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High expectations and challenge for all: Selected reading

Written By: Cat Scutt
6 min read
A collection of articles, blogs and resources to help you think about building high expectations

We know that it’s important to have high expectations of all pupils and plan challenging work to help them learn and develop. This page includes links to a range of useful articles, blogs, research reports and resources from different sources (all freely available or available through Chartered College membership) that explore ideas relating to this theme. High expectations and challenge can be built in a range of ways, including through curriculum decisions and pedagogical approaches in a supportive and developmental classroom culture. As such this collection covers a range of different and related areas. These resources may be a potential starting point to help you reflect on this area, assess what you are already doing well and what you could consider doing differently.

The resources collated here will not provide a recipe for what you should do. Some of the articles will also present opposing viewpoints, and ones which may contradict your own viewpoint or experience. They should provoke thought, debate and discussion. Evidence-informed practice requires teachers and school leaders to make expert decisions based on their local context, professional experience and available research evidence. The views within do not necessarily represent those of the Chartered College.


Motivation, engagement, challenge and achievement

A blog by Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen exploring the research around the relationship between motivation, engagement and achievement. This Impact article by Adam Boxer explores similar themes.

An article by Daniel Willingham for AfT about why working on problems that are challenging but ‘solvable’ contributes to pupils’ enjoyment of learning and how we can achieve this.

A meta-analysis by Rory Lazowski and colleagues looking at student motivation interventions.

A blog by Alex Quigley about thinking hard and its relationship with motivation.

An older journal article by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci introducing self-determination theory.

A journal article by Andrew Martin looking at pupils’ motivation and academic resilience.

A blog by Zoe Enser about the importance of resilience in responding to challenge, and how this might be developed in the classroom.

A blog by David Didau looking at ideas around mindset and resilience, including Growth Mindset. This blog from Innerdrive also provides a look at some misconceptions around Growth Mindset.

A journal article by David Yeager and Gregory Walton looking at social-psychological interventions in education.

A research article by Merce Prat-Sala and Paul Redford, looking at the relationship between university students’ motivation, self-efficacy and study habits.

An article by Dennis Relojo-Howell for the American Psychological Association, looking at developing pupils’ self-efficacy.

A journal article by Jung-Sook Lee based on her research into the relationship between teacher-student relationships and high academic expectations on pupil engagement and attainment. This Impact article by Simon Bayliss responds to the findings from a teacher perspective.

A book chapter by Robert Pianta and colleagues looking at the relationship between teacher-student relationships and engagement.

A paper by Jason Barr looking at some possible approaches to creating a positive classroom climate.


High challenge for all

A SchoolsWeek article by Heather Fearn, discussing some of the issues with defining ‘high challenge’.

A Pedagoo blog arguing that developing ‘challenge’ in the classroom really means making sure pupils are thinking hard.

A blog by Tom Sherrington looking at some strategies for high challenge and teaching to the top. His post on differentiation is also relevant here.

A blog by Aidan Severs that outlines some ideas for setting high challenge for high prior attaining students, then concludes with the idea that these should apply to all pupils.

A blog from Adam Boxer looking at what makes some questions more challenging than others, including a critique of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Recommendation 4 of the EEF’s guidance report on metacognition and self-regulation looks at the importance of an appropriate level of challenge in developing pupils’ skills in these areas.


Setting high expectations

The first chapter of Doug Lemov’s original Teach Like a Champion is available as a free excerpt from the publishers and looks at the importance of high academic expectations and how they can be communicated. Geoff Petty’s outline of and commentary on some of the techniques Lemov suggests is also useful.

A blog from Durrington Research School that argues that high expectations are one of the key principles of challenge in the classroom.

A review by Julie Smith on MyCollege, looking at research around teacher expectations and how to build a culture of high expectations.

A blog by Nick Rose looking at the danger that the notion of ‘differentiation’ may result in lower expectations for some pupils and have a negative impact.

David Didau’s blog post looking at the idea of differentiation, challenges with the notion and strategies that maintain high expectations – his blog has a number of other posts on the topic, too.

A long blog by Ben Newmark challenging the use of target grades and discussing the impact these can have on expectations.

An Impact article by Becky Francis and Becky Taylor, looking at attainment grouping; some of the issues identified include lower expectations of lower sets, as well as more limited curricula.


Teacher expectations

A journal article by Christine Rubie-Davies and colleagues reporting into their research on the relationship between teacher expectations and academic achievement.

A research study by Tammy Campbell, using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, looking at whether and how teachers unconsciously stereotype pupils.

A blog by Tom Sherrington looking at the impact of teacher expectations on pupils.

A psychology lecturer’s short overview of Rosenthal and Jacobson’s oft-quoted study of the effect of teachers’ expectations; the original (contentious) research paper can be found here.

A journal article by Lee Jussim and Kent Harber exploring some of the critiques and possible issues with the studies around teacher expectations and the ‘Pygmalion Effect’.

A narrative review and meta-analysis by Hester de Boer and colleagues, looking specifically at whether interventions designed to change teacher expectations are effective and can raise pupil attainment.


Examples of approaches to high expectations, stretch and challenge

A blog by Mark Enser explaining how he sought to build challenge into all parts of his lessons.

A blog from Durrington Research School outlining one teacher’s approaches to setting and communicating high expectations and challenge.

A blog by Dan Williams looking at some potentially effective approaches to stretching and challenge pupils (as well as some ineffective ones).

A blog by Dawn Cox explaining what ‘high expectations’ look like in her classroom.

A blog by Ben Newmark outlining the importance of teachers’ subject knowledge in setting meaningfully challenging tasks.

A blog by Tim Taylor reflecting on Mary Myatt’s book High Challenge, Low Threat and arguing that our language choices are important in creating an environment where pupils feel challenged but safe.

A SecEd article by deputy headteacher Debbie Light, outlining some approaches to creating stretch and challenge for all students, drawing on research.


Curriculum, pedagogy and high expectations

A very brief selection of articles that explore some (varying!) perspectives on approaches to pedagogy, curriculum and assessment that may signal and build high expectations for all.

An article based on a speech by Michael Young for Cambridge Assessment, arguing for the entitlement for ‘powerful knowledge’ for all.

An ASCL and PTE publication with examples of how schools have introduced ‘knowledge curricula’; this links to arguments that knowledge-rich curricula signal high expectations for all.

An Impact article by Martin Robinson that suggests that the curriculum needs to introduce pupils to ‘what the best might be’. In his blog, Pritesh Raichura explores some ideas about that ‘the best that has been thought and said’ might be in a science context.

A journal article by James Mannion and Neil Mercer reporting on the outcomes of an intervention based around developing pupils’ learning skills.

A journal article by Slava Kalyuga and colleagues introducing the ‘expertise reversal effect’ and its implications for instructional approaches.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s toolkit strand around ‘Developing Effective Learners’ also includes the findings from a number of projects specifically aimed at developing pupils’ ability to learn effectively.

A TeachWire article by Alex Quigley looking at how we might develop independent learners.

A book chapter by Robert and Elizabeth Bjork introducing the idea of ‘desirable difficulties’.

A long blog by David Didau about the importance of ‘desirable difficulties’ for learning.

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