The Importance of Setting Classroom and Student Expectations

The Importance of Setting Classroom and Student Expectations

At some point, we’ve all been there; in a class or course, where after several sessions it’s still unclear what is expected and how you’ll be graded. Well, both quantitative and qualitative research supports the notion that education strategies that help students understand what they are learning and how they will be assessed allow them to support one another effectively and develop a sense of autonomy.

In 1998, Barbara White and John Frederiksen, researchers from University of California at Berkeley, investigated a science curriculum that provided scaffolded activities for inquiry, reflection, and generalization. Part of this curriculum involved a reflective process during which students were introduced to a set of criteria for characterizing good scientific research. These criteria were used by the students to assess their own and each other’s work. Two middle school teachers implemented the curriculum with a total of eight classes and were compared to a control teacher with four classes. The authors found that in order for students to engage in reflective self- and peer-assessment, they needed to understand first the in-class assessment criteria, in this case the criteria for characterizing good scientific research. With this understanding, students in the experimental group were able to meaningfully assess their own work and their peers’ work.  (Inquiry, modeling, and metacognition. Making science accessible to all students. Cognition and Instruction, 16(1), 3–118.)

In 2000, C.A. Tell and some of his fellow researchers reported similar results from the implementation of a standards-based instructional system. Forty-four secondary school teachers and college faculty were followed for a two-year period. Qualitative data including teachers’ journal entries, classroom artifacts (e.g., assignments, in-class assessments, and student work), survey responses, and transcripts from team meetings and focus groups were collected and analyzed. From the analysis and triangulation of this data, the authors found that teachers who shared learning expectations with students by using scoring rubrics; explained standards, criteria, and expectations; and worked with the students to develop student-friendly learning goals reported that the process put their students at the center of the learning process, helped students continually monitor their own progress, and made the students more accountable for their own work.  (A framework of teacher knowledge and skills necessary in a standards-based system: Lessons from high school and university faculty. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.)

Student Finger PaintingGenerally speaking, students must understand what they are expected to learn before they can take responsibility for their own learning. In many instances, students have incorrect conceptions of what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what quality work looks like.

Programs like Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) help provide teachers with practical classroom techniques and educational strategies to help them clearly identify and share the intended learning and criteria for success with students. This enables students to better understand what teachers expect them to know, understand, or be able to do, as well as what constitutes a proficient performance. This allows students to support each other and take responsibility for their own learning by helping them accurately and appropriately evaluate learning against shared expectations and make any necessary adjustments to the learning.


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