The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

A New Beginning

on April 4, 2019

Although it may not please all readers I must tell you the truth. Right now I am in the process of moving out of my home in Oregon and moving to Philadelphia. PA. Leaving a home that I have lived in, and loved, for thirty years is not easy, but I will spare you the details. Still, I must let you know what is happening to my blog as a result of my moving. I am working every day to clear out my currant house and pack the things I want to take with me.  

As a result, I have very little time now to do anything else, including writing this blog. But in order to keep your attention– and my own sanity–I plan to post things that I wrote and were published before this blog existed. Since I suspect that most of you did not run into them, — or have forgotten them,– I plan to post several here–starting today–and continuing until I am able to write pieces and post them in my new home. I hope that’ll be no more than one month in the future. Start counting!

But do they understand the research, or know what successful schools really do? The original research on teacher expectations tells a far different story from what today’s reformers are calling for. More than forty years ago, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment in a California elementary school that produced what they called, in a reference to Greek mythology and G Bernard Shaw’s famous play, the “Pygmalion Effect”: the amazing transformation of an ordinary person into someone special. In their book, “Pygmalian in the Classroom”, they described the study in detail and interpreted its lessons for education and other human interactions. 

High expectations is the mantra of today’s school reformers, who are convinced that the trouble with public education is that students have been allowed to slide by with little effort. Their version of high expectations is requiring college-preparatory courses, advanced subject matter, more difficult assignments, and a longer school day and year for all students. They believe that research and the records of selected schools show that demanding more of students brings the desired results. 

The experiment consisted of giving false information to teachers about their students and then sitting back to see what happened. On the pretext of testing the reliability of a newly developed test to predict future student achievement, the researchers administrated a traditional IQ test to all students at the beginning of the school year. Afterward, they reported to teachers, based supposedly on the tests, the names of students who were about to have a spurt in academic performance. 

In reality, those students were a randomly selected percentage of the student body, and their scores showed nothing but their current IQs. At the end of the year, and again two years later, all students were retested, and the results showed that a significant number of the identified “spurters” had in fact made unusual intellectual and performance gains and maintained them over time. Teachers’ grades and written reports also recorded marked improvement in learning and behavior for most of the students.

Although the researchers did not examine what happened in classrooms that year, teachers’ written reports were clear about what did not happen; no extra time, no advanced curriculum, no individual tutoring, no differentiated instruction or assignments.

Rosenthal and Jacobson speculated that what teachers gave their spurters–but not their other students–were unmistakable signals of their faith in them: smiles, nods of approval, more opportunities to ask and answer questions, and a kindly tone of voice. Teachers’ expectations of student success, and their unconscious communication of those expectations, made all the difference.

In its time, this study, along with its replications in three other schools and similar behavioral studies, garnered widespread and authoritative attention. Although there was some criticism of methodology and score interpretation, critics did not contest the researchers’ conclusion that the expectations in teachers’ minds were the determining factor in the success of the identified children.

Now, more than 40 years later, the reality of the “Pygmalion effect” stands unrefuted by further research, while it is supported by considerable evidence from classrooms where poor and minority children have made great strides in their learning because their teachers believed they would. It is also supported by countless stories of successful people who were struggling in school and life until some adult–a teacher, a boss, a family friend–saw something special in them and encouraged them to make the most of it.

Please ignore the message below; I have tried to remove it, but failed.


4 responses to “A New Beginning

  1. bellairsd says:

    Rosenthal is my True North and the Pygmalion Effect is the single most important concept in education–frequently ignored by teachers and administrators because it diminishes the stature of the privileged kids. Portland’s loss is Philly’s gain. I first learned about you when I was on the East Coast. You have fans there. Peace and good travels.


  2. Helen Kapner says:

    Good article

    On Thu, Apr 4, 2019, 12:44 PM The Treasure Hunter writerjoney posted: ” Although it may not please all readers I must tell > you the truth. Right now I am in the process of moving out of my home in > Portland, Oregon and moving to Philadelphia. Leaving a home that I have > lived in and loved for thirty years is not easy, but I wil” >


  3. Kathleen Hagans Jeskey says:

    Joanne you will be very much missed in Portland. I hope good things await you in PA. They are lucky to get you and I will continue to follow your blog from afar!


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