High expectations

The idea of having “high expectations” is bounced around often amongst teachers. When students are asked about where they feel members of staff have high expectations, they often discuss teacher that they feel are “strict” and have clearly defined rules for conduct within the classroom. High expectations are much more than this; they include academic expectations as well as conduct.

For the last few years teaching sixth form students about vectors and scalars in physics has been the first lesson I have taught them. While this is a very simple concept for most sixth form students, it allows me to quickly enforce the high academic expectations I have of pupils.

Me: “What is the definition of scalar?”

Student: “A scalar is like distance, that’s a scalar, it has a size, while vectors they have direction as well as size”

I can correct this answer, focussing on four aspects of it, to put across my expectations of students in the class:

By informing the student that I asked for a definition of a scalar and not an example (distance in this situation) I am reminding them I am after the answer to my question. I employ holding out all the way and encourage the use of technical vocabulary by correcting the answer to say, “Scalars have magnitude (a more technical world than size) and no direction”. By encouraging student to always refer to magnitude and direction in their definition I am teaching a repeatable process; I would also reject at this point the answer to the definition of a vector as this is not the right answer at the right time. While this seems very harsh on students, especially in the first lesson of the year, it codifies academic success in the classroom:

  • Offer complete answers, or build your way up to one
  • Answer the question stated to ensure precision in communication
  • Focus on understanding the process and the product will fall into place
  • Use high level technical vocabulary to showcase your knowledge

While this is described as a single instance, this process is relentless within learning conversations. By repeatedly applying the techniques of Right is Right, high academic expectations are built into learning in the classroom.

Expectations around conduct within the classroom are always required to ensure effective learning can take place. Every year, after return from a half term or end of term break, I return to this simple list of strategies that I apply to ensure the learning environment is purpose with the classroom. Welcome to my start of term ramble!

I remind pupils that I always try and go about managing the classroom with the least invasive interventions; my role here is not to embarrass students, but to ensure they learn. I do this by reminding students of the nonverbal cues I use to signify off task behaviours; a double tap on a desk, a hover nearby a student, a pause in my explanation. I explain that I may call students out (rarely), but I will do it quickly and move on (no judgement) to ensure the lesson focuses on what it should do, learning. I make it clear how all of this fits within the school behaviour policy. I explain how I will be firm and calm, expressing with clear language what “I need” pupils to do. I explain that I’ll avoid dwelling on a point: “I asked you to do this… Why won’t you do this …. Don’t you understand how this is stopping us learning?”, all of this should be implied by the fact I am clearly stating what I need students to do. I explain that I will emphasise compliance and build in clear routines to allow me to check for this; all eyes on me please, all pens down  and empty hands please, knees under the desk and facing forward please. I make it clear I will praise students when this is done, and expect 100% of the instruction to be completed, you won’t be allowed to put the pen down but fiddle with a ruler as that is not empty hands.

Again, this may appear strict, but students understand the rules for engagement. With these clear expectations, students understand what successful behaviours look like in my classroom and know I will settle for nothing less than 100%. Interestingly I rarely get called a strict teacher, but the students I teach understand that I have high expectations to ensure effective learning takes place.

Yet again, I have borrowed from Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi to codify the practice that takes place in my classroom.

Right is RightThe processFocus on …Be wary of …
Hold Out for All the WayOnly accept complete answers, that fulfil the entire success criteriaThe precision of the student response

Developing half responses through questioning
Confusing effort with mastery

Praising a half response
Answer My QuestionInsist students answer the question you have asked, not one they wish you had asked, or a question they know the answer toRepeating back the question before repeating the students answer to the class, to ensure the initial question has been answered

Deflecting answers to “similar questions”
Similar answers e.g. an example rather than a definition

Students answering a question with their own question or observation when this is not what is wanted
Right Answer, Right TimeOnly accept an answer once all the steps to get there have been shownTeaching a repeatable process

Protect the integrity of the lesson by not accepting an exciting right answer at the wrong time
Teaching the answer to a problem

The false sense of success when a class is moving ahead quickly
Use Technical VocabularyGet students to produce effective answers using precise technical vocabularyBuilding students subject specific vocabulary

Providing them with the language they need to flourish at the next stage in their learning
Accepting a “good enough” answer vs. the right answer e.g. “space something takes up vs. space it occupies”
100%The processFocus on …Be way of …
Least Invasive InterventionsUse the following techniques: Nonverbal corrections, Positive group corrections, Anonymous individual corrections, Private individual corrections, Lightning quick public correction, and consequencesGetting 100% compliance

Moving through the techniques applying them within the school’s behaviour policy

Correct behaviours without stopping or stopping only for a short time
Stopping the lesson to obtain compliance for too long

Prolonged public debates with pupils over compliance
Firm Calm FinesseCatch off task behaviour early, say thank you to students once corrections have been made, use purposeful communication, and address the class universallyAppearing calm, civil and in control when normalising students behaviours to meet your expectations

Using phrases like “I need you to …”

Using phrases like “We need all eyes on me”
Using phrases like “I asked you too…”

Creating friction with individual students by calling them out publicly early e.g. “I need your eyes on me, Harry”
Emphasise ComplianceInvent ways to maximise the visibility of pupils doing the right thing.

Be seen looking for compliance

Challenge marginal compliance
A clear strategy to check everyone is attending e.g. all eyes on me

Pause to check everyone is doing as they should, and praise them all if they are

100% of your instruction being followed
Asking for abstract ideas e.g. “can everyone pay attention”

Not being seen checking for compliance

Students only following 50% of your instruction e.g. “sit up straight and eyes on me” and students only sitting up straight
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