Friday, March 2, 2007

Expectations - 03.02.07

After reading the very first sentence of the first reading assignment for this week, I had to immediately stop while my mind started rolling. In the chapter “Expectations,” Shaughnessy says, “The expectations of learners and teachers powerfully influence what happens in school” (275). Wow! What a simple, yet incredibly powerful and true statement. I have struggled with this issue continuously while teaching at the high school and college level. In every class, whether with native or non-native speakers, this is an issue. Not only is it an issue for teachers, but for students as well. After all, how can we get frustrated with our students when they seem to be so far below our expectations when that is the level that was set for them during the previous year(s)?

So what do we do? I think theory is great… when it can be applied in a practical manner. Therefore my questions all revolve around what the answer, solution, or method to the “problem” is. In a way, it’s almost like we have to start from scratch each year. I know some teachers who actually teach their expectations during the first week of classes. From the simplest things like saying “thank you” when the teacher returns a paper to the more complex expectations of the level of achievement the student will reach. Do we continue to push our students to greater heights? How far beyond the limits of the previous teachers’ expectations can we go? How do we challenge our students without scaring them or causing them to feel like failures? How do we change the mindset of our students so that they WANT to do better and grow in their academic abilities? ANY ANSWERS OR OPINIONS OUT THERE!? I think these are serious issues that must be explored and tested before we can become great teachers. As a fairly new teacher, I don’t know how to raise the bar yet, but I know I want to try.

Shaughnessy goes on to talk about the fact that writers are always learning to write (276). Just as in any task or profession there is always room for growth. Perhaps if this is the focus with our students, the task will not seem so daunting to them. I’ve heard of teachers who never give a final grade for a paper, but keep it in a folder for the whole year where the student can pull it out at various times and keep improving it. They are graded progress instead of final product. I like the idea of this. After all, isn’t this the way the rest of the world operates to some degree? When we begin a job, we know that we are at the bottom of the pay scale and that we have to work a little harder and LONGER to keep getting raises. At some point, we reach the salary cap for that position and either happily remain there, or we begin to work towards the next rung in the ladder where we will again be at the bottom of the pay scale in that new position. Perhaps the focus is wrong and we need to shift.

1 comment:

TW said...

It is a fine line between "CHALLENGING" your students and "DOOMING" them to failure. However, I think so much of this has to do with student attitudes--i.e., not what they are capable of but how hard they are willing to try. A good example from personal experience: I taught freshmen and sophomores (in 2 separate classes) Romeo and Juliet at the same time. The assingment was to memorize and perform assigned scenes (or parts of a scene) from Romeo and Juliet. The class salutatorian and valedictorian of the sophomore class did terribly at presenting the balcony scene and failed the assingment, despite much encouragment and over a month to work on it (including a considerable amount of class time). The freshmen pair, however, did wonderfully and botched maybe three lines between them. It WAS Shakespeare, but it was only about 100 lines each. The difference was not the ability of the students nor the expectations of teacher, but their willingness to try. I guess the moral is that expectations aren't always met even when made very clear and well within the realm of the students' abilities. Nonetheless, I think the article makes a valid point overall and expectations can play a huge role.