Labelling and notions of fixed ability are prevalent in our education system. From the earliest stages of formal education, teachers are required to make predictions about future development based on present attainment, determining students’ academic ability (Dixon, 2002). In their book, ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’, Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) reported that experimentally created teacher expectations resulted in changed performance on the part of the students. Teachers were told by researchers that one group of students would make significantly more progress than their peers. Despite the fact that these ‘bloomers’ were randomly selected, this group showed greater IQ gains over the course of a year than a group of control students. As Spitz (1999) reminds us, the Pygmalion controversy has extended for three decades, perhaps because it reflects the seemingly indestructible nature/nurture controversy and disputes about the malleability of intelligence.
Although the ‘Pygmalion’ study offers insight into the impact of teacher expectation on students, its central thesis that teacher expectancy raises IQ is problematic, partially because the IQ work of Burt has largely been discredited as a model of ensuring intelligence (Hearnshaw, 1979; Kamin 1974; Joynson, 1989). However, Rosenthal’s work did lead to a plethora of investigations, including Brophy’s (1970) study, finding that teachers’ interactions with pupils maximise the achievement progress of high expectation students, but limit the progress of low expectation students. Similarly, Brattesani, Weinstein and Marshall (1984) claim that teachers’ behaviour communicates their achievement expectations to their students and influences students’ own expectations and achievement.