8. Sharing academic expectations

Video transcript

Presenter intro: Harry Fletcher-Wood

Showing pupils what an example of good looks like gives them a clear goal to aim for, but just showing it on its own is not enough. Teachers need to identify the precise features that make the example effective. We need to break it down for our pupils. Academic expectations need to be clear, concrete, and specific if we want our pupils to meet them.

Presenter main

Knowing what success looks like helps pupils to achieve, particularly when the teachers point out the details within a successful piece of work. Concrete examples help to covey complicated concepts to pupils. They also help pupils to see what good looks like. Knowing what good looks like can in turn help pupils to monitor their work more effectively, leading to improved learning.

There are several ways that teachers can share academic expectations. Constructing models that show pupils what good looks like makes abstract goals concrete. Hearing that they need to argue more systematically doesn’t mean anything unless they already know what arguing systematically means and looks like. Showing examples can help. For example, a teacher might present pupils with a neatly formed letter, an accurate labeling of a diagram, or a good introduction to an essay.

When teachers present models, they need to direct pupils’ attention to the important features within them. Without doing this, pupils often skip over them entirely or miss key details. Also, novice learners tend to focus on surface-level features that are specific to one particular model. Showing a range of different examples can help pupils to see the underlying principles that are present in each of them. For example, seeing a range of different ways to write the introduction to an essay question can show pupils that whereas they may have different ideas to share, introductory paragraphs should always respond to the question and present the main ideas that the essay will discuss. They can compare their work to the example, helping them to make improvements.

If you know what a good example looks like, you’re more likely to carry out a task well.

Presenter exemplification framing

In the next example, you’ll see a model of how to share academic expectations. As you watch, pay attention to the following key ideas:

  • Sets tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum
  • Narrates thought processes when modelling to make explicit how experts think

Exemplification: Ambition Institute Coach

Imagine I’m teaching a year seven Geography lesson. We’ve been looking at the impact of transnational corporations on Nigeria’s development and I want them to answer a question that summarizes their learning through a case study of the fast food chain KFC.

“In a moment, you’re going to answer a question. I’m going to show you one way of responding to it so that you can see how I do it well. Here’s the question:

Explain whether you think the presence of KFC is a positive or a negative development for Nigeria.

Firstly, I’m looking at the words within the question. It’s asking us to explain what we think. So I need to decide if I think the presence of KFC is a positive or a negative development for Nigeria. And then I need to justify my answer using evidence from the text.

And secondly, I need to come up with some ideas. So I’ll be thinking about what we’ve learned this lesson. And we’ve seen from the text that there are both positives and negatives to the presence of KFC in Nigeria. On balance, I think the presence of KFC in Nigeria would be a negative development.

So that’s going to be my first sentence. You might think the opposite, and that’s fine, because this question is asking for your opinion. I’m going to be using some of the words from the question to help get me started. So in my head I’ll be thinking, “I believe the presence of KFC is a negative development for Nigeria.” And then I will write.

[Teacher writes on whiteboard] I believe the presence of KFC is a negative development for Nigeria. And notice that I’ve used the words taken from the question. So presence, presence, negative development, negative development.

Then I need to justify my answer using evidence from the text. And I’m going to use three statements from within the text, but there are more than three statements within this piece of text. Some of them positive and some of them negative. So I need to choose the three pieces of information that best support my opening sentence, and I need to choose the strongest.”

This is just the opening of the model, but it is enough to demonstrate some of the key ideas about sharing good examples with pupils. First, the task itself is challenging. Pupils have to pull together a range of different pieces of evidence into a coherent argument. They have to recall what they know about developments in Nigeria and apply it to the question. Pupils are supported to achieve this task because I know that they have a good understanding of the content. The model that I am providing here is another form of support.

Second, I narrated my thought process out loud to show pupils how experts think. For example, I’m going to use some of the words from the question to get me started. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but pupils often struggle to get started and so it is worth pointing it out. How can we be sure that pupils will know to do this if nobody has ever told them?

Finally, I drew attention to some of the features of the example that made it good. In particular, I stressed that the evidence that I select needs to match with my overall point. Again, this is something that experts who know how to construct a good argument would do instinctively, but in order to develop expertise, it helps if we identify the specific knowledge and skills that it is made up of. Providing a model of an excellent response does not remove all of the cognitive effort required. This isn’t about getting pupils to copy. Pupils will still have to think about the content carefully when writing their own response. The purpose of the model is to help to guide their thinking and, in doing this, it increases the likelihood of success.

Presenter key ideas

In this video, we’ve explored the importance of showing pupils what a model of success looks like, ensuring that we set our expectation high. Before we finish, take a moment to read over the key ideas in the video. Which of the following ideas do you think the example illustrated the best?

  • Setting tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum
  • Using modelling, explanations and scaffolds, acknowledging that novices need more structure early in a domain
  • Narrating thought processes when modelling to make explicit how experts think (e.g. asking questions aloud that pupils should consider when working independently and drawing pupils’ attention to links with prior knowledge)

Presenter summary

We all want our pupils to do well, both in school and future life. In order to achieve academic success, we need to show them what success looks like. Sharing academic expectations through strong examples can transform their understanding and achievement.

Download this module (PDF)

Teaching challenge

Mr Jones is gaining confidence in his planning and wants to assess his pupils’ progress. However, he is unsure how to give them the best opportunity to perform well and demonstrate their understanding. He finds that describing the components of a strong piece of work is useful but often insufficient to convey the key ideas. How can he share his academic expectations for pupils concretely and clearly?

Key idea

Effectively directing pupil attention to high-quality models helps pupils succeed by clarifying subject goals. Practice and metacognition help them apply these to their own work.

Evidence summary

Models show pupils how to succeed

Conveying academic expectations to pupils is challenging. Effective teachers set goals that challenge and stretch pupils, while providing enough support to make it likely pupils will succeed (Coe et al., 2014). Previously, Mr Jones has focused on describing to pupils what they need to do to succeed. However, he has found this problematic: he invites pupils to structure sentences “carefully”, to select the “most telling quotations” and to approach their work “methodically”. Some pupils seem able to do this but for others his advice appears not to help. Mr Jones realises that these concepts may be too abstract to be easily applied by many pupils so he needs a better way to convey them (Christodoulou, 2017).

Models can show what pupils need to do to succeed. Mr Jones has already encountered the power of a concrete example in making abstract curricular concepts and ideas accessible. He realises that they can also be used to show pupils how to succeed in a specific task. He can use models to demonstrate the components of a good response and the process behind constructing one. One approach is to show pupils completed models, such as a finished calculation, sentence, or essay paragraph. He can also show pupils the process of creating an answer, either by showing finished worked examples (Sweller et al., 1998) – for example, the stages of a sum or an edited document – or by live modelling: completing a task or editing an answer in front of pupils and talking about his thinking process (EEF, 2017). This is a chance for Mr Jones to share his subject expertise with pupils, by describing the choices he is making and the reasons for them as he is making them.

How teachers use their models matters

Mr Jones recognises that the design of the model is important but insufficient in helping pupils identify crucial features as pupils may be tempted to skip over examining them (Sweller et al., 1998). Effective modelling involves directing pupils’ attention to the most important aspects. Some specific tasks appear to help pupils engage with models and identify their critical features. These include:

  • Completion problems: Partially completed examples which pupils finish (Sweller et al., 1998).
  • Example-problem pairs: An example with an equivalent problem, for the pupil to complete.
  • Examples contrasted with non-examples: Helping pupils contrast strong and weak responses allows them to identify the crucial features of good answers and those which are less important (Lin-Siegler et al., 2015; EEF, 2018).

The crucial point which Mr Jones appreciates is that just producing a model is insufficient to ensure pupils benefit: he must also design a task which ensures pupils engage with it, effectively modelling the features he wishes to convey.

Mr Jones can also use models to provide feedback and help pupils to improve. For example, once pupils have completed a task, Mr Jones can invite them to return to the model and identify the similarities and differences between their approach and the one illustrated by the model. Alternatively, he can construct a new model which incorporates the strongest (or weakest) features of pupils’ answers, and then invite them to review it and identify its strengths and weaknesses. Pupils can then be invited to revise their own work with the model in mind.

Promoting metacognition

Models can also promote pupils’ metacognition by helping them to get a clear sense of what their work should look like. This makes it easier for them to plan and monitor their work – comparing what they are doing to the model – and to evaluate their approach by making adaptations if they notice that their work does not exhibit key features shown in the model (EEF, 2017). This may be particularly important where a teacher anticipates common misconceptions may arise about a topic. Pupils may have acquired ideas, either in school or from everyday experience, that are ‘in conflict with’ the to-be-learned concepts (Chi, 2009).

Mr Jones can use his models to draw pupil attention to misconceptions as well as ways to overcome them. For example, as he models how complete a problem, he might ask pupils “What trap are we going to avoid falling into here?” and emphasise that “I’m going to avoid falling into this trap”, showing them what he wants them to do instead. Knowing what is expected of pupils and what they should avoid is therefore a powerful way to help pupils to monitor and evaluate their own work.

Nuances and caveats 

When sharing academic expectations, it is important both to select a high-quality model and use effective instructional approaches when modelling, drawing pupil attention to specific aspects of the model to develop their subject knowledge.

Mr Jones can discuss with experienced colleagues what important misconceptions are to help identify them.

Key takeaways

Mr Jones can show pupils how to succeed by:

  • Constructing models which show pupils what a good response or performance looks like.
  • Directing pupils’ attention to the critical aspects of those models.
  • Using those models to promote metacognition and for feedback.

Further reading

EEF (2017). Metacognition and Self-regulated learning Guidance Report.


Christodoulou, D. (2017). Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning. Oxford: OUP.

Chi, M. T. (2009). Three types of conceptual change: Belief revision, mental model transformation, and categorical shift. International handbook of research on conceptual change, 89-110. Routledge.

EEF (2017). Metacognition and Self-regulated learning Guidance Report.

EEF (2018) Improving Mathematics in Key Stages Two and Three: Evidence Review.

Lin-Siegler, X., Shaenfield, D., & Elder, A. D. (2015). Contrasting case instruction can improve self-assessment of writing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63, 1-21.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer J. J., & Paas F. G. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review, 10, 251-296.


Answer the questions in the quiz to check your understanding of the evidence summary.

Take the quiz


Reminder of key takeaways

Mr Jones can show pupils how to succeed by:

  • Constructing models which show pupils what a good response or performance looks like.
  • Directing pupils’ attention to the critical aspects of those models.
  • Using those models to promote metacognition and for feedback.

Reflect on the following questions

  1. What did you see in this module that you already do or have seen in other classrooms?
  2. What do you feel is the gap between your current practice and what you have seen in this module?
  3. Which of the ‘key takeaways’ do you need to focus on? Where and when might you try to apply them to your teaching?