn new material than students labeled as bright” (p. 393).

3. Persistence: “Teachers tend to stay with the highs longer after they have failed to answer a question. This persistence following failure takes the form of more clue giving, more repetition, and/or more rephrasing. Teach- ers have been found to pay closer attention to responses of students de- scribed as gifted. Teachers allowed bright students longer to respond before redirecting unanswered questions” (p. 394).

4. Frequency of interaction: “Teachers more often engage in academic con- tact with the high- than low-expectation students” (p. 394).

5. Feedback: “Teachers tend to praise high-expectation students more and proportionately more per correct response, while lows are criticized more and proportionately more per incorrect response” (p. 395).

There are 12 distinct behavioral items in these five categories, and they provide empirical evidence that teacher perceptions of a student’s ability can lead to classifying students as “brights” and “slows” and to acting differently toward them, thus creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Table 14.2 is a list of related ques- tions you might investigate as you examine and reflect on your own practice.

Video: Praise the Process



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Table 14.2 Pygmalion in the Classroom

How often do I do the following? Never Rarely Sometimes Very Often Always Smile and nod more toward “highs”?

Lean more toward “brights”?

Look “brights” more in the eyes?

Give “slows” fewer opportunities to learn new material?

Stay with “highs” longer after they have failed to answer a question?

Give “highs” more clues when they fail to get an answer—more repetition or more rephrasing?

Pay closer attention to the responses of “the gifted”?

Allow “brights” longer to respond?

Have more frequent academic contact with “highs”?

Give “highs” more praise per correct response?

Give “lows” more criticism per incorrect response?

Do any of the above more with girls than with boys, or vice versa?

Calling on students is a way of inviting them to participate in classroom dis- course and to signal that their voice, thoughts, opinions, concerns, and questions are important. So in this arena we ask ourselves these important nine questions:

1. Who gets called on?

2. How do they get called on? By whom? Randomly? Systematically? Hand raising?

3. How do I ensure that everyone is included?

4. How frequently do individual students get called on?



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5. What do I do if students don’t volunteer to participate?

6. What are students called on to do?

7. What level of thinking is called for in the question?

8. Do I insert sufficient wait time (minimum of 3 to 5 seconds) after posing a question or a prompt before calling on anyone, so all students have an op- portunity to process the question and construct an answer?

9. What do I do to ensure that all students can participate effectively?

In addition, we might arrange for peer observation and feedback, as did Sam Kerman’s program “TESA: Teacher Expectation, Student Achievement” (Ker- man, Kimball, & Martin, 1980) for the behaviors we have listed under “Pyg- malion in the Classroom” in Table 14.2. The bottom line here is to examine the extent to which there is some sort of equal opportunity for all students. Whether it is answering questions, participating in a discussion, surfacing prior knowledge, or some other purpose for student participation, all students must get the message that their input is important, that they are capable of higher- level thinking, and that their teacher believes they have important things to offer and will ensure that their voice is represented and heard.

Given that perceptions can have a powerful influence on behavior, we ask you to consider the possibility that all children have the capacity to do rigorous work to high standards and to act as if that were so to suspend disbelief and invest energy in searching for ways to create the conditions in which this would become a reality for all students. It is our contention that if we behave as if we can reach every child and we continue to strive to create the conditions that are optimal for their learning, we will see more miracles than we could have imag- ined and see more students reach proficiency than ever before.

Arena 2: Responding to Students’ Answers

Another arena through which expectations are communicated is what teach- ers do right after a student has responded or spoken in class. This is a powerful arena, where the teacher’s actions have embedded messages about what’s im- portant and about his or her belief in the student’s capacity. Art Costa, profes- sor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, has pointed out that the way teachers respond to student answers may be more important than the questions themselves. These are moments that happen hundreds of times a day, and what we say and do at these moments can influence the way stu- dents participate in lessons from that point on. Our responses to student com-

Video: Pygmalion Effects



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ments or answers signal to individuals—and cumulatively to the whole class— whether it is safe to speak out, whether a student can risk trying something that’s hard, and whether the climate is supportive of thinking and effort or punitive for not having the right answer. Consider how a teacher might respond to students answering the question, “How do you find the area of a circle?” Let’s look at the examples in Table 14.3.

Depending on how the teacher responds, a student may internalize one or more of the following messages:

p “I’m dumb.”

p “Well, I muffed that one!”

Table 14.3 Responding to Students’ Answers

Response Sounds like Criticize “That’s not even close. Come on, wake up!”

Give the correct answer “No, it’s pi r 2.”

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