In life we always have set expectations for an event. We develop these expectations through our own prior experiences and through word of mouth. As we live the experience we soon begin to gage whether it is living up to our hopes or letting us down. For example, the expectation for a lecture is students sitting in rows facing a lecturer and taking in information. This can seem exciting to some fresh undergrad students as they hope to be inspired by this new form of learning; however most students have heard that lectures are boring and to skip them because ‘they just put the slides online anyway’: is this what we want learning to be?
I have been to many inspiring lectures, as well as the not so inspiring ones, and I have come to realise that expectations can often be dangerous and misleading: they can determine the attitude we have as we approach a new experience and our level of engagement with it. If more lecturers began their sessions with active learning and discussion, would we still class it as a lecture or something else? If we call an experience within a lecture hall a ‘workshop’ does that mean it is different or does it depend on what actually happens within the ‘workshop’?
These thoughts got me thinking about the expectations pupils have for what happens in the classroom. Yes, we may set our high expectations for them but what are their assumptions about us and our teaching? Do their views change as they enter our classroom and are we presented with opportunities to alter their outlook?
I have been considering this mainly in relation to senior classes and the change of timetable that is almost ( or already for some) upon us. Senior pupils will enter our classes with a set expectation of what the class will be like through word of mouth from their peers (unless we are new) and if we have taught them in the past. From the moment the pupils steps through the door we have an opportunity to either stick with what they expected or start afresh and try something new.
It is pretty common to spend the first few periods going over the course outline with a senior class and to discuss the exam structure; however I find this detrimental. For me, it puts the exam at the centre of importance rather than the pupils’ learning. If we lecture to pupils for an hour about what they ‘need’ to know for an exam we have, in my opinion, already set their expectations for the rest of the year: this teacher is going to tell me what to think in order to pass this exam.
Although exams are important I believe it is vital that students are aware that it is their learning that should take centre stage. I believe that starting the year with a discussion about literature, and giving pupils the opportunity to develop their own opinions about texts, is far more beneficial. We should take that opportunity to build pupils’ confidence rather than get them worked up about an exam and set them in the ‘just tell me what I need to know’ mentality. If we begin the year by letting pupils know that we aren’t going to tell them what to think and if we encourage them to contribute their views, then I believe we will all gain more out of the school year.