How do expectations help your students succeed in your course?

While the course calendar helps students discover value in your course content, prepare for class, and meet assignment deadlines, it doesn't tell them much about how to do these things nor what to do when things don't go as planned. As such, it's important to explicitly share your expectations with your students—both in your syllabus and in class. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Students take classes from many different instructors who all have different expectations. What is considered collaboration in one course is an honor violation in another; what is considered late work in one class is excused in another; and so on. Clearly stating your expectations early helps acculturate your students into your course culture and ultimately allows them to be as successful as possible.
  • Many students, especially first-generation and underrepresented minority students, often don't know the hidden rules of college. When is it OK to ask for assignment extensions? When is it OK to ask for additional help? What can students do if they feel marginalized or attacked by a classmate's comments during discussion? Again, clearly stating your expectations early on helps place all students on an even playing field and helps them feel supported by you.

When describing your expectations in the syllabus, it is important to carefully consider how you frame them. When expectations are presented as policy, they can shift students' focus away from learning and can even demotivate them (Palmer, Wheeler, & Aneece, 2016). Imagine a course where the instructor has decided not to accept any late work. When the instructor focuses on the policy, she might simply state in the syllabus, "No late work is accepted." When the instructor focuses on learning, she might state something like the following:

During class sessions, you will interact with me, your fellow students, and course content in a variety of ways. To make best use of our time together, it is important that you prepare for class and complete all assignments on time. Completing assignments on time is especially important since these will often set up the day's activities. To encourage you to keep up, I do not accept late assignments. You shouldn't view this as a penalty, though. It is simply a reminder of the importance assignments play in your and your classmates' learning. I do realize at times you might not be able to prepare as fully as you would like. As such, I drop your two lowest assignment scores at the end of the semester.

What expectations do you have? You might consider things such as attendance, late work, missed classes, office hours, and honor policies. You might also consider the expectations students might have for you. For example, how will you create an equitable, brave, and respectful learning environment; how will you support and accommodate students with learning needs; how will you ensure students' safety and well-being while in your class? And—it's worth repeating—how you frame your expectations matters.

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