BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


A Full-Court Press to Close the Opportunity Gap

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Getting Students to Believe in Themselves” by Jon Saphier in Phi Delta Kappan, February 2017 (Vol. 98, #5, p. 48-54),; Saphier is at
“Surrounding students with messages that they have the ability to learn is at the core of closing the achievement gap,” says author/consultant Jon Saphier in this Kappan article. “While teaching students about brain growth and brain malleability certainly has a place in the education of students of color and of poverty – in fact of all students – much more is needed. Teachers must convey their belief to students through how they handle everyday events… and they must do so mindfully with language that has embedded meaning of their belief in their students.”
Saphier says this is a key ingredient in how some schools are overcoming the disadvantages with which many disadvantaged children enter school. In effect, educators in these schools have taken on a broader mission about belief, confidence, tools, and desire:
- Giving students the belief that effort can expand their ability to do well academically;
- Helping them develop the confidence that they already have enough brain power to do demanding work;
- Teaching them the strategies for exerting effective effort;
- Getting them to care enough to want to succeed.
This mindset work combines with other policy moves within a school – dealing with tracking, bell-curve beliefs among adults, discipline inequities, and unequal access to advanced classes – to close the achievement gap.
Saphier is particularly interested in how verbal interactions in classrooms can send the right messages to students – for example, the teacher returning to a student who gave a partially correct answer to make sure he or she gets it completely right and sees the teacher as believing that’s an ongoing expectation. “When we add this set of teaching skills to the job definition of teaching,” he says, “and when we build them into teacher training, hiring, induction, evaluation, and continuous development, then we will be well on our way to eliminating the opportunity gap in this country.”
In a sidebar to the article, Saphier lists 50 ways to get students to believe in themselves and take ownership for their learning (summarized from his new book, High-Expectations Teaching, Corwin, 2017):
• Verbal behaviors and teacher choice of language in daily interactions: Calling on students equitably; responding effectively and tenaciously to student answers; giving strategic help; changing attitudes toward errors (persevere and return); giving tasks and assignments; giving feedback according to criteria for success with encouragement and precise diagnostic guidance; framing re-teaching positively; being persistent when students don’t meet expectations, pursuing and continuing to call for high-level performance; pushing back on fixed-mindset language and student helplessness.
• Regular classroom mechanisms for generating student agency: Frequent quizzes and a flow of data to students; students self-correcting and self-scoring; student error analysis; regular re-teaching; required re-takes and re-dos with highest grade given; cooperative learning protocols and teaching of group skills; student feedback to teacher on when the pace of instruction is too fast or they need clarification; reward system for effective effort and gains; structures for extra help.
• Daily instructional strategies for clarity: Communicating objectives in student-friendly language and unpacking them with students; clear and accessible criteria for success, developed with students; exemplars of products that meet criteria for success; checking for understanding; making student thinking visible; frequent student summarizing.
• Explicitly teaching students: Effective effort behaviors; student self-evaluation of effective effort; learning study skills and other strategies of successful students; attribution theory and brain research.
• Opportunities for choice and voice: Students empowered to tell the teacher when they feel they’re being left behind; student-generated questions and constructivist teaching; negotiating the rules of the “classroom game”; teaching students the principles of learning; being sensitive to students’ learning styles; students being able to fulfill requirements in nonstandard ways, proving they are experts in a particular area; culturally relevant teaching and personal relationship building; student-led parent conferences.
• Schoolwide policies and practices: Effective hiring and assigning of teachers; personalizing knowledge of and contact with students; scheduling and grouping for maximum impact on teaching and learning; content-focused teams that examine student work in relation to their teaching; reward system for academic effort and gains; push, support, and extra help for struggling students – a hierarchy of intervention.
• Programs that enable students to value school and form a peer culture that supports academic effort: Quality after-school programs and extracurricular activities; building identity and pride in belonging to the school; creating a vision of a better life attainable through learning the things the school teaches; seeing successful people who look like them and value education; building relations with parents through home visits and focusing on how parents can help their children succeed.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


There are currently no comments posted. Please post one via the form above.