Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Using Symbols for Praise, Part One

We've spent the last couple of weeks discussing praise.  Praise should not be limited to verbal comments. Sometimes the nonverbal reinforcers, such as a smile or a look, are much more effective. Additionally, students react positively to a symbol.  Karl Kosko, a former math teacher at Sullivan Middle School, found that his students responded to a new “member” of his classroom:

I introduced Pythagorus the Goose [a stuffed animal who] loves math. He likes to watch people who are really working hard on math. So, if a group of students is working hard he might land
and watch them a while. However, if they stop working hard then he might get bored and fly off somewhere else. The reaction today was something one could see. A number of students decided they wanted the goose to come over at their table. Also, the table that ended up with the goose had some of the members encouraging others to keep working so the goose wouldn’t “get bored.”

What a great motivator for his students!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Praising Ability or Effort?

Monday, I talked about the importance of reinforcing effort with students.  I'd like to continue that discussion by focusing on effort vs. ability.  Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller, researchers from Columbia University, found that if students are praised only for their ability (You are so smart!), over time their effort, and their achievement, goes down.  On the other hand, students who are praised for their effort increase their effort, and over time, their achievement goes up.  This doesn't mean you
can't reinforce ability, but don't do so at the expense of praising effort.  I thought about one of my students when I read this research.  She was quite smart, and her parents made that clear to her.  She just assumed that since she was smart, she could do anything without working hard.  One day, she hit a roadblock with an assignment, and because it took extra effort, she gave up.  That's the danger of overpraising ability.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Praising Effort Makes a Difference

A teacher recently asked me, "What should I praise, achievement or effort?"  Realistically, you should praise both, but in appropriate ways.  For example, if you only praise those students who score at a certain point, some students never receive positive attention for their work.  It's important to praise and reinforce quality work, but we do need to consider those who do their best, and still don't "make an A".

I balanced my praise, making sure I always commented on effort, regardless of the grade (even those who score high grades need to be reminded they had to work to make that happen).  Robert Marzano, a well-known researcher, points out that effort can be increased in students if we reinforce it in positive ways.  In other words, students pay attention to what we pay attention to.  What are you reinforcing with your students? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

5 Characteristics of Effective Praise

In the last few posts, we've been talking about creating a climate in your classroom that is motivating.  We've also looked at how negative and positive words make a difference.  Today, let's discuss the role of praise in your classroom.  It's one of the most visible shift you can make in your classroom. However, this doesn’t mean to make random affirmative comments. I was in one classroom where the teacher said, “Good job!” every three seconds. Her students rolled their eyes and made faces each time. Saying good things just to say them is like doing 50 practice problems just so you can say you did them. The kids see right through you. There’s a huge difference between mere catch phrases and true praise.  Effective praise has five characteristics.

Personally meaningful
Respectful of the individual

Think about your praise.  How does it match these characteristics?   

Saturday, April 18, 2015

New Podcast on #Rigor

My newest podcast, Rigor Made Easy, is out.  We talk about the myths of rigor, what rigor really is, how it relates to students with special needs, and what it looks like in the classroom.  My thanks to Dr. Steven Milletto for hosting--I had a great time.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Moving Beyond Negative Language in the Classroom

Last Thursday, I discussed how our language can often be more negative than we realize.  As a follow-up, I wanted to share how I shifted my classroom to a more positive one.  
How do we counter the negativity? It starts by making a choice to change your classroom’s climate. My classroom was a putdown-free zone. No matter what was going on, no one was allowed to use sarcasm or negative comments to put down someone else. The change was amazing. It took a few weeks for everyone to get rid of the habit of using negativity as a communication tool. However, once we removed the negative, the tone of the classroom completely changed. I also became more sensitive to hearing negative comments when I was outside my room. Our society is filled with examples of negativity, some of which supposedly passes for humor. If you don’t agree, pick any popular television show and count the comments. In fact, it’s become so much a part of our lives, we don’t even realize when we say something negative. Make your classroom a putdown-free zone and you’ll be amazed at the difference.
It’s not enough just to remove the negative; that leaves a vacuum. If you don’t fill it with something, the negative will come back. You need to be intentional about modeling a positive attitude, sharing positive comments, and providing positive feedback. Then work to get your students on board with it, too. This is actually the easy part; once you refuse to allow negative comments, they’ll join in.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Importance of Our Words

Whenever I taught adolescent development, I invited
Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, to speak to my students about working with special needs students. Before she comes, they have one assignment: Pick a class (or one block of time) and count the number of positive and negative comments they make. They can make marks on a piece of paper, or they can use two colors of marbles and move them from one pocket to another. The process doesn’t matter as long as the teachers unobtrusively keep a count. When she starts her presentation, she asks them how they felt about the assignment. Most of the teachers say they were surprised; they didn’t realize how many negative comments they say.
Students recognize this far quicker than we do. Read one student’s perspective (http://www.whatkidscando.org): “What’s also discouraging is when people never mention the good things. Instead of saying ‘Our geometry grades are up, we’re sending kids to good colleges and stuff,’ you hear, ‘We only have 90% attendance, which means that 200 of you are absent . . . . . ’ You know, encouragement creates encouragement. What helps is having a powerful and honest leader that we support and who supports us.”
Derwin Gray, former NFL player and founder of One Heart at a Time Ministries (http://www.oneheartatatime. org), explains the impact of negative words. He points out that when we say something negative to another person, it’s like hammering a nail into them. And even when we say we are sorry, which pulls the nail out, it still leaves a hole. Unfortunately, most students leave school each day with many holes in their hearts. Is that true for the students you teach?