Make sure your students know what you’re asking them to do!

Before students can begin to feel confident that they are capable of meeting our expectations, they have to be clear about just what those expectations are.

Imagine visiting an archery range while blindfolded. How confident would you feel that you could hit the target if you couldn’t see it? Probably not very.

The same is true for our students. If they can’t see the target they are aiming at—in other words, our expectations for them—how can we expect them to have confidence in their ability to hit the mark?

Here are three ways to make sure your students can aim for a bullseye, every time!


1. Use Can-Do Sheets


For each unit you teach, break your 3-5 overarching learning objectives down into a list of 15-16 specific, tangible things your students will be able to do by the end of the unit. Give the list to your students on day one.

Students can use the sheet to track their progress towards these goals throughout the unit. I’ve found it helpful to add the “can-do” we are working on to the top of any worksheets I create, so that my students know exactly how each activity is helping them make progress towards their goals.

And the best part? The emphasis on what your students can do will help boost their confidence, as they’ll see all they are capable of right there in black and white!

Image for Strategy 2: Use Transparent Assignment Design

2. Use Transparent Assignment Design

Confusion about our expectations can be a major source of anxiety for students, and we might not always be aware of what they will find confusing.

Remember, we have years of practice and training, so there are many things that we do almost by instinct at this point, but this might be the very first time a student has encountered a particular skill or been asked to complete a certain task.

The principle behind transparent assignment design is that for each assignment we ask students to complete, we should provide them with explicit, detailed instructions that explain what to do (the task), why you are giving them the assignment (the purpose), and how they should complete the task (the criteria).

When students know exactly what we expect of them, it will be easier for them to have confidence in their work.

For more information on transparent assignment design, see the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) project. (Note: This website is aimed at those working in higher education, but the principles of transparent assignment design can help set students up for success at all educational levels.)

Image for Strategy 3: Provide Models of Student Work

3. Provide Models of Student Work

Another way to clarify our expectations is to provide annotated examples of completed assignments. This can help make both the directions and the assessment criteria more tangible for students.

I suggest providing at least three examples for each assignment: one that meets expectations, one that goes above and beyond, and one that doesn’t meet the expectations… yet.

Of course, we can’t assume students will understand why a sample would fall into one category or the other, even if it seems blatantly obvious to us. This is why I recommend annotating the examples. Point out exactly what a student has done that meets, exceeds, or falls short of your expectations.

(Note: You might want to create fake examples of student work instead of using actual samples, especially to model different ways in which an assignment could fall short of meeting the standards.)

Which of these strategies for clearly communicating your expectations have you used already? What will you try going forward?

Have any great ideas to add? Let me know in the comments!

Don't Miss the rest of this series!


This post wraps up our series on boosting student confidence in the classroom. I hope it has been helpful and has you excited to help your students realize how much they are capable of!

If you missed the earlier posts in the series, go back to read my overview on boosting student confidence, including the self-reflection we should all start with. Then read the rest of the series, full of specific tips and advice!

6 Strategies for Creating a Comfortable Classroom Environment

5 Ways to Develop Relationships in Your Classroom

6 Ways to Set Your Students Up for Success

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