What happens when teachers perceive learners correctly?

Victor Ochieng'

Interestingly, in a certain insightful piece I read, Robert Rosenthal, a social psychologist, wondered whether some children perform poorly in school because their teachers expect them to do so. He thought deeply about ‘inter-personal expectancy’.

Ideally, Rosenthal contended that the way teachers perceive learners in general has a great impact on learning outcomes. To gel this good idea, he experimented in an actual classroom. How did he do it? He issued a test on learning ability in a certain school. Later, after the grading of the tests, teachers were casually given the monikers of 6 learners in each new class who were designated as ‘spurters’ — possessing exceptional learning abilities.

Somewhat, teachers were not aware that the picking of names happened a head of the test on a completely random basis. The difference between the few learners chosen and the other children existed only in the mortal minds of teachers. Again, the same tests taken at the end of the school years revealed that the ‘spurters’ had actually soared high like eagles. They were ahead of the other children.

Moreover, preceptors described them as happy learners. They were also more curious, more affectionate, and had better chances of attaining peerless performance. Somehow, the school worked only on one core component of learning — attitude (mindset plus beliefs).

Done on a positive note, when teachers expected more from a section of students, they reciprocated by expecting more from themselves. Ipso facto, Rosenthal later concluded: these components, blended beautifully to explain the expectations teachers had on learners. The perception of learners changed, and they thought of reaching and touching the acme of academic excellence.

Actually, this forms the provenance of Rosenthal Effect. It is associated with Robert Rosenthal. In other credible sources of knowledge, it is Pygmalion Effect. Its opposite is Golem Effect. Pygmalion Effect is a psychological phenomenon in which high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. The effect is associated with the Greek myth of Pygmalion — the sculptor who fell so much in love with the beautiful statue he created. The admiration he had for the statue made it come to life.

Now, based on this frame of logic, you know why some schools stand out without cheating on their way to the epic peak of performance in KCSE. Most of the teachers in schools we celebrate as veritable academic giants expect a lot from learners.

Therefore, it is wrong to write-off learners because on the basis of low entry behaviour, level of the school or availability of learning resources. For through the Kaizen Principle of Continuous Improvement, they can become better, brighter and smarter.

Again, in schools where students evince excellence, teachers know how to communicate every bit of it. In the whole scheme of things when we encourage learners, appreciate and affirm them firmly, they crane their necks. They walk heads held high. Their self-esteem soars. They stop to cry, but, try.


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Conversely, we also pointed out that the opposite of Rosenthal or Pygmalion Effect is Golem Effect. The latter effect describes the process where superiors — such as Principals and teachers anticipate low performance from their subordinates. This, of course, entices poor performance. In Hasidic Mythology, the Golem was a creature built from clay, and made of mud. It was to serve its master. Of course, this was a serious joke.

Then, there is another self-fulfilling prophesy called Galatea Effect, where raising an individual’s self-efficacy results in an increase in performance. Galatea Effect only occurs when there is an actual increase in self-efficacy, as well as an increase in performance.

Self-efficacy is one of the core-competencies in the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC). Basic Education Curriculum Framework (BECF, 2019) defines self-efficacy as people’s belief about their capabilities to perform tasks or assignments that can transform their lives.

Ostensibly, self-efficacy influences several domains of learning such as cognitive, creative, imaginative, emotive, affective and normative.

By Victor Ochieng’

The writer rolls out academic talks and training programmes. vochieng.90@gmail.com.


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