Despite the best of intentions, even the most dedicated teachers can find themselves contributing to the achievement gap. While high achieving students get more and better opportunities to explore their ideas and contribute to the classroom discussion, low achievers are subtly treated as such, compounding the problem and contributing to continued low achievement. Samuel Kermin’s 1972 research as Director of the Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement (TESA) project illustrates classroom techniques that hold all students to the same expectations, eliminating the gap in educational outcomes.
Research by Rosenshine (1971) and Good (1987) showed that teachers are far more likely to give specific, actionable praise to high achieving students than to those perceived as low achievers. Instead, the low achievers are given occasional general praise, and more importantly, they are protected from criticism when they answer incorrectly. Balancing specific, focused feedback — both positive and negative — among students offers a greater chance of balanced success in learning.
Extending Wait Time
Teachers are under considerable pressure to work through mountains of material in a very short time. That typically leads to a limited tolerance for long pauses after questions are asked. However, Rowe’s 1969 research determined that the common practice of waiting only a second or two for responses decreases student involvement. This particularly impacts low achievers, who are less likely to attempt an answer right away. As a best practice, teachers are encouraged to wait two to three seconds, to refrain from answering their own questions, and to hold off on asking follow-up questions until the first question has been answered satisfactorily.
Classroom observations by Brophy (1986) show a troubling trend in disparate treatment of high achieving students and low achieving students when it comes to actually asking questions of students. When low achievers cannot answer a question, teachers often answer for them or permit another student to answer. However, when high achievers cannot answer a question, teachers are more likely to probe for additional information and give hints until the student is able to respond correctly. Over time, these differences become ingrained for the low achieving students, and perception turns into reality.
With a few changes in behavior, teachers have an opportunity to impact the achievement gap significantly. Through balanced praise, extended wait time after asking a question, and delving further into the responses of all students, teachers encourage low achieving students to meet higher expectations.
Brophy, J. (1986). Research linking teacher behavior to student achievement: Potential implications for instruction of Chapter 1 students. In B. Williams, P. Richmond, & B. Mason (Eds.), Designs for compensatory education: Conference proceedings and papers. Washington, DC: Research and Evaluation Associates.
Good, T. (1987). Two decades of research on teacher expectations: Findings and future directions. Journal of Teacher Education, 36, 32-47.
Kermin, S. (1972). Teacher expectations and student achievement. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Rosenshine, B. (1971). Teaching behaviors and student achievement. London: National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales.
Rowe, M. B. (1969). Science, silence, and sanctions. Science and Children, 6, 11-13.