Little Johnny just isn't very smart
How teachers expectations shape students academic performance.
I’ve always been interested in teachers’ expectations and their effect on children’s academic performance and grades. It seems almost trivial to mention that great expectations in the classroom lead to greater results, however, this must continue to be emphasized, since many have forgotten this premise in favor of reduced standards and lowered expectations.
The Pygmalion Effect discussion is no stranger to teachers and educators, and essentially it argues that our belief in another person’s potential can bring that potential to life, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The opposite, the Golem effect, can also be true - when a teacher believes little Johnny is just dumb and will never amount to much, that teacher does not invest the same dedication that it does to little Katie, who will for sure have a bright future. In response to the low expectations, he sees in his teacher, little Johnny accomplishes only the minimum and achieves poor results - as a consequence of Johnny’s low achievement, the teacher concludes she was right all along in thinking he was not smart.
In 1968, psychologist Robert Rosenthal and school principal Lenore Jacobson published a book that caused a stir: Pygmalion in the Classroom. The book recounts their year-long experiment in an American school where they misled teachers with false IQ tests into believing that some of their students were gifted. To some extent, the teachers’ fresh perspective on these students led them to significantly improve their performance on both IQ tests and in their academic subjects.
The expectations teachers have of their students inevitably affects the way that teachers interact with them, which ultimately leads to changes in the student’s behavior and attitude. The work of Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen (1968) shows that teacher expectations influence student performance. They found positive expectations influence performance positively and they described this phenomenon as the Pygmalion Effect.
The existence of the phenomenon has been confirmed, as reported by David Trouilloud and Philippe Sarrazin in their summary of the studies devoted to it in the 30 years following that of Rosenthal and Jacobson: “In all this research, a self-fulfilling prophecy was demonstrated when a teacher’s belief or expectation of a student changed the attitude of the former towards the latter, who ultimately tended to conform to the teacher’s belief.”
Poppy Ionides, an Educational Psychologist says,
A large body of evidence suggests long-term benefit from a ‘growth mindset’ in which children believe in the possibility of cultivating their abilities. This feeds perseverance and resilience; failures are seen as opportunities to learn rather than statics of inescapable ineptitude; those who start ‘average’ have the ability to be all but. Schools have the power to influence children’s mindset.
Low expectations may be just as influential. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers described an example of this dynamic after they followed nearly 5,000 low-income families who moved out of public housing and into better neighborhoods. They found that while the daughters in those families benefited from the move, the sons still tended to fail both socially and psychologically, concluding there were “increased rates of depression, PTSD and conduct disorder among boys and reduced rates of depression and conduct disorder among girls.”
The study’s lead author, Harvard Medical School Professor Ronald Kessler, suggested that, among other possible factors, biases about low-income boys might be to blame. “Boys may appear to be ‘tough guys’ and people then say they are ‘problem kids,’ ” he said. “So the communities are responding to the boys in a different way than they do to girls.”
The same trend persists in most schools today, where the desired classroom behavior doesn’t come easy to boys, who are naturally active and more prone to learning through movement, which often gets them classified as trouble-makers. It’s not entirely the teachers’ fault either, since public classrooms are often overcrowded and one teacher can only do so much to assist different children with different educational capabilities and struggles. But there should be a greater focus placed on dispelling teachers’ individual expectations and raising the academic standards for the entire classroom while allowing for children to reach their full potential, albeit in their specific ways.
In Christina Hoff Summers’ book “The War Against Boys”, she retells a fantastic true story that is very much connected to the teachers’ expectations regarding her students. In short, this is what took place:
Mrs. Daugherty was a dedicated and highly respected Chicago public school teacher. One year, she had a class she found impossible to manage, the students were noisy, uncontrollable and almost unteachable, to the point that she began to worry some of them had learning disabilities. When the principal was out of town, she did something she was not supposed to do - she entered his office and looked in a special file where the students IQ’s were recorded. To her amazement, she found the majority of those students were above average in intelligence, a quarter of the class had IQ’s in the high 120s and the worst behaved student, was in fact brilliant and had an IQ of 145.
Mrs. Daugherty was upset at herself for having had such low expectations of the students and for just feeling sorry for them. To redeem the situation, she instantly started bringing in more challenging work, increased the homework load and adopted uncompromising discipline in the classroom.
By the end of the school year, this former class of no-gooders was actually among the best behaved and highest performing of sixth-grade classes. The principal was delighted with the improvement, since he was well aware of the nature of the class before. He called Mrs. Daugherty to his office to congratulate her, and she told him the truth about how she had seen the students IQ records. The principal forave her and said “ I think you should know, Mrs. Daugherty, those numbers next to the children’s names - those are not their IQ scores, those are their locker numbers”.
Now, not all misbehaved classes will have such admirable results but this story should really invite a thoughtful analysis of how much impact a teacher’s expectations can have on the students’ performance and life. If we recognize that the goal of a proper education is to steward students and children to their full potential, then we must also recognize that having little expectations of them is an enormous disservice that will follow them indefinitely, and as such, one that we must try to eradicate.
Coming up next week:
I have a very interesting Q&A lined up that I’m looking forward to sharing with you. If you like this newsletter and want to support my work, please share it with your friends.
Please can you add and finish of this story:
"The school principal called the three teachers and told them, 'Because you are the best teachers and have the most experience, we will give you nineteen students with the highest IQ (IQ). You will be teaching them next year and we want to see how much they can learn . ”
Everyone was honored, both professors and students.
Over the next year both of them truly enjoyed themselves. Professors because they teach to the best students, students because they were satisfied with the great attention and instructions of the professor.
At the end of the experiment, students acquired 20-30 percent more knowledge than others at school.
Then the principal called the lecturers and told them: “I have something to confess to you. You didn’t have nineteen of the most intelligent students. They belong to the category of average students. We simply chose them from among others and gave them to you. ”
The lecturers replied: "This means that we are exclusive lecturers."
The director continued: “I have something else to tell you. You are not the best professors. Your names were first on the list. "
Then the professors asked, “What is the difference? Didn't those nineteen students achieve exclusive success in one year? ”
I agree how the teacher's expectations can affect their teaching as well as the response of their students. The more they expect from their students, the more motivated both the teacher and the students become.