Session

6. Holding high expectations and maintaining engagement

This session will take approximately 50 minutes to complete.

Session overview

It is important that you create a learning environment that challenges and stretches all pupils.

To support you to do this, you will explore:

  • The impact of high expectations
  • How to hold high expectations for contributions and engagement
    • Holding high expectations for contributions
    • Using countdowns or timers
    • Making the beginning and end of activities clear

The impact of high expectations

The expectations you have of your pupils can impact their progress and outcomes. Research has shown that when teachers have high expectations for their pupils, their outcomes are better (Murdock-Perriera & Sedlacek, 2018; Hattie, 2008; Rubie Davis et al, 2014). Therefore, it is important that you hold high expectations for all your pupils.

Reflection

Think about your classroom practice and consider the following questions. Record your reflection in your notepad:

  • Do you have high behavioural and academic expectations for all your pupils or do your behavioural and academic expectations differ for different pupils?
  • Why do you think this is and what impact might this be having on your pupils’ progress and outcomes?

Holding high expectations for contributions and engagement

Setting clear expectations helps to communicate to your pupils what you expect of them. Through doing this, you can convey the values of your classroom and school, which can help to improve the learning environment and culture. You should spend some time considering what your behavioural and academic expectations are. It might be useful to discuss these with your mentor to ensure they are fitting and align with your school’s behaviour policy.

When considering the level of concentration and contributions that you expect from your pupils, it is helpful to consider the concept of ratio. This can be broken down into two parts:

Ratio in the classroom is the ratio between two variables (Lemov, 2015):

  1. Participation ratio – how many pupils in the classroom are participating in the task. The ideal here is every pupil.
  2. Think ratio – the level of rigour in the thinking and engagement that you foster in your pupils.
Line chart displaying the relationship between the Think Ratio (how rigorous is the work) and the Participation Ratio (How many are participating) as an upward curve.

The goal is to get to point A on the graph where you have both a high participation and high think ratio in your classroom. To do this you must demonstrate high expectations of all your pupils, expecting everyone to concentrate and participate in your lesson. This will maximise learning and progress for all pupils, helping them to achieve, feel success and therefore feel motivated to continue participating.

Holding and rigorously maintaining high expectations is important but knowing how to implement them in the classroom and demonstrate them to your pupils can be challenging.

In the next part of this session, you will explore some strategies that will help you demonstrate high expectations for engagement and motivate pupils to remain focused, such as:

  • Holding high expectations for contributions
  • Using countdowns or timers
  • Making the beginning and end of activities clear

Holding high expectations for contributions

It is important that you communicate your belief in the academic potential of all your pupils. To do this, you should set and maintain clear behavioural expectations for concentration and contributions during a lesson.

One way to do this is by setting the expectation that all pupils should be prepared to contribute during a lesson if asked to do so. This encourages pupils to take responsibility for learning and emphasises the importance of trying, even if a pupil is unsure of their response. It is quite common in this scenario for a pupil not to answer or to say, “I don’t know”.    

If a pupil doesn’t respond or says, “I don’t know”, there are several ways you can support them to answer the question, such as:

  • Providing a hint or prompt to support them to contribute
  • Asking another pupil to give a hint to help them to respond
  • Asking another pupil to answer, and then going back to the original pupil to repeat or add to their response

This helps to build a culture of engagement and inclusion. It also clearly conveys to your pupils that you expect them to remain focused during your lesson so they can be successful in their learning.

Holding high expectations for contributions in action

Watch one of the videos below to see how teachers hold and demonstrate high expectations for contributions in the classroom:

Holding high expectations for contributions – Primary
Holding high expectations for contributions – Secondary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Holding high expectations for contributions – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think about your classroom practice and consider the following questions. Record your response in your notepad:

  • How do you ensure all pupils are engaged and contribute during your lessons?
  • If a pupil doesn’t know an answer, how could you support them to successfully contribute and what impact might this have on the engagement of your class?
  • How can you maintain a positive learning environment and ensure pupils still feel safe to make mistakes when they don’t know an answer?

Using countdowns or timers

It’s important that pupils in your class recognise that learning time is valuable and that you expect them to work purposefully throughout the lesson or day. One way to support you to communicate this to your pupils and help them to stay engaged in activities is to share the duration of time that pupils have to complete certain activities. This has several benefits:

  • It supports the pupils to remain focused on learning
  • It can create a sense of achievement when pupils complete a task in the time
  • It supports pupils manage their learning time
  • It supports the pace of the lesson, helping you as a teacher to keep the lesson on track

You can use a timer for almost all classroom activities whether they are academic or not. Using a timer works best if you:

  • State how long pupils have
  • State what pupils are expected to do in this time
  • Visibly share the timer and refer to it. For younger pupils this might be in the form of a sand timer and for older pupils this might be in the form of a countdown clock
  • Provide check points along the way e.g. you should be at question 5 by now

Using countdowns or timers in action

Watch one of the videos below to see teachers using a countdown or timers in the classroom and consider the following points. Record your response in your notepad.

Did the teacher:

  • share the time allocated?
  • make the timer visible to pupils?
  • provide check points along the way?

What was the impact of this on pupils?

Using countdowns or timers – Primary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Using countdowns or timers – Primary [AD]
Using countdowns or timers – Secondary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Using countdowns or timers – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions. Record your reflection in your notepad:

  • How do you ensure pupils work purposefully on activities?
  • Does this promote high expectations and support pupil engagement?
  • How could you improve this?

Making the beginning and end of activities clear

Another way to support pupils to stay focused and engaged during lessons is to make the start and end of activities clear. This can help to keep the pace of the lesson and therefore keep pupils alert and focused. Some ways you can do this are:

  1. Clear start
    Make sure that all pupils know when to start the task by using a clear cue. Everyone starting tasks at the same time means that it keeps pupils focused and the environment purposeful as pupils don’t drift into starting activities or have a quick chat before they begin. For example, when starting pupils off on a task, you might say, “Three, two one, off you go.”
  2. Clear finish
    Ensuring that all pupils know when the activity has ended and what they should do next means that pupils are not finishing at different times and have a chance to start to be off task. Making it clear when the time is up and what to do to show that they are ready is key to you being able to get the pupils’ attention and move on with the lesson. For example, using a timer with a sound to indicate time is up and then giving instructions of what to do such as, “Pencils down, eyes on me.”
  3. Provide positive reinforcement
    Positively reinforcing your expectations helps to ensure all pupils start and finish the task as and when you directed. For example, when starting a task, you might say, “I can see four tables have started, well done.” Equally, when finishing a task, you might say, “Pencils down, eyes on me, thanks front row, I have all of you looking at me.”

Making the beginning and end of activities clear in action

Choose one of the videos below to watch teachers make the beginning and end of activities clear. As you are watching, consider the following questions and then record your response in your notepad:

  • How has the teacher ensured a clear start or finish?
  • What did they say to positively reinforce their expectations?
  • What impact did this technique have on engagement?

Making the beginning and end of activities clear – Early Years
Making the beginning and end of activities clear – Primary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Making the beginning and end of activities clear – Primary [AD]
Making the beginning and end of activities clear – Secondary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Making the beginning and end of activities clear – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think about your teaching practice and consider the following questions. Record your reflection in your notepad:

  • How do you manage transitions between activities?
  • Does this promote high expectations and support pupil engagement?
  • How could you improve this?

Application to practice

In your next mentor meeting, your mentor will observe how you hold high expectations and maintain high levels of engagement.

To prepare for this, plan to demonstrate high expectations and maintain high levels of engagement by using one or some of the following strategies. Script what you will say to support you. This will then be used in your mentor interaction.

Holding high expectations for contributions:

  • Providing a hint or prompt to support them to contribute
  • Asking another pupil to give a hint to help them to respond
  • Asking another pupil to answer, and then go back to the original pupil to repeat or add to their response

Using countdowns or timers:

  • State how long pupils have
  • State what pupils are expected to do in this time
  • Visibly share the timer and refer to it. For younger pupils this might be in the form of a sand timer and for older pupils this might be in the form of a countdown clock
  • Provide check points along the way e.g. you should be at question 5 by now

Making the beginning and end of activities clear:

  • Clear start
  • Clear finish
  • Provide positive reinforcement

Additional resources 

Motivation

By Joanna Macauley

Pupil motivation is a key driver in pupil progress, attainment and outcomes. Teachers have the ability to influence the academic potential of their classes by raising their expectations of them and expecting more. By holding high expectations, you encourage pupils to work harder, do more and thus achieve more.

It is clear that pupils with high levels of motivation are more likely to step out of their comfort zones and take risks in order to make improvements in their work. Conversely, pupils with low levels of motivation are likely to give up easily, leave work incomplete or refuse to answer questions in lessons because they “do not know”. 

So what impacts pupils’ motivation?

Pupils’ levels of motivation can be a product of their own experiences. For example, if a pupil has always struggled with algebra in maths this may then impact their level of motivation when studying algebra as they assume it will be difficult and therefore it becomes more difficult. Pupils can also be influenced by parental views of certain subjects. As a languages teacher I have experienced many occasions where at parent’s evenings parents have explained how much they struggled in French, didn’t like speaking out loud and could not understand the grammatical concepts – this has then influenced their child’s motivation and therefore success in languages. 

How can you develop pupils’ motivation?

Building pupil success in lessons is key in developing pupil motivation. There is a balance to be struck between challenging pupils “to think hard”, supporting pupils with scaffolding and modelling, and increasing levels of pupil independence. It is also important for pupils to feel supported in their learning environment so that it becomes accepted that all learners make mistakes. A key assessment for learning strategy for this is to circulate the room during independent practice and where common misconceptions have been identified, stop the class and address the issue there and then to prevent the error from being learnt. When doing so, it is important to thank the pupil for sharing their work and learning with the rest of the class to help maintain a safe and positive learning culture.

You can also help to create pupil buy-in during lessons to motivate them to engage. One way to do this is to share the learning objectives and make sure they are clearly explained, so that pupils are aware of what they are going to be doing, why they are doing that and how this links to their long-term goals.

Related ECF strands

High Expectations

1.1 Teachers have the ability to affect and improve the wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of their pupils.

1.3 Teacher expectations can affect pupil outcomes; setting goals that challenge and stretch pupils is essential.

1.4 Setting clear expectations can help communicate shared values that improve classroom and school culture.

1a. Using intentional and consistent language that promotes challenge and aspiration.

1b. Setting tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum.

1c. Creating a positive environment where making mistakes and learning from them and the need for effort and perseverance are part of the daily routine.

1f. Teaching and rigorously maintaining clear behavioural expectations (e.g. for contributions, volume level and concentration).

Managing Behaviour

7m. Supporting pupils to master challenging content, which builds towards long-term goals.