Great Expectations?

I was in a meeting this last week to discuss results in mathematics. There is a wealth (or, perhaps, welter would be the more accurate descriptor!) of data available with which to analyse these results in Victoria (I’m not sure of what is available in other Australian states). This data includes boxplots showing how each subject’s cohort performed in relation to the results predicted by the students’ performance on the GAT (General Achievement Test), scatter diagrams that basically show the same thing but on a student-by-student basis, comparative boxplots showing how a particular school’s students had performed in a particular subject over the past 10 years etc. 

During the discussion, I was asked whether the students who comprised the mathematics subjects’ cohort had performed according to my expectations. But ….I really don’t have any expectations. I don’t know that I even have them of myself. I have hopes, I have fears, I have dreams (perhaps too many sometimes….reality finds it hard to break through the barrier!) but I’m not sure I have expectations and its connotation (to my mind, anyway)of limitations. 

‘Expectation’ is the state of expecting or being expected. It is something that one can have of oneself or, more usually, of others. As a society I think we are most adept at sizing people up according to our own perceptions of what constitutes appropriate behaviours and viewing others’ actions through our own experiential lenses. In other words, I think society is exceptionally good at providing expectations as parameters that define others’ behaviours and experiences. I don’t want to do this and I don’t want it done to me.  Somewhat daggily, I was enraptured by Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach when it came out in the 70s and I still have a distinct empathy for the concept of limitless thought and allowing people to be free to fly. Expectations set limits.

In an educational setting, what I would like to do is help my students to raise their expectations of what they can achieve and allow them the intellectual freedom to achieve as much as they are able; not to provide these expectations for them.  I would like to see these young people own their own lives and be responsible for setting their own expectations as I believe this will lead to individuals who will have a lasting and authentic sense of self that later morphs into self-belief and self-motivation. Teachers could model the behaviours (emotional, psychological and philosophical as well as academic ones) that we would hope students might emulate but to ‘expect’ these behaviours, I think, takes something away from the student rather than adds something of value to his/her life. 

About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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2 Responses to Great Expectations?

  1. volcboy says:

    Thanks for your insight – just what I needed after a tough day in Yr9 Maths, where I see a lot of my students not raising to the standards I believe they are capable of. As a new teacher, one of the most difficult things I have had to learn to deal with is not getting down when I see students not applying themselves fully. I’m learning slowly how to expect less (for want of a better phrase) but help students attain more.

  2. Linda says:

    Thanks for your comment. Year 9 Maths can be tough!! It is great, however, that you are prepared to think about how things went and be open to ways of doing things in different ways. I think one of our greatest challenges as mathematics educators is helping students get over what I call the ’emotional barrier’ to the subject that stops them from trying to understand – it’s easier to justify non-performance that way. It will take time for students to start to feel it’s OK to make a mistake and be more prepared to ‘have a go’. It’s early days yet. I’m sure that your determination and reflective approach to teaching will pay dividends in the long run.

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