Praising Students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade

“Rosa has lined up so respectfully for recess.”  “Wow, Ethan is managing his time so well by checking the instructions.” “Check out how Candice has taken the time to carefully revise her piece before publishing.”  Here are 13 reasons–one per grade–to make positive praise one of your most valuable teaching tools.


Kindergarten: Motivate students by attaching their names to something positive.

Don’t we all hope for a little validation for our hard work?  School is a full-time job for students, too, and even your kindergarteners value recognition for their efforts.  “I see Kate waiting her turn to get a drink at the fountain,” goes a long way for a five year-old working on patience.

1st Grade: Highlight those who make appropriate choices.

This is not to be confused with grooming a flock of “teacher’s pets,” especially since that usually involves recognizing a select few.  Teachers should make it a priority to frequently catch all their first graders making good choices.  “I notice David found a great place to read his book,” conveys to the rest of the class what you value.

Helpful starting tip: use a blank class list to actually tally your positive feedback.  Not only will this help you develop awareness of how frequently you praise certain students, it will also help you notice how frequently you issue praise in general.

2nd Grade: Eradicate the common habit of focusing on those making inappropriate choices.

Since mischievous 2nd graders tend to stand out, this is much more difficult than it sounds. Next time you notice an off-task student, instead of going straight for direct reprimands, try praising a student within his or her proximity who is following instructions.  “I appreciate how respectfully John is raising his hand to share his ideas” gives effective feedback both to John and to a classmate who has shouted out, while placing the positive attention on the student making better choices.

Note: We absolutely believe that constructive criticism has its place; however, we contend it should be a secondary strategy–not your primary one.

3rd Grade: Teach students about the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Perhaps you have set up some kind of extrinsic motivation system in your classroom, such as earning classroom “money” for positive behavior.  Especially when used intermittently, this can be a valuable classroom tool.  However, imagine a statement such as, “I’m impressed that Johnny didn’t even need to earn a bonus to push in his chair.  He has become a responsible enough 3rd grader that he knows how to take care of our classroom without any extra reward.”  There is clear potential there for shaping a student’s desire for self-development, rather than always depending on tangible rewards.

4th Grade: Reinforce your instructions.

It’s exhausting to repeat yourself to inattentive students. Instead, picture this scenario.  As you discuss with your 4th graders the procedure for your latest science inquiry experiment, you jot each step on the whiteboard.  Then, as soon as students begin, flood the transition with simple, out-loud observations of those double-checking those procedures, such as “I see Kalli quickly gathering her supplies as we discussed for step 1,” or “Paul is double-checking step 3 on the board before he proceeds.”

The point: Proper instructions get reinforced, you don’t feel like a nag, and students who follow instructions get some recognition.  Win-win-win.

5th Grade: Reinforce your expectations.

As your fifth graders have generally become quite familiar with one another through their primary years, they often become quite social–which adds both liveliness and challenges to your classroom management approach.  Proactively reinforcing the appropriate times and contexts for socializing may keep the school year running more smoothly.  Some examples of this kind of feedback: “I see Marta respectfully listening to her group member, waiting to contribute her ideas until it’s her turn” or “Joseph wisely chose not to stand by his best buddies in line so he won’t be tempted to chat as we walk down the halls to lunch.”

Chris Suderman
Chris Suderman
6th Grade: Encourage specific growth.

Each year, my feedback tends to center around one idea or theme.  Some have included:

  • Make life easier for others.
  • Say no to distractions. (Inspired by Steve Jobs quote.)
  • You may solve your problems in ways that aren’t problematic for yourself or others.

These themes arose from the opportunities for growth I observed in each class collectively, and I voiced them every single day through my specific positive praise.  “Nancy made Jim’s life easier by stacking his chair when she saw he was busy at the end of the day.” “Robert is saying no to distractions by putting away his pencil during instructions.”  “Cindy solved her problem of losing her permission slip by making a new one for her parents to sign.”  My fifth graders became so familiar with it that they started using similar language in their own conversations.  Daily illustrating what it looked, felt, and sounded like through positive praise had a much more lasting impact than an individual lesson might have had.

7th Grade: Give reminders to off-task students without confrontation.

By 7th grade, most students “catch on,” often manifested by eye-rolling.  A strategy that involves reminding students of appropriate behavior without direct confrontation may be the very tool you need that will preempt power struggles throughout the year.

8th Grade: Build rapport with students.

By 8th grade, overt teacher praise is often officially “uncool.” Depending on the student, you may actually push away certain students if they feel overly recognized.  But as you gear your positive praise toward a more one-on-one level, it can still have a powerful role in building your relationships with students as they sense you respect them as mature young adults.  For instance, you may pull aside a student for this kind of feedback: “I could tell you dedicated some thoughtful reflection in your essay; I have other students that don’t yet understand what that kind of serious reflecting looks like, so I was wondering if you’d mind my sharing it with the class?  I can keep your name anonymous if you would prefer.”

9th Grade: Align your practices with research.

At Purdue University, the Department of Child Development and Family Studies discussed John Gottman’s positive to negative feedback ratio.  According to his research, marriage relationships thrive when that ratio is balanced at 5:1.¹  This research is reinforced in the classroom by numerous additional studies which find that “the use of contingent, behavior-specific praise has been linked to positive student outcomes, including increased student academic engagement and decreased disruptive behavior.”²  We simply must have a greater number of positive interactions with our students than negative.

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www.audio-luci-store.it via Flickr
10th Grade: Let the modeling of quality thinking and choices come from students’ peers.

21st Century learning and teaching is defined by a technology-facilitated shift: from teachers as sources of knowledge, to guides who coach students to assess and evaluate the knowledge now at all our fingertips.  Embrace this shift by allowing student peers’ work to be the model wherever possible.  Supporting the philosophy that quality ideas can come from anyone–instead of just one wisened individual–is both empowering and realistic in this modern age of collaboration.  For example: “Check out how Lucas is approaching this algorithm.  How can that strategy be helpful for some individuals?”

11th Grade: Encourage students to make better use of their resources.

Let’s say you put some dictionaries in your classroom (or the link to dictionary.com on your class blog homepage), hoping that will help eradicate spelling errors.  Maybe you even give your students a mini-lesson on how to look up words in the dictionary for spelling aid.  However, none of your best efforts will encourage students to utilize that resource as well as praising a student who does so.

12th Grade: Cultivate a growth mindset.

The way we praise students has a greater impact on their development than we may realize.  A motivation researcher at Stanford, Carol Dweck, has addressed the terms, fixed mindset and growth mindset.³  Students who receive praise that focuses on innate ability (“You got 100%–you’re so smart at math!”) develop a fixed mindset–instilling perfectionism, fear of failure, and belief that ability is static.  When the praise centers around effort (“You got 100%–you must have worked so hard!”), students develop a growth mindset–leading to courage, perseverance, and belief that ability is malleable.  See an inspiring video on this subject by Khan Academy below.

Sources:
  1. Poulson, Shruti S. (March 2008). A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship. Purdue Extension, CFS-744-W. Retrieved from https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-744-W.pdf.
  2. Rodriguez, Billie J. and Sprick, Randy. Why a Positive Approach to Behavior? A Research Summary. Randy Sprick’s Safe and Civil Schools. Retrieved from http://www.safeandcivilschools.com/research/references/positive-approach-to-behavior.pdf.
  3. Dweck, Carol S. (January 2010). Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. Principal Leadership. Retrieved from  https://www.nassp.org/portals/0/content/61209.pdf.
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10 Tips for Teacher Organization

With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder.  Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!


#1: Get Rid of Your Desk

Karen Cardoza
Karen Cardoza

For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day.  If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead.  Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart.  Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!

#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)

Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students.  Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.

#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet

Jodimichelle
Jodimichelle

While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous.  Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away.  Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it!  Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer.  This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!

#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files

If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs!  Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills.  Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!

#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More

Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom.  CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.

#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork

Dazed81
Dazed81

Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms.  Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box.  You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!

#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You

Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)!  Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs.  Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!

#8: Adopt Google Drive

Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive!  Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage!  Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues.  Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!

#9: Enlist Student Help

Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization!  Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!

#10: Make a Display Wall

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Ali Edwards

This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards.  Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces.  If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!

What about you?  Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized?  Please share in the comments!

Photo Credits:

 

The Power of a Class Meeting

Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too.  It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!


5 Benefits

#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure.  This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning.  We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do.  Class meetings are a perfect way to do so!  Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.

#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.

In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships.  However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be!  Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness.  Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.

#3: Social Skills.

Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment.  As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!

#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
DoremiGirl
DoremiGirl

This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom.  On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle.  Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’”  This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year.  As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:

  • To make others’ lives easier
  • To learn
  • To become a better person
  • To show kindness
  • To provide a good reputation for our class
#5: Democratic Decision-Making = Increased Student Ownership & Voice.

No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students.  From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook.  When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person.  While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!

5 Set-Up Tips

#1: Establish rules and routines first!

No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations.  To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings.  Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder.  Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!

#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”

“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)

Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).

#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.

Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly.  We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc.  Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!

#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.

If it matters to your students, it should matter to you!  Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes.  If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!

#5: Allow Flexibility.

During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt.  We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.

Photo Credit:
Britt-knee (featured image)
DoremiGirl

Sources:
Winters. A. https://www.heartland.edu/documents/idc/talkingCircleClassroom.pdf

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: 17 Practical Application Ideas

https://honorsgradu.com/intrinsic-vs-extrinsic-motivation-17-practical-application-ideas/

As teachers, we have heard the dialogue on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, and the importance of instilling authentic passion for learning.  But in a day of real-life frustrations and desperation for student cooperation, where is the realistic balance as we apply this important classroom management principle?

Continue reading “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: 17 Practical Application Ideas”

Avoiding Power Struggles With Students

Those over at the National Education Association recently posted an article on how teachers can avoid conflicts with their students by decreasing power struggles. We take their advice and add our own thoughts below:


I think we’ve all either been the problem student or had to deal (directly or indirectly) with the problem students. We’ve all seen how teachers react, and learned which reactions deal with the students poorly; but how can teachers react to problem students in a way that uplifts, inspires, and corrects?

The tips the NEA gives are broken up into Dos and Don’ts. As we go through their list of just the dos (let’s focus on the positives), we’ll add explanations and illustrations.

Do:

Engage students from the beginning by providing a “hook” to keep them interested.

According to a Dr. Robert Feller of the University of Washington, helping students stay interested decreases potential disruptions. Retired teacher LaNelle Holland said:

Attention grabbers may be used to provoke thought, facilitate active learning, or just share experiences.

Some ideas for hooks/attention grabbers:

Try to understand a student’s personal/home life.

Another retired teacher, Diane Postman, suggests that being able to connect with a student on a personal level can help a teacher make “allowances or adaptations” to fit the individual needs of the student. This can create trust between a student and their teacher, which is likely to ward off disruptive behaviors. On the topic of creating trust with students, Ben Johnson, who is a superintendent in Texas, had this to say:

We earn our students’ trust by showing them respect in the form of meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning activities that are worthy of their time and best efforts.

Students in their early years of school are naturally trusting, and — please don’t take this the wrong way — we abuse that trust in the name of socialization and classroom management. In essence, we teach them to obey rather than to explore. As students get older, they often trust less and start behaving…like our…suspicious visitor. Most will take what we offer but will not allow a learning partnership.

Trust works the other way, too. As teachers, we have learned to distrust our students. All it takes is one disruptive young person to ruin it for the rest of the students that follow. We don’t want to get burned again, so we tighten the rules and narrow the focus. We develop an attitude that we can’t trust our students to learn independently. Especially in the early grades, we feel it is our responsibility to control every aspect of their learning activities so things don’t get out of hand, or so they don’t make a mess. [1]

Turn the misbehavior into a teaching moment.

Taking time to immediately stop the confrontation is key. Showing the student in a polite manner that conflicts can be stopped before they escalate shows them an example of handling a situation in an adult manner; however, you don’t want the student to feel unheard, so in some cases is might be appropriate to set up a time to meet with the student privately to discuss the behavioral problem, such as after the period is over. To continue the trust you’re hoping to build with the student, remaining respectful is of utmost importance.

Frank Iannucci, a math and computer science teacher from West Orange, New Jersey, says teachers should immediately stop the confrontation and arrange to discuss it with the student in a mature, adult manner, regardless of the age of the student, after the period.

The most important thing is to be respectful and gain respect from love not fear! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you guys soon!

Featured Image: U.S. Department of Education