As I am immersed in Marginal Learning Gains at the moment, I am testing out Tiny Changes that make a Big Difference (#tcbd) and I wanted to follow on from my previous post and share my experience of adopting the thinking-language of expectancy that I used when I worked with a group of teachers very recently.
My enquiry question:
How can I establish a culture of high aspiration with a group of teachers I have only just met and who don’t know each other by using the thinking-language of expectancy SO THAT I encourage really deep thinking, discussion and decision-making (characterised by negotiation, persuasion, consideration and discernment) and elicit high quality responses to a creative thinking activity?
Here’s what I happened…
I deliberately changed my thinking SO THAT I adopted the language of expectancy to communicate my high aspirations for the group. I made a deliberate shift in my thinking as I moved from Hopeful Teaching (‘I hope they come up with some good responses’) to Expectant Teaching (‘I expect them to generate high quality, well thought-out and considered responses’).
I showed an image and asked the group to come up with a tag line to suit what they saw. Some jumped at this straight away and clearly had lots of ideas as they started talking before I finished my last sentence of explanation. Others responded by lowering their heads in a ‘Please don’t ask me, (I’m not creative at all) and I’ll rely on somebody in my group to come up with something’ sort of way. Pretty typical for any mixed grouping and there’s absolutely no judgement from me for any of those responses. I completely understand and have experienced them all, particularly in staff training and conference workshops!
Anyway, I called an end to the activity by the tried and tested (but vague) wait-for-the-lull-in-the-talk-technique and pulled their attention back to the image. During the activity, I listened very carefully to the discussions and made a notes of the first ideas I heard from the pairings and who they came from. During the activity, nobody wrote anything down or reached for the paper provided. All of this took about 3 minutes in total.When I asked the whole group for feedback here’s what I noticed:
- The responses given were exclusively each pairs’ very first ideas that they had come up (I had noted these down during the task) SO THAT I knew there had been little or no development in thinking from the beginning of the discussion to the end
- The ideas that were shared were those ideas that had come from the more confident member of the group SO THAT the less confidently presented ideas lost out to the more confidently expressed ideas.
In the spirit of good research, I then asked them to do the activity again, with a new image. This time I adopted an ‘expectant’ teaching mindset and framed my explanation in the language of high expectations. That is, language that is Structured, Specific and Succinct or S3 for short…
‘You are going to complete this activity in three parts:
First, I am going to ask you to look at an image on your own and think about it for 1 minute.
Second, and you’ll share your thinking with your partner, you will have two minutes only to discuss what you were thinking and together, write down with THREE possible tag lines for this image.
Third and last, still with your partner, you will both have just 30 seconds to create ONE tag line as a pair that shows your best thinking.’
The first thing that happened with the new set of instructions was that every member of the group reached for their pen and paper to make a note of their ideas. This was because they knew they had more than one idea to generate, there would be additional thinking to do and they would have to use all three of their ideas in the second part of the activity.
When the time was up, I asked for their best thinking. This time, I noticed that their responses were much more developed and had clearly moved beyond their first ideas. The final offerings were almost all hybrid versions of the three initial ideas that they had originally generated. Those pairings who had selected one of their original tag lines and not adapted or improved on it justified this by saying that they couldn’t think of anything more or different a it really was the best of their thinking as it was.
The impact of using the language of expectations:
- All of them had thought more deeply about the task at hand because they knew they had to generate a specific number of initial ideas within a structured time frame
- All of them made decisions during the process (rather than just going with the first/ loudest/ most confident/ forceful idea) because they were specifically required to justify the selection that they made
To summarise: I used the language of expectations to structure the activity SO THAT everybody demonstrated high levels of discernment and thoughtful consideration as a result of the scaffold of ‘Structured, Specific, Succinct’ expectations.
In being explicit about expectations, we can frame success criteria in a far more purposeful and succinct way. If we want a group to come up with some good questions about a topic, we can start to think about how many questions we realistically, or ambitiously, expect them to come up with. Then we can specifically tell them how many questions we really expect them to generate. If we think they will need about three minutes to do this, we can tell them we expect them to come up with (x number) of questions in (x amount) of time. In this way, we will can be clear about our expectations and communicate our belief in their ability to achieve this at the same time, SO THAT we nurture their personal sense of agency and a ‘can do’ attitude in their learning.
So, “I want you to come up with some ideas” becomes, “I expect each one of you (insert names if needed) to identify six important points in the text and select the three most important in (specific time)”
And, “Some of you might be able to/ could/ should….” becomes, “I expect those of you who are working at level (x) / (insert names if needed) to be able to…by (midway point in the lesson/ end of lesson/)…SO THAT….you can show me/ each other that you can/ understand/ know/…’
Marginal Learning Gain #5 pt 2 = Communicating in the Language of Expectations (S3)
- Think in the language of expectations SO THAT we communicate what we expect learners to be able to achieve by the mid-point/ end of the lesson/ topic/ unit/ term
- Design and organise learning SO THAT we ensure learners meet both our own and their own expectations (as far as they possibly can)
- Communicate through the language of expectations SO THAT learning outcomes are framed as; “I expect (either insert names OR use all/ most/ some of you) to be able to (do/ show/ analyse/ communicate/ create etc) SO THAT …”
- Encourage learners to adopt the language of expectancy in their own thinking (structured, specific and succinct) SO THAT they start to shape and own their ambition
- Ask learners what they specifically expect to be able to do/ know/ understand achieve and how they will do this at specific points in the lesson SO THAT they can commit to just this (see Marginal Gains #2 Compliance to learning plan)
- Ask learners what they expect from the next lesson based on what they can now do and/or what they now know and understand SO THAT they build on prior learning and engage in their own sense of progression over time
- Ask learners how well they expect to achieve in a forthcoming assessment, by the end of the topic, term, year SO THAT they can record this and use it as their personal learning goals as the year progresses
Being expectant rather than hopeful involves using the word ‘expect’ when we both think and talk about learning. It means we can be structured, specific and succinct in how we design and organise learning SO THAT we create a culture of aspiration and clear expectations. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we develop a hope-less teaching environment. We all need to be hopeful particularly when we start out on each new part of our learning journey. But perhaps we can deliberately shift our mindset earlier in the process of teaching? By consciously changing the language in which we think and adopting this in our communications with learners from the outset, we won’t have to wait for evidence to reassure us that we really can believe that great achievement is possible. Perhaps this is what we can also encourage learners to do? If they wait for enough evidence to let them know it is safe enough to commit to learning, they may never take that intellectual risk we know/ believe they can. I wonder if this Marginal Learning Gain could be one way to accelerate a sense of agency and self-belief in our learners.
When we are expectant of ourselves and each other, surely then, we will find ourselves enjoying a culture of high aspirations? And if, for some reason, expectations are not met, then I wonder whether enables us to ask exclusively learning-focused questions as to why this hasn’t happened. In this way, we can avoid being left wondering whether a failure to meet a learning goal was because we did not explain the task with clarity, plan it well enough or think it through. We will surely know that, having adopted the ‘Expectant Teaching Mindset’, we certainly made it clear, we definitely planned it well and we meticulously thought it through, then the next obvious step is to respond to the missed goal as being down to a gap in knowledge, understanding or skill development. We can then immediately and confidently adjust our teaching accordingly.
Maybe this is another Tiny Change (a Marginal Learning Gain) that can make a Big Difference (#tcbd) SO THAT we can own our ambition SO THAT we foster the sense of agency at the motivational heart of our learners.