Managing classroom expectations

We all have expectations about the courses we teach. Our students have expectations, too. What if their expectations and our expectations don’t jive?

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Many of the students who take my courses are bright, hard-working and ambitious. They want to pursue post-college careers in science or medical fields. As such, they are often looking at their work in my courses as stepping stones, preparation for placement exams like the GRE and MCAT. They want to learn what they believe will be on those exams. This influences their expectations of themselves and of my course (and me). They hope and expect that they will earn a high grade in the course (important for those applications) and that they will see a boost in their performance on those exams.

My expectations are very different. I want my students to learn and understand the course material, with the aim of developing a love and interest in the subject. There is nothing more satisfying to me as a teacher than to hear a student say how much they loved the course material. Even better is when students get inspired by their passion in the subject to the extent that they change their plans for after graduation.

It seems like both sets of expectations are unrealistic and even at odds.

Managing your and your students’ expectations is an aspect of teaching that we do not often approach systematically. And yet, our expectations of ourselves and of a course directly influence how well we can learn (or teach) that material. What are realistic expectations that can foster deep and sustained learning?

I am only just beginning to brainstorm ways to approach “expectation management”. I would LOVE to hear from you about ways you approach this aspect of teaching.

My plan this week is to take some class time to talk with my students about this underlying motivational framework. I am preparing a handout called, “The Main Ingredients for Successful Learning.” The three main ingredients are: motivation, attention and practice (see my post from last week). It in in the area of motivation that class expectations reside.

Stay tuned. Better, chime in with your thoughts!