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Principle 2:

Set explicit student expectations.

This page provides a concise version of Principle 2 from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia. Explore the highlighted strategies below to set explicit student expectations. 

COMMON TEACHING CHALLENGES:

“My students struggle to engage in meaningful discussion even though they know it’s part of their grade.”
“My students complain they don’t understand their grades.”
“My students and I are not pleased with their grades.”
“What can I do to help my students do better on assignments?”

Introduction

The following text is abridged from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia.

How do instructors ensure that all students are set up to succeed in a course? How do instructors communicate their goals and expectations in meaningful ways?

  • Creating course goals, clearly articulating those goals, and crafting assignments and learning experiences to help students achieve course goals and learning objectives can help to level the playing field between students, reduce opportunities for bias, encourage student engagement, and set students up for success in the course.1
  • Instructors should work to be as explicit as possible about assignment expectations and scaffold student success.
  • Providing students with examples of exemplary work from previous students—as well as discussing common mistakes that students have made on assignments—can help students understand the difference between on-target work and work that misses the mark.
  • Creating community agreements and/or discussion guidelines with students can help them understand and articulate classroom norms and expectations, as well as make all actors in the classroom responsible for establishing and maintaining an inclusive and supportive classroom environment.

 

Teaching Strategies

To help students understand course goals, learning objectives, and expectations, instructors should:

Articulate assessment criteria.2 3

  • Clearly articulate assessment criteria and provide timely feedback to enable students to prioritize their efforts and support their ability to meet objectives.
  • Share tools like grading rubrics, in addition to assignment descriptions and criteria, to help a diverse community of learners understand the requirements of an assignment. Students can learn to apply the rubric by conducting evaluations of anonymized prior work samples or, after establishing student rapport and a supportive course climate, by conducting peer evaluations of each other’s work.
  • Consider whether the grading system you employ (for example, grading on a curve) or the weight of your assessments (for example, few high-stakes assignments) might be demotivating for students. Offer students multiple lower-stakes opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, and use grading strategies that encourage students to develop growth mindsets.

Provide timely feedback.

  • Provide clear, actionable, and timely feedback to help students gauge their progress in the course relative to the stated goals. Clearly communicate goals, objectives, and expectations at the outset and then provide explicit feedback to students about their performance. These practices may encourage students to take ownership of their learning process and adjust their performance, if necessary, to meet learning goals.
  • Be reflective about the feedback you give as an instructor, and consider how you might modify your teaching to assist students’ learning. For example, you might adjust your teaching to emphasize points where students may be struggling.

Establish community agreements and discussion guidelines.4 5 6

  • Establish collective agreements about what constitutes a supportive and inclusive teaching environment to give students a sense of responsibility for the classroom climate. This can also help you regain control in “heated” classroom moments. Working with students to create agreed-upon guidelines for all actors in the course, discussing what contributes to and detracts from inclusive learning environments, and reiterating the importance of abiding by the community agreements reinforces the importance of inclusive environments for everyone.
  • Set up processes to get feedback on the course climate, explicitly address tensions when they arise, and when possible, turn tension and debate into learning opportunities for students.

Provide examples of exemplary work.

  • Provide students with examples to both communicate expectations and facilitate their understanding. Sample student work can also model discipline-specific skills, and help articulate assessment expectations and standards—and how those align with learning objectives—to a diverse community of learners.

Model expected behavior.

  • Be aware that you are modeling expected behavior, intentionally or unintentionally. Participate in the course community by exhibiting interpersonal behavior that adheres to the community agreements and discussion guidelines, and by modeling the skills that students are asked to demonstrate in their assessments/assignments.  

Bibliography

  • Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  • Arreola, Raoul A. “Writing Learning Objectives: A Teaching Resource Document from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Academic Support.” The University of Tennessee, Memphis, last modified 1998, accessed July 19, 2017, https://www.uwo.ca/tsc/graduate_student_programs/pdf/LearningObjectivesArreola.pdf.
  • Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books, 2016.
  • “Recognizing and Addressing Cultural Variations in the Classroom.” Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University, accessed July 19, 2017, www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/culturalvariations.pdf.
  • Ginsberg, Margery B., and Raymond J. Wlodkowski. Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
  • Lee, Amy, Robert Poch, Marta Shaw, and Rhiannon Williams. Engaging Diversity in Undergraduate Classrooms: A Pedagogy for Developing Intercultural Competence. ASHE Higher Education Report 38, no. 2. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
  • Stevens, Dannelle D., and Antonia J. Levi. Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC, 2013.

Footnotes

  1. Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  2. Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  3. Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books, 2016.
  4. Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  5. Ginsberg, Margery B., and Raymond J. Wlodkowski. Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
  6. Lee, Amy, Robert Poch, Marta Shaw, and Rhiannon Williams. Engaging Diversity in Undergraduate Classrooms: A Pedagogy for Developing Intercultural Competence. ASHE Higher Education Report 38, no. 2. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.