Thursday, 27 June 2013

High Expectations? Hmmm

My first proper blog this. Hurray! I hear you all cry.............

Item 1 for discussion:

"have high expectations of children and young people"

This used to be the first teaching standard back in the day when there was a proper statutory framework for assessing (NQT/Trainee) teachers. It is a standard that we all should agree with and support, after all, if we didn't we would be failing the young ones in our care, wouldn't we? We all have high expectations don't we? To not have high expectations would be a dereliction of our duty I hear you cry!

In my experience we have low expectations of our children and young people and here (in my opinion) some of the main reasons why:

1. Poor Differentiation
In its best form differentiation can help children access content they would otherwise find difficult. It is, however, a difficult skill to execute well. Often differentiation is simply dumbing down a task i.e. "oh the bottom group of dummies will never learn column addition, get the multi-link out" etc etc. Worse still are lessons split into minute blocks which attempt to 'progress' these kids, while practically teaching them nothing (the card sort and word/meaning matching exercises). All too common is these minute tasks, linked to subsequent highlighting minute bits of APP grids, translates into make believe levels and therefore make believe achievement. If something is hard, well it might simply be hard and require work. If it takes 5 days for a child to master column addition then so what? That is a skill that they can use for their WHOLE life, not just for 20 minutes of a lesson. Put in the effort rather than assume the kids cannot do it.

2. Constant praise and rewards
You've all done it: "thank you for sitting quietly, have a team point!" (even though they are all rioting). "Well done for ignoring that conversation, have a house point" (even though they started the conversation). "Congratulations for completing a task everyone else finished yesterday, have a raffle ticket!" (even though it is still not complete properly). "You managed to listen to 10 minutes of the lesson today before having a massive tantrum and wrecking the classroom, well done, have a sticker." etc etc etc.
It is my contention that constant praise has wrecked the education of a majority of children in their country. This, allied to the instant 'googling' culture, has create a generation of children who will not do anything for nothing. It isn't: "I really want to do this task to help my education/please my parents/for my own satisfaction" (delete as appropriate) it is: "if I do it, what do I get?" And therein lies the rub. I would argue that children need rewarding, but for achievement, not for simply doing day to day tasks. All too often a class goes downhill because the naughty one is receiving praise for doing a simple job and someone who does the correct thing all the time gets none because they are not noticed. In order for them to get attention who do they do? Well you've guessed it, and that is why the class goes downhill.

3. Opportunities not earned but given
It is a fact of life that unless your surname is Cameron or Osbourne, or your kids went to the same schools they did, that you have to work bloody hard for opportunities in life. We do not require this from our kids. This week I took my class to the Halle orchestra, along with almost every other primary school in Stockport. Not only did they get to see the Halle for free* (*£2.50 bus fare) but they got to play with them during three songs, all of which they had supposedly learned during brass lessons this year. However, listening to these three songs illustrated the fact that not one school had actually learned the song and that you simply had to blow into your trumpet or whatever and make some noise, regardless of what it was. Half of my kids didn't even bother playing because they had simply not been listening during the lessons and didn't know what to do (n.b. I am on PPA during brass lessons). It mattered little. The children who had produced the cacophony of rubbish, were congratulated for their performance! They all got told that it could be them playing for the Halle in 20 years time because they were sooooo good. They also got a certificate saying "I played with the Halle." Now some of you are reading this and thinking: "what a grumpy git" and you would be right. Nonetheless, for absolutely no work and no achievement and no effort, they got rewarded, and rewarded handsomely. What an example to give them for the future.

I say have high expectations of children. Do not be afraid to let them fail a few times during lessons. Do not set up tasks you know everyone will achieve easily. Challenge them. No, really challenge them. So what if the lesson is on numbers with one decimal place? - ask them to order numbers with 2/3/4/5 decimal places if you think they can do it, even if it is not on the curriculum. It will take time and they will be sometimes frustrated, but failing at something does not automatically produce someone who fails at everything. Remember the feeling of working something out that you really had to try at? Let your class get the same feeling.

This could be the start of a blog, or the end of a blog, or the only post I ever bother doing. Time will tell. Comments welcome @teachric

Take care of yourselves and each other.


  1. Grumpy git.

    I agree with the challenge them ethos - definitely try more difficult stuff if they can enjoy it.

    Also agree that constant rewards are not good.

    I'm not sure that kids need rewards at all. Most things should be fairly self-rewarding. A child who reads well gets to read more interesting books; a child who shoots well gets to win football games. Maybe a few things like maths techniques that don't translate into everyday success should be rewarded.

    But I also think that kids should be praised a lot. Praise is different to rewards, and I think you've misidentified the Halle certificate. It's praise, not reward. Praise, and positive reinforcement, is the thing that is most likely to motivate them to try harder to play well next time. For this music exercise, I think your expectations were unrealistic. If they've never played with an orchestra before, don't know what the Halle is, how could that possibly motivate them to learn the tune weeks before the trip?

  2. You are probably correct. I plan to make more of a thing of the Halle next year. The distinction you draw between praise and rewards is a good point too. Thanks.

  3. chinaphil - Kids shouldn't be praised a lot. They should be praised for effort and only when they deserve it. That kind of thinking is what's got us into this mess in the first place.