The Power of Expectation

Lewis Wirght Maths Departament Caxton College

There´s an old saying in cricket; “never set fields for bad bowling.” Put simply, don´t make your plans according to what you think your bowler will do wrong or the chances are they will do exactly that. It´s a neat phrase, but how can it apply to education?

The expectation effect matters. Medics have used it for centuries, giving placebos to patients with the shared expectation that they will improve. A 1996 study showed significant increases in pain tolerance in those given placebo pain killers. Blind tests of wines often show no difference in taste tests between bottles of different costs, despite the opposite occurring when the price is known. Behaviour changes in both instances according to the expectation.

In the Caxton College maths department we use this to good effect. Each student studies the same course of maths, no matter the set they are in. The class sizes vary, but the expectations remain the same. Every student has the opportunity to achieve the highest grade in every year. We expect them to strive for high grades.

In the lead up to exams, students are often given the answers to the revision questions they do beforehand, so they can check their answers. They could cheat, but there would be no benefit to them. The expectation is clear; ´we expect you to take the work seriously and use the resources properly.´ For those who don´t and just copy the answers into their books, they find out quickly, when test results are given out, that this has no benefit; no learning takes place. Handling trust and expectation is a skill to be learned, like multiplication, and like multiplication, we can´t expect students to improve unless they get chance to practice.

The majority of students enjoy the benefit of being able to check their own work immediately, meaning they can move on more quickly and focus on their areas of weakness. High expectations breed efficiency.

Lewis Wright, Secondary Maths teacher at Caxton College

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