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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Can Teachers expectations influence the school performance of their pupils?

It is widely accepted that social beliefs and judgements influence how people feel and how they behave (Myers, Abell, Kolstad & Sani, 2010).  It is through the study of social belief and judgements that the question of teachers expectations, influencing pupil performance has been researched since the 1940's.  There are two main focus areas to this question;  why a teacher has these expectations and who these expectations may or may not, effect. In this essay, these two areas will be discussed, and evidence will be provided for this argument. A summary will then conclude this discussion. 

The reasoning behind expectations is not always logical. Consequently, expectations can be incorrect.  Attractiveness of a child is evidenced as a factor in this field. Results from a study regarding attractiveness found that attractive children were afforded significantly favourable treatment than children classed as unattractive (Langlois, Kalakanis, Rubenstein, Larson, Hallam, & Smoot, 2000).  Mathematics ability was used in a study by Robinson-Cimpian, Lubienski, Ganley and  Copur-Gencturk, (2014) to evaluate what factors influence teacher expectations.  The focus of this study was gender. Data was taken from the Early childhood longitudinal study ECLS and perceptions of boys and girls mathematical aptitude were evaluated.  It was found that Boys are afforded a higher expectation in mathematics than girls.  Furthermore, Madon, Jussim, & Eccles, (1997) discuss the conceptual model with the following as reasons for expectations, previous grades, previous test scores, motivation, self-esteem, attractiveness, demographics, personality and home life.

Langlois, Ritter, Roggman and Vaughn (1991) argue that expectations of teachers do influence pupils performance because of teacher interactions and facial expressions. Myers et al., (2010) state that when a teacher has higher expectations of a pupil they look, smile, nod and interact with that pupil more. In contrast to this, a videotaped experiment recorded various teachers discussing something.  Ten seconds of the discussion was played back to viewers, with or without audio. Consequently, viewers showed an expectancy detection effect as they recognised, by the teachers facial expression, whether it was a good or poor student being discussed (Babad, Bernieri, & Rosenthal, 1991).  In a study completed by (Montague & Walker-Andrews, 2001), it was evidenced that infants understand the emotion expressed in the face. Furthermore, they often match their emotions to other people's emotions based on the facial expressions.  It is, therefore, supported that children of pre-school upwards can in-fact calculate what expectations the teacher has for them and other pupils.

The self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP),  (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) also support that expectations do influence performance. The Pygmalion in the classroom study is a good example of SFP and has stood the test of time.  Rosenthal (1968) stated that "the self-fulfilling prophecy was in evidence primarily at [younger years] the lower grade levels. This prophecy has since been re-examined in several contexts now giving it much more depth. Madon & Jussim (1997) studied naturally occurring SFP to examine whether positive or negative expectations produced more powerful SFP.  Their research model assumed that the teacher expectations would influence performance. With this in mind, they investigated, using different contexts as follows; do high or low expectations produce more powerful SFP; do expectations that match targets self-conception...provide a more powerful SFP; are targets of low self-concept more susceptible to SFP; Are low achievers more susceptible to SFP?  The key question they were asking overall, was which expectation, and in which situation made the biggest influence on performance. Their study found that low achievers were much more vulnerable to SFP.  Although this cannot be generalised, the SFP is supported within the low achievers group.

Bohlmann & Weinstein (2013) created a more advanced study, putting the classroom into the context. Other contexts were evaluated however the key focus was on highly differentiated classrooms and low differentiated classrooms.  They took teacher ratings of students and self-reported student ratings.  It was found that in 'highly differentiated' classrooms the low achiever, student rating matched the teacher expectation, however in 'low differentiated' classes it was not significant.  It was also found that in 'highly differentiated' classrooms Teacher expectation did match the pupils actual performance in mathematics although, again, it did not occur as often in 'low differentiated' classroom environments.  In support of the SFP, Again, the low achievers are highly influenced by teacher expectations, suffice to add that this is only in high differentiated environments.

Moreover, a longitudinal study also supports that low achievers are influenced.  Using Reading, writing and verbal communication abilities as a tool to evaluate the influence of expectations, data was taken from ten sites within the National Institute of Child Care and Human Development (NICHD).  The meta-analysis demonstrated that academic achievement in high school is influenced by teachers, high or low, misinterpretations (expectations) in first grade. These teachers expectations of abilities were found to influence students. Consequently,  vulnerable pupils, including pupils from low-status backgrounds, low achievers and minority students, for up to ten years (Sorhagen, 2013). Sorhagen did, however, state that parents expectations may also play a part in performance.

To conclude, when looking at reasoning behind teacher expectations, these study's imply that factors out with the student's control recurrently influence these misjudgements. Therefore, leading to these expectations. Reasoning behind teacher expectations needs to be included and evaluated when investigating this area as they do support sorhagens' statement regarding teacher expectations being misinterpretations. Furthermore student performance results, must take into account outside factors such as environment, self-esteem, ability, academic level, age, and parent expectations (Langlois et al., 2000;  Robinson-Cimpian et al., 2014; Madon & Jussim, 1997). Only then can it be clarified if the sole responsibility for performance is influenced by teacher expectation.

In saying this, It is however abundantly clear that Teachers expectations do have an influence on student performance. This does, however, seem highly focused around more vulnerable pupils such as minority groups, low-income pupils and younger children. It is also extremely visible when looking at the results from these studies; that low achievers are impacted greatly in many of these studies.


Babad, E., Bernieri, F., & Rosenthal, R. (1991). Students as Judges of Teachers' Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior. American Educational Research Journal, 28(1), 211-234.

Bohlmann, N., & Weinstein, R. (2013). Classroom context, teacher expectations, and cognitive level: Predicting children's math ability judgments. Journal Of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34(6), 288-298.

Langlois, J., Ritter, J., Roggman, L., & Vaughn, L. (1991). Facial diversity and infant preferences for attractive faces. Developmental Psychology, 27(1), 79-84.

Langlois, J., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 126(3), 390-423.

Madon, S., Jussim, L., & Eccles, J. (1997). In search of the powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 72(4), 791-809.

Myers, D., Abell, J., Kolstad, A., & Sani, F. (2010). Attitudes and behaviour. Jacobs, N. Rotherham, J. (1st Ed) Social psychology (pp. 146-155). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Robinson-Cimpian, J., Lubienski, S., Ganley, C., & Copur-Gencturk, Y. (2014). Teachers' perceptions of students' mathematics proficiency may exacerbate early gender gaps in achievement. Developmental Psychology, 50(4), 1262-1281.

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3(1), 16-20.

Sorhagen, N. (2013). Early teacher expectations disproportionately affect poor children's high school performance. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 465-477.

Montague, D., & Walker-Andrews, A. (2001). Peekaboo: A new look at infants' perception of emotion expressions. Developmental Psychology, 37(6), 826-838.