The Situationist

The Impact of Expectations on Teaching and Learning

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2008

Barbara Glesner Fines, recently posted her 2002 article, “The Impact of Expectations on Teaching and Learning” (38 Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 38, 200) on SSRN. The abstract is as follows.

* * *

Law schools are in a crisis of confidence in the abilities and motivations of their students. Conferences on law school teaching feature presentations such as “The Challenges of Connecting with 21st Century Students.” Journal articles lament “The Happy Charade” that constitutes the learning and motivation of law students today. Professor Maranville of the Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”) Section on Teaching Methods summarized these sentiments:

“Many law students are so bored by the second year that their attendance, preparation, and participation decline precipitously; by graduation they have lost much of the passion for justice and the enthusiasm for helping other people that were their strongest initial motivations for wanting to become lawyers. And even in the first year, when most students remain engaged, many fail to learn even the black-letter law at a level that faculty consider satisfactory.”

Proposed solutions to these widespread concerns often focus on changing curriculum, teaching methods, or materials.

To improve learning in law schools, however, faculty may need a change of mind. A basic principle of good teaching is that of maintaining high expectations: “Expect more and you will get [more].” Nearly a century of research has established that teachers’ expectations of their students can become self-fulfilling prophecies: high expectations are correlated with high achievement, low expectations with low achievement. Moreover, once expectations are established, they tend to be self-sustaining for both students and teachers.

This Article explores the research on expectation effects in education and offers suggestions for putting the research into practice. This Article also suggests that faculty can improve legal education by critically examining their assumptions and attitudes. Finally, this Article addresses high-expectation teaching methodologies. The Article concludes by addressing concerns about institutional resistance to raising expectations. The conclusion addresses the role of student expectations and teacher evaluations, along with suggestions for addressing the emotional dimensions of teaching and learning.

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One Response to “The Impact of Expectations on Teaching and Learning”

  1. It is about time someone brought this type of problem to light. But the problem begins well before Law School! You can’t expect perfection by putting a perfect roof on a improperly built house! The system is to concerned about making everyone happy and keeping the numbers up. We need to put academics back in the drivers seat and put the administrators in the back seat again.

    I teach as an adjunct at a top University and can tell you I have asked to dumb down my material because the students complain it is to difficult. To difficult…at a University?! These same students will be going on the Law School, Medical School, PhD’s, etc what will they do then? I guess this article gives us a clear picture…

    This is not to absolve the faculty and teaching staff, it is their job to present the material well and facilitate learning. At the University level and beyond the student is responsible to be involved and do the work. If they fail to apply themselves in the pursuit of a degree they have chosen how will they ever apply themselves on the job? Fail them and get their attention if the administrators will let you. Students talk and if they know a professor isn’t afraid to fail them you can bet your bottom dollar they will apply themselves.

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