Teacher Expectations of Students' Classroom Behavior across the Grade Span: Which Social Skills Are Necessary for Success?
Lane, Kathleen L., Wehby, Joseph H., Cooley, Cristy, Exceptional Children
As children and youth progress across the grade span, they are expected to meet teachers' expectations regarding academic performance, behavioral decorum, and social interactions. For example, teachers expect students to attend to and follow directions, make their assistance needs known in an appropriate fashion, ignore peer distractions when working, and manage conflicts with peers and adults (Hersh & Walker, 1983; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2003). Moreover, teachers of all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, expect students to demonstrate self-control and cooperation skills (Gresham, Dolstra, Lambros, McLaughlin, & Lane, 2000; Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004; Lake, Pierson, & Givner, 2004). When students fail to meet these expectations, they are often at heightened risk for a range of undesirable outcomes such as strained relationships with peers and adults, referrals to the school site disciplinarian, missed instructional time and content, referrals to the prereferral intervention process, and assignment to alternative settings (Fuchs et al., 1990; Lane, Mahdavi, & Borthwick-Duffy, 2003). Furthermore, students who are nonresponsive to interventions generated by the prereferral intervention teams or who continue to be unsuccessful in meeting their teachers' expectations may be referred for assessment to determine special educational eligibility (Lane, Mahdavi et al.). Negative outcomes may also extend beyond the instructional setting including substance abuse, chaotic personal lives, and limited or absent postsecondary educational experiences (Edgar, 1992; Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992). Thus, the consequences of not meeting teachers' expectations may result in a variety of pejorative outcomes within and beyond the school setting.
Although many students begin their early school experiences with the necessary skills and experiences that promote adaptive relationships with peers and adults, other students may be less prepared to meet teacher expectations for a variety of reasons. First, students may simply be unaware of teachers' expectations either because the teachers' expectations differ from parental expectations in the home setting or because teachers are unclear or inconsistent in reinforcing their expectations (Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2004). Second, teachers may not be aware of their own expectations for student behavior and that expectations vary across different groups of teachers (Brophy, 1986, 1996). Third, expectations may change as students progress through the grade levels, particularly as students transition from elementary to middle school (Blyth, Simmons, & Carlton-Ford, 1983; Seidman, Allen, Mitchell, & Feinman, 1994) and from middle to high school (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999). These transitions are characterized by an increased emphasis on independent learning and a heightened importance of peer relationships (Isakson & Jarvis). Finally, expectations may be different at schools serving populations with varying degrees of risk or in communities with varying degrees of affluence (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004).
Given the negative outcomes potentially confronting students who fail to meet teachers' expectations and the fact that students may fail to meet teacher expectations for a variety of reasons, the requirements or expectations that teachers have for student behavior across the grade span need to be dearly understood. This information on teachers' expectations may be used in at least four ways. First, it may be used to inform school-wide intervention efforts such as multilevel, positive behavior support (PBS) programs. In a recent study by Lane, Wehby, Robertson, and Barton-Arwood (2005), three high schools that were participating in a federally-funded grant to study PBS at the secondary level participated in a yearlong training program to design site-specific PBS plans. As part of the training process, PBS teams from each school surveyed each of their faculties to identify specific skills that their teachers viewed as essential for school success. One school used this information to develop a comprehensive program that involved schoolwide instruction in "student success skills" that entailed explicitly teaching one skill a month to the entire student body. The goal of the program was to (a) ensure that all students were aware of teacher expectations, (b) promote continuity of teacher expectations across classrooms, and (c) reinforce students who exhibited the desired behaviors. Other schools used the information to refine or redefine schoolwide rules and expectations.
Second, information on teacher expectations can also be used to improve interventions designed by prereferral intervention teams (Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004). If the goals of the interventions generated by the prereferral intervention teams are aligned with teacher expectations, the skills acquired via the intervention are more likely to be reinforced beyond the training condition (Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). This will increase the likelihood of the newly acquired skills generalizing and maintaining, a goal of all intervention efforts (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1987).
Third, information on teacher expectations may also prove Useful in facilitating transitions across the grade span, particularly as students transition from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999). During the initial transition from elementary school to middle school, students must shift from meeting the expectations of one teacher to negotiating the expectations of several teachers over the instructional day (Seidman et al., 1994). If teachers both within and between grade levels differ in their expectations of student performance, elementary students should be made aware of these differences prior to beginning the transition to middle school. This would allow students to identify how they must adjust academically, socially, and behaviorally to successfully navigate the expectations of multiple teachers. Similarly, the transition between middle to high school is defined by increased teacher demands as students are required to master increasingly differentiated curricula (Isakson & Jarvis). Understanding differences and similarities among teacher expectations across the grade span and providing this information to students may enable them to better negotiate student-teacher relationships in subsequent grade levels (O'Shaughnessy, Lane, Gresham, & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2002).
Fourth, understanding how general and special education teachers converge and diverge in their expectations for student decorum may also improve educational experiences for students educated in inclusive environments (Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2004). For example, if students with exceptionalities could be made aware of differences in special and general education teachers' expectations and then are explicitly taught the skills viewed as critical to success, these youngsters may experience improved inclusive experiences. With the call for inclusive programs in conjunction with the call for high levels of student achievement for all learners (Fournier, 2002; No Child Left Behind Act, 2001), it is imperative that every effort be made to proactively manage student behavior with the goal of promoting effective, efficient instruction.
Earlier investigations of teachers' expectations of classroom behavior conducted in the 1980s suggested that general and special education teachers at the elementary and secondary levels (Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Walker & Rankin, 1983) generally shared similar views regarding the importance of compliance, self-control, and study habits (Kerr & Zigmond). However, general education teachers, as compared to special education teachers, placed greater emphasis on standards for classroom behavior. Investigations by Gresham, Lane, and colleagues extended this line of inquiry by examining the extent to which other teacher characteristics such as gender, teaching experience, and grade level taught were predictive of teacher expectations (Gresham et al., 2000; Lane, Givner et al., 2004; Lane, Pierson et al., 2004). Results indicated that elementary, middle, and high school teachers placed significantly less emphasis on assertion skills as compared to cooperation and self-control skills. Further, grade level taught and program taught (general or special education) was predictive of the value placed on assertion skills. Specifically, teachers who worked with younger students and general education teachers rated assertion skills as more critical for school success as compared to teachers who worked with older students and special education teachers. As was the case with Kerr and Zigmond's (1986) study, general education elementary teachers placed greater emphasis on cooperation skills than did special education teachers (Lane, Pierson et al., 2004).
In a similar line of inquiry, Walker, Irvin, …
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Publication information: Article title: Teacher Expectations of Students' Classroom Behavior across the Grade Span: Which Social Skills Are Necessary for Success?. Contributors: Lane, Kathleen L. - Author, Wehby, Joseph H. - Author, Cooley, Cristy - Author. Journal title: Exceptional Children. Volume: 72. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 153+. © 1999 Council for Exceptional Children. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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