High Expectations in Classrooms

Three videos involving different teaching techniques are considered below. These videos are:

Whole Brain Teaching

Chinese Math Lesson

Roller Coaster Physics

These videos each showed a different discipline and a different age group being taught in a distinct manner. The whole brain teaching video was a grade nine high school class that was covering both English and geography concepts. The whole brain teaching strategy includes hand gestures that are paired with teacher prompts and with material covered in class. For this strategy to work, the students are held to very high behavioral expectations. Each student is expected to fully participate in the callbacks (e.g. Class-Yes) and to demonstrate complete understanding and usage of the hand gestures involved in the instruction. In addition, a set of rules that is often reviewed by both teacher and students is the backbone of the classroom. Students are required to be actively engaged in their learning and are expected to be full participants in classroom learning activities. There isn’t much down time where students are working quietly alone or in groups. In fact, the class seemed to be constantly filled with both audio and visual interactions. Although there is no explicit statement of high academic achievement, the students are clearly under the impression that their participation is essential and that their knowledge should be increasing. All students are held to the same standard and expected to participate at the same level regardless of academic ability. This could be a good thing, but also could lead to students feeling trapped in a classroom that is racing ahead without them. Overall this teaching strategy seems very intense and might be a bit intimidating to some students who are shier. Of course, the expectation that the whole class participates is good since it makes the learning experience shared across the entire group.

The Chinese math lesson had some things in common with the whole brain teaching strategy, but was more focused on memorization and group recitation. The third grade class sat on the floor and worked through the progression of a multiplication table before moving on to several example problems. The entire class knew the rhyme that went with the multiplication table, so there was full class participation during that section. When the teacher transitioned to solving example problems, she called on some students and others simply stated the answer when she asked a question. The behavior expectations were less obviously strict than the whole brain teaching strategy and students were allowed quiet dialogue amongst themselves. The students were used to the format of the lesson and knew that to expect as the teacher went along. The academic expectations were high since all students were required to know the rhyme and any member of the class was expected to help solve the example problems. As this article states, the parents of Chinese students have high expectations and the entire school system is designed to meet those expectations. The class resembled more of a “drill and kill” type of instructional strategy, but the students were gaining academic knowledge. The Chinese style is based on the belief that rigorous practice makes perfect and while that is true for some students I can’t help but think this strategy will not work for all. Students who have difficulties reading written words or memorizing would find this approach difficult, but would likely be stuck trying to make it through since it doesn’t seem like there is an alterative instructional style for math in China.

The roller coaster physics lesson was the least obviously disciplined classroom. That’s not to say there weren’t expectations or specific tasks students were required to fulfill, but rather to say that students were engaged in open dialogue and very few specific transition strategies were used. In a way, this meant the behavioral expectations were higher since the teacher was expecting the students to police themselves and work together to stay on task. No one is looking over their shoulder, so it is up to the students to finish the tasks at hand. The middle school class was clearly very engaged in the experience of creating roller coasters for marbles.  The students had a large measure of control over how they worked on the project, from the design process to choosing their role in the group, so they were very invested. Students knew the norms of the classroom and understood how they could use the “chiming” session to help further the design process. The high academic expectations were not explicitly stated here, but the teacher clearly expected students to be able to problem solve on their own. By restricting the amount of material and making students work on a budget, the teacher pushed them beyond simply making a roller coaster. They were truly experiencing the engineering design process and learning how to operate within its confines.

Creating a learning environment with high expectations can be done in many ways, as demonstrated by the videos. I believe my style for a high school physics/chemistry classroom will be more aligned with the roller coaster physics strategy and the advantages that come with project based learning. I know as a student I would have hated the whole brain learning classroom. I’m sure it works well for many students and I certainly believe hand gestures can complement science material, but I find that level of control over the actions of the students to be uncomfortable. I believe transition strategies should be used, but that students should be allowed to dialogue freely outside the confines of any classroom prescribed formula. High expectations can be communicated not just through behavioral norms, but also through posing difficult questions for students to answer together. By asking non-trivial questions, students know that you expect them to solve advanced problems on their own, which is a benchmark of high academic expectations. Behavior expectations will be more implied than explicit in my classroom, but a conversation about basic rules and procedures will be necessary for students to understand their roles as individuals and group members in my classroom. These videos definitely spurred my imagination and helped me to better understand how I would operate my classroom.