5 Reasons Why Expectations Change Results for all Students, especially ELLs

It seems simple, that as educators, we have the same high learning expectations for all students in given classroom, grade level, or school. After all, we wouldn’t want to knowingly deny the access and benefits of a high-quality educations to any child. And the reality is that the vast majority of educators do not approach their educational planning and instruction with low expectations in mind.

After all, this ideal of high expectations is founded on the concept that whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right. Our beliefs and expectations have a profound impact on our hopes for accomplishment and effort to succeed. So what does this mean? It means that students who are expected to learn at high levels tend to do so, while students who are expected to learn at low levels also tend to achieve exactly that – regardless of their ability.

This phenomenon has long-been researched and is most commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect. In this study of the self-fulfilling prophecy, people internalized their positive and negative labels. Their level of success followed their labels accordingly. The conclusion was that by increasing the leader’s expectation of those who followed, the performance will result in better performance by those who were following them. The impact of this study has implications in more than just education and extends from education, to social class, and of course, ethics.

Yet, when we are faced with students that don’t speak English, that read significantly below grade level, and are otherwise challenged to perform at grade level expectations, many are at a loss in terms of what to do to marry the competing worlds of meeting students’ needs and meeting the Common Core State Standards. And whether intentionally or unintentionally, we find ourselves lowering the expectations for these groups who already have a history of underperforming. And while the challenge is certainly a perplexing one, this solution only results in further exacerbation of the very problem. So what is a reasonable, yet high expectation for our struggling students, particularly those who are English Learners? And why should we commit to this course?

  1. Research shows that shifting our instruction to support the development and emphasis of more academic English leads to greater academic success.
  2. Without intervention and increasing success rates for English Learners, they will drop out of high school at twice the rate as the English-speaking peers (Rumberger, 2006).
  3. It is true that English Learners achievement levels and growth progress at different rates, but cognitive scientist agree that it is by increasing the success rates on challenging tasks that increasing the rate of growth for all learners.
  4. Student access to the core academic curriculum (Callahan & Gandara, 2004) – which is now the Common Core State Standards – is one of the most important variables leading to English Learners growth and ultimate success.
  5. Research has shown that the simple act of asking students (particularly English Learners and struggling students) to elaborate one powerful way to challenge students in a manner that demands that they explain the details of what they know. This is an opportunity to solidify connections in their minds which is proven to have a greater impact on rate of growth and overall achievement.