Setting the Stage for Success

One of the concerns that comes up a lot in my school is that of poor attendance and motivation.  So I took the opportunity this summer to do a bit of digging into these issues, and found some studies that showed that students tend to take more responsibility for their learning when the expectations for the course and their learning behaviours are made explicitly clear at the beginning of the course.  This checklist, Setting Clear Expectations, was designed by Nancy Chick from the University of Wisconsin to review with students as they begin their studies to ensure that the foundation is laid for helping students to reflect on their own reasons for signing up for courses, and to help them plan to incorporate the habits and behaviours that will help them to be successful.  She designed this for English courses, it might need some adapting for other subjects.

For those of us who have used Restitution in our classrooms, this confirms what we’ve always known – that creating shared understandings and agreements helps avoid conflicts down the road.  Creating a social contract is something that is key in implementing Restitution.

However, to bump it up a notch from simply telling students the expectations, it’s more powerful to involve them in creating that picture of what a good student is.  Rather than simply handing out and reviewing these ideas, it is more effective to facilitate a brief classroom discussion at the beginning of class simply by putting the headings “How to Succeed in School” and “How to Fail in School” up on the board and have students create the lists as a group for themselves.  (It can be fun to start with the “How to Fail” list first!)  If ideas contained in the checklist do not naturally appear, the teacher can provide prompts to ensure that all the concepts that need to be discussed are considered.

Give it a try this year!  You may be surprised at the payoff of spending those few minutes to set the stage!


For more information on Nancy Chick’s work and the subject of motivation, check out this article:

Hassel, H. & Lourey, J. (2005). The dea(r)th of student responsibility. College Teaching, 53(1), 2-13. doi: 10.3200/CTCH.53.1.2-13



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