Motivating Students: Get them to give more.

Today students took a knowledge-based quiz over basic story elements. The majority of the class scored a perfect 100%. For those who did not, I called the parents and explained exactly what the test was and why anything less than 100% was unacceptable. Those students will retake a different version of the same test next week.

The point of this entry stems from the test. As lame as it sounds, I wanted to do something special for those who did well because, as most teachers can, I was able to predict who would not do well. Because other students were still testing, I quietly rotated through the room with my pen and drew a smiley face on the exposed hand of the students who scored 100%. They didn’t know what it was for, and I just gave them the silent signal when they looked at me confused. Now, you might be wondering how well this went over. First of all, a very wise colleague did this and I took it from her. It was not until I was telling another teacher about this that I gave writing on a student’s hand a second thought. I feel like I have established a solid reputation in the school, and I have had the siblings and cousins of many of these students before. Maybe that is why no one had a problem with it. In fact, the girls were waving their hands about to see the smile in the differerent light because it was — get this — a glitter pen. It was unreal how happy a tiny smiley face made them. I even caught a few of the guys smiling at it. Sure, some just ignored it. But it was worth it to those who felt it mattered.
Anyway, for students who scored a perfect 100%, I also gave their page a giant red stamp reading “100%”. YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE HOW THESE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS FREAKED OUT EXCITED OVER A STAMP! It was the same stamp in mostly the same place. They loved it. They even called me out when one of them noticed I put the stamp in the ink once and stamped two (sometimes three) pages and the ink was faded.

Eventually, the bell rang and students sat there asking about our text. Not a single student stood. I had eye contact. And it was just Tuesday I explained quickly (so as to avoid argumentation) that dismissal was by me and not the bell. I thanked the students for their effort and work, announced that I loved them already, and sent them on their way. It was then that it happened. I heard the one who was supposedly trouble say it: “She ain’t as bad as I thought. I like how she tries to make it fun.”

I have spent the first week trying to show them how awesome class can be, and as I reflected on class today, I wanted to take a moment to track those action steps.

First, I used a selection from “Roughing It” as a text to have the students explain to me why authority was needed. We used a consensus map to create our class wide definition of respect, all signing the document to make a large class poster to hang. Then, I gave very directed expectations for behavior and procedures for classroom actions. I explained the system of postivie and negative consequences. And I demonstrated consistency. When students goofed, I did not send them out. I gave them the look. I gave the hand signal. I spoke to them in the hall. And the one time I thought ot might go astray, I won by calmly whispering a simple sentence: “I respect you too much to address this in front of your classmates. Why don’t you stay after class.” You should try it.

After the set up and behavior aspect, I let them know I hear their opinions. I had each student complete a course evaluation exit ticket to describe actions they hoped I did and did not do, things they needed to do or not to both academically and behaviorally, and their favorite and least favorite type of activity in the classroom. That night, I took every single response and created a powerpoint listing every response to every question whether I thought it was fact or crap. I grouped similar responses on the slide and addressed student concerns in class the next day. There were some laughs and some exhasperated gasps (no, I will not let you get out of writing an essay or doing research), but there were no angry kids. One of the students thanked me for “caring” about their thoughts on how class should go and for explaining why I would not bend on some rules and expectations. You see, not only did I give my list of three key expectations, I gave a list of three non-negotiables. I also gave my three what’s-its for group work.

Key Expecatations:
1. Respect yourself.
2. Respect others.
3. Respect our community.

Non-negotiables:
1. You will not interfere with the rights of another student’s education.
2. You will not interfere with the safety of anyone in the building.
3. You will not be disrespectful.

What’s-Its:
1. All students will be held accountable for individual and group work.
2. Grouping depends on you.
3. Fun depends on you.

During transitions of learning cycles, I have tried to use a variety of engaging activities. Because You see, when you start to recognize trend in student behavior, you can easily pick the moment to do any activity. I’m trying to rotate through with three primary types of brain break activities. Now, I use these activities to serve as the brain break as well as serving to teach students 21st century skills such as how to talk to each other respectfully, how to following increasingly complex directions upon request, and how to use social skills in the real world.
1. Class builders/Team builders. For these, we are doing a musical partner rotation with the good ‘ole fashioned “Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up” method. Students are then practicing the process of an assigned roles partner share guided by my verbal direction. We have learned a lot about each other during this activity. Since I have an odd number, I stepped in to be partners which was a nice change.
2. Physical activity brain breaks. This is something simple like having the students move hands in a very focused method to alter the brain activity for a moment and allow the students time to refocus. (Find some at http://www.emc.cmich.edu/brainbreaks/2005/TOC.htm.) These are great because they literally take less than a minute if you do an individual one, but the students are much more alert after doing it.
3. Video clips. Logic and communication are pretty important in our state, so I have used youtube to create a DVD of commericals I can use in class. Taking less than a minute each, we can quickly watch the video and identify persuasives devices, logical fallacies, and rhetoric on a daily basis. So far we have used funny commercials. In fact, I’m looking forward to the Superbowl so I can get my DVD for the rest of the semester.

During instruction, I have tried to include some form of creative thought or grouping activity in each lesson. This week we used cooperative learning to create Essential Vocabulary Trading Cards. To review the terms for the test I mentioned earlier, students worked with Clock Partners to pick their “best play” cards. After playing, students asked if we could do the same thing again some time. I’m not sure what type of grouping we will do next week to keep them interested as we transition into Writing Basics, our next unit. Any ideas?

Files/Resources Mentioned:
1. Clock Partners can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Clock-Partners-Planned-Random-Grouping-Strategy.
2. The exit ticket survey task can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Student-Course-Evaluation-Form-Exit-Ticket.
3. Essential Vocabulary Trading Cards: Story Elements Edition can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Essential-Vocabulary-Trading-Cards-Activity-Bundle-Story-Elements-Edition.
4. I’m working on finalizing a packet for PD on Grouping and Cooperative Learning. It’s in que.

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