High Expectations and Motivation.

Over the last few weeks I have been writing and then delivering my presentation for the Chartered College of Teaching Early Career Conference. My topic was high expectations and motivation.

In my session I tried my best to give a balance in terms of discussion of research and it’s application to classroom practice.

I aimed to:

  • Define what it means to have high expectations (by this I mean academic expectations, not in terms of behaviour management).
  • Understand why high expectations are important (looking at what the research says about expectations and how they can affect outcomes for students).
  • Know how to apply this in the classroom (The practical application of the research).
  • Understand motivation and the effect it has on learning (again, according to the research).
  • Know what is likely to motivate students in the classroom.

After discussing a couple of quotes from Tom Sherrington and Doug Lemov (who feature a number of times in the presentation), we took a look at the Pygmalion effect and what this means for teachers.

A study by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1968 demonstrated what has now become known as the Pigmalion or Golem effect. In the study teachers were told that randomly selected groups of students were on the brink of great achievement. By the end of the study these students, who were actually no different to the others that weren’t picked, went on to out perform the others, demonstrating the effect that the teacher’s higher expectations had upon them. I find it pretty scary that our beliefs as teachers can make such a big difference.

We talked through the diagram to understand a little more about this, starting with our beliefs about others. These beliefs will of course influence our thoughts and therefore our actions towards others. In turn, our actions towards others will go on to impact their beliefs about themselves. These beliefs then cause their actions towards us, consequently reinforcing our beliefs about them and so the cycle continues.

With this in mind, we could take a particular student that we have been told isn’t going to do particularly well, or isn’t very good at a particular thing. If we allow someone else’s expectations of this child to influence our own thoughts we can see the effect this might have. Maybe we haven’t even met the child yet but we are going to be teaching them, is it fair that we already have this expectation? This is why I personally like to keep the information I am told when taking a new class to a minimum. I just want to know the essentials so that I can get to know the students myself. It’s also why the terms ‘high ability’ and ‘low ability’ can be so damaging and we might want to consider the terms ‘higher’ or ‘lower prior attainers’ or if we really need to use a label at all…

The next area of focus was aspiration and expectations. The study referenced on the slide found this:

Low aspiration + low expectations = low outcomes (hardly surprising).

High aspiration + high expectations = high outcomes, (again not a surprise).

High aspiration + low expectations = low outcomes, showing that expectations play a huge huge role in the outcomes for our students.

Even if they have high aspirations for themselves, the expectations that are placed upon them still have a big effect on how they will eventually do. The study showed that prior attainment made no difference to how expectations affected students.

Then I talked through five specific strategies from Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, all surrounding the idea of ‘building a culture of better’.

  • No Opt Out
  • Right Is Right
  • Stretch It
  • Format Matters
  • No Apology

I also discussed a few key points from The Learning Rainforest.

  • Don’t settle for low level disruption.
  • Don’t settle for sloppy thinking and laziness.
  • Be relentless and automatic with expectations.
  • Establish routines for excellence.

Finally for this section I spoke about these key points from Boys Don’t Try?

  • Be self-reflective about your expectations
  • Watch your language
  • Increase the challenge, no gimmicks, no shortcuts

Talking of gimmicks was a good transition into motivation and the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Motivation is defined as the willingness to do something, or something that causes such willingness.

I think I can safely assume that willingness is exactly what we want from our students. Willingness to learn, willingness to participate, willingness to try something new or maybe even just willingness to follow our instructions! Some students seem to just come to our lessons willing and eager, but there are many that won’t. The key to this session how do we motivate them? Is it about sweets and stickers, or is it about something else?

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the student or from factors inherent in the task being performed.  For example, students who love to read are intrinsically motivated to read – there is something about reading that they enjoy and that makes them want to do it even if there is no “reward” for it. Intrinsic motivation is all about mastery, a feeling of autonomy and having a purpose for doing a particular thing. Having intrinsic motivation is about making students feel valued, competent and in control. They want to do something because it gives them these positive feelings, not for any other reason.

Extrinsic motivation however is quite different. Extrinsic motivation comes from sources external to the student and the task. It can come through praise, recognition, or a system of rewards. For example, for students who do not enjoy reading, a token economy involving stickers or a class store may prompt them to read more often. However, this is unlikely to make these students enjoy reading, what they enjoy is the reward that comes from having read such as the points, the stickers etc. As teachers, both of these types of motivation are important to us. There are many things that we would like students to be intrinsically motivated to do such as wanting to read, wanting to be helpful and participate in lessons etc. However, we also know that some students won’t find these things satisfying and will need some extrinsic reward to get them there.

How does motivation link to performance? What does that mean for us in the classroom?

Studies can give us some very useful information about the links between motivation and performance. For example, that motivation at age seven doesn’t necessarily lead to performance later on but that performance age seven can lead to motivation later on. This key point shows us that if we can give our students a feeling of success early on, they are more likely to be motivated later.

Continuing to build on this we note that competence is vital to motivation. Students need encouraging feedback and the experience of competence/being good at something in order to build that really positive feeling about it and the intrinsic motivation to continue.

The key for us as teachers is that in order to raise motivation, we need to raise student’s confidence. This means that it is more important to focus on how to raise attainment rather than short term engagement gimmicks. What a relief to know that instant engagement and the gratification students get from this does not lead to long term motivation. So we can stop trying to put all the bells and whistles into our lessons, because they’re not going to be the thing that makes the difference in the end!  What students need is lots and lots of practice so that they can master the knowledge we are teaching and use it independently.

A lot of what drives students is their innate beliefs and how they see themselves, they will be motivated to do something if they feel that they are capable of doing it well. If we can create situations where students can genuinely see themselves being successful they are more likely to feel better about themselves and their capabilities and build the intrinsic motivation that they need to continue to improve.

Referring back to Boys Don’t Try? It is really important for us to realise that what we have been discussing today applies to both boys and girls equally. There are a number of myths around about boys and girls learning differently, it’s not the case and we do boys a disservice by believing that they do.

Myth one: Boys like competition

No, you don’t need to motivate boys with competition. In fact boys are likely to use failure as a protection strategy through self-sabotage, consequently avoiding injury to their self-perception. If they don’t try, they won’t show that they can’t do it. Therefore this is only any good for the winners and not worth the wasted type for the rest.

Myth two: Make the learning relevant to their lives then they’ll be motivated.

No, boys will eventually get bored of the things that normally interest them, especially if you’re trying to use those things to teach them something else.

Most commonly they’ll remember the ‘relevant’ part and forget the learning that you actually wanted them to know.

Further to this, it is pure stereotype reinforcement – they don’t all like the same things so why do you think they’ll all be motivated by football for example?

Trying to motivate boys in this way prevents building cultural capital, we aren’t exposing them to the high challenging content and allowing them to develop an interest in it, we are dumming it down by making it apparently more relevant to them.

When it comes to motivation, boys are just the same as girls. Make them feel successful and they’ll want to do more of it.

In summary, our expectations of our students really matter and can hugely impact their outcomes. We shouldn’t put a lid on our expectations of any student and there are a whole host of ways in which we can make our lessons rigorous yet supportive and really push our students to do their absolute best.

Motivation is important and can have a real impact on student success, so long as we can make them feel successful early on in order to build that motivation. We know that sometimes extrinsic motivation is needed but that intrinsic motivation is what helps our students to feel positive about something and push them to work harder for all the right reasons.

Finally, everything we have talked about applies to both boys and girls equally and we shouldn’t be doing anything differently to appeal to one gender over the other.

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