Do high expectations create high achievers?

| Brighten Youth 13 Mar 2018

Brighten Youth Education Centre

if anyone's expectations have an impact on the academic performance of young people, many would assume it would be that of parents, yet much research indicates that teachers are equally influential.

The notion that positive expectations influence performance in a similar manner is referred to as the Pygmalion effect. The term is named after a sculptor in Greek mythology who fell in love with a statue of his own creation, one which was Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who then turned into a real being.

The Pygmalion effect has been found to be most pronounced in instances where teachers start the school year with high expectations, or at the beginning of new tasks or topics, so that students don't have any preconceived negative notions regarding performance.

Perhaps the best known study of this was that done by Robert Rosen of Harvard University and Lenore Jacobson, an elementary school principal in the South San Francisco Unified School District, in 1965.

The pair decided to test what impact, if any, the high expectations of teachers had on their pupils. (

The researchers informed teachers that some of their students had been identified as potential high achievers who would fulfil these high expectations during the course of the academic year. These students had in fact been chosen at random.

Rosen and Jacobson found that the students who had been chosen at random were more likely to make larger gains in their academic performance over the course of the year. This was attributed to their teachers having high expectations of these students, and subsequently altering their behavior in order to help students achieve those high expectations.

This expectancy advantage was most pronounced in younger students, with those aged seven to eight gaining an average of 10 verbal IQ points compared with those in the control group. Previous performance and ability did not affect the benefits. The most significant benefit for male students came with an increase in verbal IQ. Girls mainly benefitted from an increase in reasoning IQ.

High expectations among teachers will help some, but not all students. The most pronounced results come when teachers encourage students to have high expectations of themselves.

High parental expectations also helped.

However, it's important to distinguish between aspirations and expectations. Aspirations are the desire to improve, whereas expectations convey a belief about the likelihood of success.

While raising expectations has been found to help performance, the same is not true of aspirations. This difference between having ambitions and actually carrying out the daily behaviors and habits needed to achieve them is the deciding factor.

As Tupac Shakur, reminds us: "The only thing that comes to a sleeping man is dreams."

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