A group of teachers and I went to a workshop and watched a video of a grade 6 literature circle. We had a chance to discuss it in our group and we thought that the students had done a pretty good job: they were engaged and lively in their discussion, they talked about the book, they made reference to the book and talked about their connections to the main characters. It sounded rather like a book club meeting I would go to. When it was time to share with other table groups we were surprised that others had thought it was not a good discussion. They thought the conversation should have been deeper. They thought that the students should have referred back to the text more. They thought that all students in the group should have spoken. They thought that students should have not interrupted each other and used politer language (eg. Have you thought about this point?) We wondered if our expectations were too low or were theirs too high?
A student in our school who spends a lot of her day with one-to-one support has been very unhappy by 1:00 p.m. When we met to talk about strategies we began to realize that this young lady has constant “teaching” all day long because of the individualized instruction. None of our other students are “on” for that long every day. She probably needs more down time. Maybe our expectations were unrealistic—most kids get lots of down time at school.
The grade 3 team was doing some teacher moderation of student writing. We used our rubric to examine each piece. As we get better at teaching, we also get better at knowing how to improve each student’s writing. We needed to remind ourselves that many times this was good voice, good plot development, good arguing for grade 3. Maybe the description was a little overdone; maybe the plot didn’t flow well. Of course we could do better. But they are just learning.
Our math teachers do lots of group work. They have noisy classrooms. Upon entering my first reaction is that it needs to be quieter. But when I listen in on the conversations, they are all about math. The students are all talking about math, all the time. I don’t think that 30 grownups could talk about math quietly, so I shouldn’t expect that 30 students can. In fact, I am impressed that 30 students are all talking about math for 20-30 minutes at a time. There is an expectation that the students will be mathematicians who argue, and figure and ponder together.
So I have been thinking about all these things and wondering about the expectations we have for kids. We want to set high expectations for all kids. We want students to set goals and reach them. We want our students to learn that it takes effort and hard work to achieve goals. But, they are kids.
Imagine the following:
- You have to sit on a hard plastic chair all day long. I hate long meetings. I can’t wait for the break. Sometimes I go to the bathroom just for a break, not because I have to. Sometimes my head hurts because I have been concentrating so long. Do we let our students stand, get up and move, go for a run around the school? Should we purchase more exercise balls to sit on?
- Your best friends are sitting right beside you but you can’t talk to them. Have you ever been to a meeting with your friends? Don’t you talk to them? Does your group at a PD session always stay on topic? Do you ever laugh and joke around?
- After you have worked a really long day, you have to take more work home (I know, you usually do; you’re teachers) and there is no research to prove that the work you do at home makes any difference whatsoever. A little bit of homework is ok. But, in the grand scheme of life, is homework going to make or break a kid’s life? And what if everyone else at work didn’t have to bring work home except you, because you didn’t really get it?
- You’ve just been introduced to something new. You don’t quite get it. It’s new. It’s different. It doesn’t quite make sense. Don’t you want someone to sit with you and explain it again? Don’t you want some time to struggle with it before you have to show anyone? Wouldn’t it be nice to have some feedback as you go along? Don’t you want someone to maybe show you exactly what they mean?
- You have to write a test. You have studied. You paid attention in class. The questions on the test don’t look like what you did in class. You’ve never had to think like that before. Some of you will relish the challenge but many of you will panic.
We are doing a great job of having high expectations. It is always good to remind ourselves that they are just kids. How does school look from their perspective? High expectations are important; we want to make sure that the expectations are also reasonable for children-children who are curious, anxious to please, have lots of energy and short attention spans. High expectations, yes; but not unreasonable ones, not ones that we wouldn’t expect of ourselves, not ones that don’t celebrate and recognize that they are children.