I’ve blogged and tweeted lots of complaints and requests for feedback and suggestions and I promise you all that I have been listening – and here’s some proof!
These are some things that are really making a difference in my classroom:
1. Thanks to Serafina I’ve begun to greet students at the door. Our classroom is in a cave-ish corner on the 9th floor and I’ve been positioning myself before the curve that leads into the classroom. Saying hi, what’s up, how are you, to students by name before they come in the classroom has given me a HUGE advantage. Not only have I been receiving tons of high fives and exploding fist pounds (those are good things) but kids are cheerfully shouting what-up to me down the hall. I’ve also been listening to their responses as suggested and when a student says they’re not doing well I don’t give them a hard time at the beginning of class and try to one-on-one ask them if I can do anything later. This way I’m not shouting, embarrassing, or making someones day worse from the get-go.
2. Saying thank you, for lots of things. I’m not sure who suggested this so if this was from one of you I’ll happily say so! When that one student gets working right away or takes out his notebook and homework I always say loudly, “Thank you so-and-so” sometimes I’ll be corny and add in “for being a leader in getting class started.” Then when another student sees or hears me and they get it out I acknowledge them with thank-you’s as well. This usually expedites the process considerably (I find this way more effective than focusing on the 19 kids who are still talking and not doing what I want and it usually gets them where I want them faster in a more positive way). I also say thank you when a student participates in any way, either by answering my question (right or wrong), coming up to the board to show some work, reading a problem aloud, etc. I give public credit. The cool thing about this is usually my quiet kids are the ones who get started first, so they get thank you’s for that and the loud ones get thank you’s for the other types of participation. All-in-all there are a lot of thank you’s. I try not to over do it either but only give them in a meaningful way but I always have lots of opportunities for the students to do work that I’m thankful for.
3. A warm-up. Holy shit, lifesaver. I’ve talked a lot about structure, routine, lateness and expectations before and this do-now stuff is HELPING. This first day didn’t work and so I had to go tough on day 2 and since then its been kinda breezy. Day 2 I announced about 15 times “I will be collecting this. This will be for a grade. You have 3 more minutes.” No one was listening, no one was on time, no one was doing their work. When the time ran out (I even gave 5 minutes!) I said, “Pass it forward – grade or no grade.” Kids were PISSED, “What? You didn’t say? I need more time! My notes are on the back!” All sorts of things. They just didn’t listen but it hasn’t happened again. The next day I said the same thing and students got to work faster, this time believing I would take it from them they completed it on a blank sheet. This has changed the entire way the classroom is run in my (previously) most challenging class. Since they start doing work individually from the beginning it creates a much better working environment for the rest of the period. This week I decided to make a warm-up sheet for them to complete and hand-in/get back each day. I’ve been feeling guilty taking their notebook paper so this week I will collect each day and hopefully next week or the week after they will be responsible enough to keep track of it until the end of the week if that’s what I prefer (still thinking).
4. Gold stars. It’s strange but I give out imaginary gold stars (another form of a thank-you I suppose). Some kids really get into these invisible treats and claim they’ve hacked my system and stolen the chart and emptied my stash etc. We have some back and forth (hey maybe I can get some RSA encryption number theory plugs in to safe guard my imaginary gold star bank). But anyway my co-op really liked the idea and one day showed up from his lunch break with a packet of real sticker stars! We put them on all the tests that earned As and the kids loved it. The only bummer was not a ton of kids (besides the honors of course) got As. So maybe one day I’ll collect classwork and return with gold stars. I don’t want to hand out too many but I also want everyone to get one because they really seem to like it (in small non-kindergarten childish doses, so sarcasm is necessary for its success).
There are a lot of other little things that are making big differences such as changing the type of instruction from day-to-day (guided notes, classwork, textbook, activity, having students solve problems on the board, etc.) However I really wanted to focus on the success of these positive strategies and how they are contributing to building relationships with my students!!