Shoot for the stars.

Reflecting on High Expectations.

How important is it that teachers have high expectations?

One consistent finding of academic research is that high expectations are the most reliable driver of high student achievement, even in students who do not have a history of successful achievement. Much of this research has been conducted to test, confirm, or debunk the famous “Pygmalion” study in which teachers were told that randomly selected groups of students had been proven through testing to be on the brink of great academic gains. Those groups of randomly selected students, in fact, outperformed other randomly selected groups whose teachers had not been led to expect great things, presumably because of those expectations.

The Role of the teacher in setting high expectations.
The teacher should be the facilitator and leader of a class, this post is about high expectations and in this area as with others, the teacher should be the leader and facilitator.

For myself, in terms of my expectations, my students all know very well my number one rule – try, try and try again. It means I expect hard work from the start. It also means that I communicate the fact that mistakes are OK, in fact, they are part of learning on the way to getting things right.

In order to do difficult things, my students are provided with the scaffolding and feedback to practice and succeed.  We try to do complex tasks, but I break the complexity into manageable chunks and help students through the processes and behaviours I want to promote. I provide early feedback, giving students a chance to succeed early. When our goals include very complex, independent thinking practice and reinforcement are vital.

There are strategies that successfully demonstrate high expectations to students, 4 of which can be found here Setting high expectations, but to summarise briefly;

NO OPT OUT A sequence that begins with a student unable to answer a question should end with the student answering that question as often as possible.

RIGHT IS RIGHT Set and defend a high standard of correctness in your classroom.

FORMAT MATTERS It’s not just what students say that matters but how they communicate it. To succeed, students must take their knowledge and express it in the language of opportunity.

NO APOLOGIES The skill of not apologising for students is critical not only in the introduction and framing of material but in reacting to students’ response to it. Teachers with high expectations don’t apologise for what they teach. No more “Sorry I have to teach you Shakespeare.” Neither do they make apologies for their students.

My perceptions of the teachers, schools` and parental expectations for students in schools I am familiar with.

In Japan, it is expected that by the end of primary school 1006 Kanji (The Chinese Characters that form one of the syllabaries of the language) will have been learnt, by the end of high school the number rises to 2000.

There is the optional Kanji Kentei which is an optional test, actually, it is 12 tests over 12 difficulty levels if the test-taker goes for the Level 1 (highest test) they have to know 6355 kanji. Level 2 is as high as many Japanese, even those with higher education degrees, tend to go. Passing level 2 can be an advantage when applying for jobs, etc. Passing levels pre-1 and 1 is especially rare even among native speakers.

In “the East” (Japan, China, S.Korea) rote memorization of language (Reading) and drills (Maths) are commonplace and students are expected to pass regular tests in these areas, whereas in “the West”(America, the U.K ) problem solving and creativity is prized above rote memorization and drilling.

I have experienced a variety of teaching styles and expectations in Japan, including inquiry-based learning schools, where we built on prior knowledge and expected students to inquire independently in their second language. So it was very important that high expectations were held, for example during English classes the students were expected to use only English. There were language support systems in place to bring the students with lower level language skills up to speed quickly so that they could inquire independently in English (their L2).

The International ranking of Japan.
– The result from PISA 2012 Country comparisons and Full findings show that Japan tops OECD countries for reading.
– Japan was 1st for reading, followed by  Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Korea. (In Europe, Finland, Ireland and Poland led in reading while the Canada was the strongest performer in the Americas.)
– Japan was also 1st for Science, followed by Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Finland, Estonia and Korea.
– Japan was 2nd in mathematics performance and first in both reading and science amongst the OECD countries.

The findings from 2011 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) showed more success for Japan.

– In Mathematics at Grade 4 Japan was 5th in the world behind Singapore, Republic of Korea Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei.
– In Mathematics at Grade 8 Japan was 5th behind Republic of Korea, Singapore,
Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong.
– In Science at Grade 4, Japan was 4th behind The Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Finland
– In Science at Grade 8, Japan was 4th behind Singapore, Chinese Taipei and the Republic of Korea.

However, if we widen the scope of high expectations to include sports, then the international rankings change a lot. Those countries who have been traditionally strong in academics are not so strong in this arena (on a per capita basis). 2014 Summer Youth Olympics

The reasons for the high academic ranking of Japan are many, varied and often misunderstood.

In the summer of 2014, American journalist Elizabeth Green wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine titled “Why do Americans stink at math?” She felt she had discovered some reasons why Japan had such high maths scores on average, through her connection to a Japanese Math teacher called Akihiko Takahashi, who trained and taught in Tokyo before moving to Chicago in the 1990s. Some of these discoveries are familiar to me, living and working in Japan.

In “the West”we are familiar with “I, We, You,” a series of steps in which the teacher dictates a problem to the students, the class works together on similar problems, and finally the students work through more of the same problems.

However, in Japanese Math teaching it can be more akin to “You, You all, We,” in which students begin with solving a specific problem, then work in peer groups and finally all together.

Another practice conducive to good student results here in Japan is the regular observation of our classes by our peers jugyōkenkyū, in which teachers are routinely observed in order to help hone their craft. Observation lessons are standard practice in schools in Japan.

In order to really understand why Japan excels in Maths, Science and Reading I wondered, is it because the students study for long hours? Is it because the socioeconomic situation is good? Is it the teaching methodology that differs or the attitude to learning? Or is it how much is spent — in time and money — on education, publicly and privately?

Students in Japan spend nearly 235 minutes a week learning math, according to Miki Tadakazu, an education analyst with the OECD, only about 20 minutes more than the OECD average.

In PISA’s 2012 questionnaire, Japanese 15-year-olds reported spending an average of just over half an hour a week in a commercial after-school learning environment — read cram school (Juku)  — which is in line with the OECD average. In fact, the Japanese polled came in below the OECD average in time spent on all other forms of after-school work, whether it was teacher-set homework or study assisted by a home tutor, family member or computer.

However, the role of Juku should not be discounted. For, if school teaches students that there may be more than one answer and allows for more creativity in arriving at an answer then Juku fills a role in preparing students for passing exams as well as showing students the answer and the most efficient way to get it.

And one more statistic: Japan spends less on education than most OECD countries, allocating it less than 4 percent of its GDP.

So, if quantity is not the key to Japan’s math success, could it be quality?


2014 Summer Youth Olympics medal table. (2016). Wikipedia. Retrieved 17 July 2016, from

Compare your country by OECD. (2016). Retrieved 17 July 2016, from

Highlights From TIMSS 2011 Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Fourth- and Eighth-Grade Students in an International Context. (2012) (1st ed.). Retrieved from

Kanji kentei. (2016). Wikipedia. Retrieved 17 July 2016, from

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a champion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano, R. & Brown, J. (2009). A handbook for the art and science of teaching. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

O’Donoghue, J. (2014). Teaching quality, not lesson quantity, may be key to Japan’s top math marks | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 17 July 2016, from

Siering, G. (2016). Setting High Expectations. Retrieved 17 July 2016, from

Webster, J. (2016). 49 Techniques from Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. Education. Retrieved 17 July 2016, from



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