Research suggests college students rarely complete learning tasks such as applying, evaluating, or synthesizing knowledge and instead complete tasks that require remembering and understanding information. Our expectations for students tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we communicate high, but attainable expectations for our students, they will make significant learning gains.
When designing a course, the tasks included should be just beyond students’ current achievement level, but still within their grasp. This is referred to as the zone of proximal development. If a task is too difficult it can create anxiety in the student. If it is too easy, students do not see a point in the task and it results in boredom. Therefore, you should strive to create balance in setting high expectations and providing a supportive environment to facilitate learning so that students can meet those expectations.
Once you have determined your performance expectations, it is imperative to communicate those to students. Scager and colleagues suggest 5 characteristics of the instructor that help to communicate high expectations to students.
- The instructor’s reputation for holding high expectations,
- Announcing challenging expectations explicitly and in course materials,
- Creating a learner-centered environment with the instructor’s role as a co-learner rather than sole authority,
- Creating a need for active participation in learning by the students, and
- Holding students accountable for preparing for class.
The graphic below provides some specific tips to communicate high expectations in your courses this semester.
Communicating high expectations is the 6th of 7 principles for effective undergraduate teaching we have reviewed this year. Subscribe to the blog to be sure you don’t miss the final principle, as well as other great topics we will continue to discuss over the summer. If you would like to discuss any of these tips in more detail, please contact the CITL for an individual consultation.
Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education | Chickering & Gamson
How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching | Ambrose et. al
How to persuade honors students to go the extra mile: Creating a challenging learning environment | Scager et. al