Great Expectations

Roller Coaster Physics
Academic Expectations
The video features several elements that reflect the teacher’s high performance expectations: chimes, the use of a computer-simulated program, the involvement of the engineering design process, and project-based learning.Rather than simply teaching them mathematical operations or science concepts, she takes these individual skills and integrates them into a project based learning plan modeled off the engineering design process. These expectations convey a message to students that they are competent enough to participate in a way of learning used on the collegiate and professional level. It encourages them to strive towards an academic performance worthy of these expectations. One thing that really stood out to me was how the teacher purposely limited building supplies in order to help students to really think about what they need and for what purpose. I was impressed with how this increased the students’ problem-solving efficiency.

Behavioral Expectations
Within the minute of the video, it becomes apparent that the teacher has very high expectations for how her students behave. Her chimes exercise is a round-table discussion where students talk about their previous week’s challenges and ways in which they can be remedied. The discussion flows directly from one student to another rather than from teacher to student. Students offer up their ideas during this time, and each one is expected to actively listen to and to treat their classmates’ opinions with respect. Students are fully responsible for how smoothly this exercise runs, and there is an expectation that they will act according to classroom norms in order for it to do so.

Norms and Procedures
As stated above, one of the classroom norms is that all students treat each other with respect. This helps to facilitate their ability to work together, which allows them to participate in advanced-level PBL. When “purchasing” materials for their roller coaster, students are expected to give a rationale for why they’ve chosen those particular items. This procedure helps to reinforce a student’s knowledge of concepts and how they fit in to they systems-based thinking built into the lesson. The lesson plan had very clear expectations for daily participation. The classroom norm was that a student must always be proactive about their work. They are either working on their own project or finding a way to help with a classmate’s project.

Personal Reflection
I attended a magnet high school for math and science that integrated a lot of project-based learning into their curriculum. Similar to the class in this video, we were taught the engineering design process and were given one big project each year. Sophomore year, for example, we used what we’d been learning in physics and systems engineering classes to build a one-man watercraft. We then had a sophomore class regatta to see how our crafts fared in Sandy Hook Bay. These smaller projects in our first thru third years culminated in a major senior design project. We were expected hand in design proposals, complete with CAD drawings and that we defended, much like a graduate thesis. Along with our proposals, we submitted a supply list which, once approved, we were expected to personally obtain through the bidding process. This was probably one of the most amazing educational experiences I have ever had. The engineering fair at the end of the year was incredible. Looking back on it, I think this was one of the most amazing educational experiences I’ve ever had. Every single one of us stepped up to the challenge, and I’d say, without exception, that our final products were incredible. I truly believe in setting the bar high. It’s been my experience that people — especially students — will rise to the occasion if only to explore for themselves what they’re really capable of.

Chinese Maths
Academic Expectations
According to the article “What Makes Chinese Maths so Good?” students learn multiple-digit multiplication at age seven, whereas their US counterparts are learning 2-digit addition and possibly the first half of the times table. I think the Chinese math program has high expectations for the academic performance of their students, but I’ll say this with the caveat that their program is designed for the group rather than for individual progression through education. It does not seem to have high academic expectations for those who cannot keep up with the group learning process. You can see in the video that most of the students are keeping up with the times tables rhyme, and that there are clearly two or three kids that get lost at different points. The teacher does not stop to catch them up. She simply goes on as long as the majority of students can keep pace.

Behavioral Expectations
Math classes in China have a large student to teacher ratio, are teacher-centric, and are considered to be one of the three core curriculums. The article states, “Because of China’s standardised curriculum and teaching, the national exam system, and the one child policy, teachers and parents in China have big expectations for their students from early on.” It seems there is an expectation from both teachers and parents that students will pay strict attention in class while lessons are being delivered. I think that this is standard at most. Students are simply asked to defer to the figure of authority in the classroom. They are not asked to develop more complex interpersonal skills through collaborative work. They are not encouraged to work through the challenges and frustrations of real-world problem solving scenarios, as their curriculum is so heavily based on standardized testing.

Norms and Procedures
The norms and procedures of the Chinese math classroom reflect the curriculum goals of their education system. It seems to allow for the majority of students to learn the most information in the least amount of time possible. It is streamlined, it does not recognize different learning levels or styles, and it is teacher-centric. I though it was very interesting that the UK is bringing in math teachers from China in an effort to improve student performance in this subject. While it obviously yields success, as shown by standardized testing, I think it will be the most practical if paired with existing teaching methods in the UK that recognize individuals and their differing learning styles.

Personal Reflection
I really struggled with finding the words that could adequately describe my mixed feelings about what “high expectations” mean in this context. I have gotten most of my teaching experience in South Korea, where their ideas about academic success are very similar to those shown in the two examples given here. When it comes to ESL learning, children start as early as age 4. They are given long vocabulary lists which, as a second language learner myself, I find impossible and impractical. Many students have 12–14 hour school days. High schoolers come in 6 days a week and don’t have semester breaks. They just study straight through. I reflect on these conditions and think that expectations are impossibly high.

On the other hand, I think that it is an issue of working hard versus working smart. As I’d said earlier, school hours may be long, but all a student really has to do is show up in order to pass. While I get blown away by their vocabulary skills, I am consistently surprised by their lack of ability to use any of it in context and their lack of confidence to do so. Little to none of what they learn is ever put in a practical context, and I often feel frustrated by my perception that their education system lacks efficiency. While it has gained recent international renown as students consistently post high marks on standardized tests, I often question its efficacy as well. This is most often true when I see how exhausted my students are at such a young age and how similarly exhausted teachers are as well.

Whole Brain Teaching
Academic Expectations
Through WBT, students are given several ways in which they can engage in the lesson. The teacher starts by modeling the lesson then the students are expected to teach each other. By giving students autonomy and responsibility over their learning process, the teacher is setting high expectations for academic performance. The practice of WBT measures success through progress rather than ability. This kind of assessment provides motivation for students because progress is possible at any level.

Behavioral Expectations
Classroom rules are clear, and students go over them with their teacher. These rules expect students to respect each other and each other’s time and learning experience. They reflect high standards for the behavior of young adults and the way in which they treat each other.

Norms and Procedures
The classroom norms and procedures facilitate the smooth running of the collaborative learning process. Therefore, I think that they also support high standards for academic and behavioral expectations.

Summary
I teach middle school boys in South Korea. Presently, their learning situation is very similar to the setup of the math classroom in China. It is teacher-centric and does not account for different ability levels or different learning styles. It heavily relies on rote learning and lots of repetition. Most classroom learning is geared towards the standardized testing, so there are few opportunities for real-world lessons. Students are expected because it is their “duty” in society, but they are not provided with the tools for how they can take ownership over their learning process. Since the Korean War, the country has adopted the narrative that their greatest resource is their human capital. Outside of this abstract concept, students aren’t really provided with any rationale for why they spend such long hours at school. Additionally, there are no consequences for bad behavior apart from a stern talking-to after class. The majority of secondary school classrooms can tend to be chaotic

I am the only non-Korean teacher in the school, which means there are different expectations for my class. I think this also affords me a with a lot of leeway, as well, regarding the teaching styles I implement in the classroom. In many instances, it’s also an uphill battle implementing standards that ask students to work independently or to even extend other students the courtesy of listening as they speak. I definitely count it as a victory when I’m able to convey the concept that they can be in charge of their learning process. I was able to address most behavioral issues in my 3rd grade class this way.

Whole Brain Teaching is probably the most practical of these methods for me. As I was watching the video, I realized that I already taught in that way since I rely on a lot of body language in ESL. My younger students instinctively followed my motions. I think it would be a useful experiment to ask my older students to follow along as well. As a whole, students have always responded positively whenever I increased my expectations of them. I think they sense that I have faith in their abilities, which gives them confidence to try their best.

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