Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Expectations and their effect on how children succeed

I read a magazine story today about a young woman who had grown up in a rough downtown estate. As a child, she attended a poor school where there was little in the way of encouragement and nothing - for her - in the way of friendship. She was a conscientious, studious child which she says made her as popular as "a bogeyman with typhoid".

This brave girl fought free of her roots and is now a successful writer. But what struck me the most in her story was the comment that what really scarred her about her childhood was "how little was expected of us." It reminded me of this poignant story about the effect of expectations on how well children do:

At the beginning of the year, the Principal called four teachers in to his office and told them, "Because of your outstanding performance over the years, we have selected you as the four very best teachers in this school. To reward you for your excellent teaching ability, we have chosen four classes of children who have been shown, in tests, to have the highest IQs in the whole school.

"To each of you we have assigned a class of these very bright children, for you to teach for the whole year. Now, we want you to teach using the exact same methods that you have used in the past. Neither the children nor their parents know anything about this streamlining, and we need to keep it that way, so nothing is to be said to the children about the fact that they have been selected to be in these special classes."

At the end of the year, it was found that the children in the four classes had not only outperformed the rest of the school, but were among the top performers in the whole district. The Principal called in the teachers, and, after commenting on how well they had done, asked them how they had found the children to teach.

The teachers enthusiastically described the children as very intelligent, very eager to learn and so on. Imagine their surprise to hear that the children had not in fact been tested for IQ, but were simply a random sample! And then imagine their disappointment when they found out that their own names had been drawn out of a hat - they had not been chosen as the best teachers after all!

The Principal’s expectations of the teachers, when he told them that they were the best teachers in the school, and the expectations the teachers had of the children, though unspoken, combined to give a dramatic result!

Happy parenting,


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