Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy and Your Students: "I Knew You Could Do It!"

Although most teachers are aware of their responsibility to serve as role models, counselors, and advocates, we tend to underestimate the effect that we can have on our students. The reasons for this lie in the daily struggles that happen in classrooms everywhere. We work in a formidable flux of constant decisions, difficult demands, and hard-to-manage problems. With all of these facing us as soon as the bell rings, it's not always easy to remember that your attitude about your students can really change everything.

You have enormous power over the lives of your students. In fact, you can make the children in your classroom into successful students or you can make those same children into failures. Your beliefs about your students create this power in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The self-fulfilling prophecy begins with the expectations you have about your students. These expectations are your unconscious as well as your conscious attitudes about your students’ ability to succeed. You constantly communicate those expectations to your students in many subtle ways such as though your body language, the assignments you make, the language you use, and how much time you spend with individual students.

Because humans tend to behave as they are treated, your students will react to the way that you communicate those expectations to them. If you think highly of your students, they will tend to behave better for you than for the teachers who obviously do not enjoy being with them. If you act with a calm assurance that conveys your belief that the students in your class are capable of good behavior and academic accomplishments then your students are highly likely to behave well and strive for success.

If you doubt this power, consider the alternative. Why would students struggle to learn, to behave, to come to school without a caring adult who appears glad to see them succeed? For some students, a teacher is their only lifeline.

How can you use your expectations to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that can create a classroom climate for success? Every day, you can pass along transmit your belief in the abilities of your students in a variety of ways.
  • Start with assignments that your students can achieve with ease. Success builds upon itself. When students see that they can accomplish what you ask of them, they will want to continue that success.
  • Celebrate often with your students. After all, their successes are your successes.You do not have to dedicate lots of time to formal celebrations. A simple posting or display of good news, a class signal that allows classmates to acknowledge each other in positive way, or a quiet word with individual students will all establish a positive tone.
  • Be as consistent and as fair as you possibly can. Students of all ages are quick to react negatively when they detect even a small hint of suspected unfairness. They will shut down quickly when this happens.
  • Post motivational signs, mottoes, and other messages to encourage students to give their best effort.
  • Reward effort as well as achievement. It is important to make sure your students see the link between success and effort.
  • Create an risk-free environment in which students can risk trying new things without fear of failure or ridicule.
  • Tell your students about your confidence in their ability to succeed. Tell them this over and over.
  •  Teach your students how to set measurable goals and how to achieve them. Model this for students.  Set goals as a class and have students set small daily or weekly goals until it is a habit and part of the culture of your classroom.
  • At the end of class ask students to share what they have learned. Often, they are not aware of how much they have really actually achieved until they have the opportunity to reflect.
  • We all know that open-ended questions and assignments can serve as sparks to deepen critical thinking skills. They can also serve to motivate students to work hard because of their intrinsic interest and risk-free nature. Open-ended questions and assignments are a respectful way to demonstrate your faith in your students' ability to tackle tough work.
  • Teach your students how to handle the failures that everyone experiences from time to time. Help them understand that they can learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes.
  • Formative assessments can be helpful tools for those teachers who want to empower their students to believe in themselves. Use a variety of assessments to help students evaluate their progress and determine what they need to accomplish to finish assignments.


Monday, February 7, 2011

How Well Do You Motivate Your Students?

Here is a quick quiz to test your knowledge of motivational strategies. Since we all need to be sure to include motivational activities into every lesson, it is imperative that we do this as effectively as possible.

Test your knowledge! The answers to this True or False quiz are given at the bottom. And, as always, feel free to leave a comment or suggestion.

1. It’s never too late to attempt to motivate even the most reluctant learners.

2. Students should have plenty of options, even on tests.

3. Grades serve as an important motivational tool for most students.

4. Using a classroom economy of tokens has proved to be a successful motivational tool for many educators.

5. Assignments that involve competition are more effective motivators for male students than assignments that require cooperation or collaboration.

6. It is better to say, “How can I help you?” instead of “You should…” when attempting to motivate students.

7. Using class time to read or do homework is an effective way to motivate students.

8. When students ask for answers to problems or questions during independent practice work, it is okay to give them the correct response.

9. Dealing with student anxiety about how to correctly complete their assignments is one of the most important considerations when attempting to successfully motivate students.

10. Negative comments can often influence motivation in a positive way.

11. Showing models of work done well by their peers can be a powerful motivator for many students.

12. Instructional expectations should become more difficult as the year progresses.

13. Rewarding their effort builds student self-esteem.

14. Calling or emailing a student’s home with positive comments is a good way to get students to do their work.

15. Students tend to perform better with a predictable routine.

16. Many students like to learn just for the pleasure of learning.

17. If their teacher is bored with a subject, then students are likely to be bored also.

18. Extrinsic rewards work well for almost every student.

19. Using food treats as rewards is now regarded with disfavor in many school districts.

20. Younger children are easier to motivate to succeed in school than older ones.

21. A positive relationship with their peers can be a powerful motivational force for many students regardless of their age.

22. It is possible to create a negative environment by praising students too highly.

23. A risk-free classroom is almost impossible to achieve in high school and the middle grades.

24. Girls are easier to motivate than boys.

25. The best way to motivate and challenge students is through a careful combination of a variety of motivational tools.

These statements are all TRUE.

1 It really is never too late to try to make a difference in the life of a student entrusted to your care. If you don’t make the effort, who will?

4 Using tokens in the classroom has proved very successful for some teachers. The best practice would be to use a token economy as a stepping stone into more intrinsic motivation techniques.

6 The difference in tone is the key. One is friendly and helpful. The other is judgmental.

7 While some students enjoy time in class reading or catching up on homework, that time could be better used in more focused instructional activities.

9 Often students will do their work and then not turn it in. Still others will agonize over each problem in an assignment. Make sure students know how to do their work and about how long each activity should take to help reduce anxiety.

11 Models, demonstrations, and examples are all effective ways to make students confident about how to do their work well.

12 Since small successes lead to bigger successes, it only makes sense to make work easier for students to do well at the start of a school term. You can then raise the level of expectation as the year progresses and your students develop and learn new skills.

14 Once students and their families see that it is possible for them to succeed, then they will tend to want to continue to experience that success. It is always a good idea to have the parents and guardians of your students working along with you.

15 Students who know what to do and how to do it well are much more likely to succeed than those who attempt to learn in a chaotic classroom.

17 A caring and enthusiastic teacher is the key to a successful classroom. If you don’t like a topic, you can be sure that your students won’t like it either.

19 With the high levels of childhood obesity, it only makes sense to use other rewards than food to motivate your students.

21 Students who feel that they are a valued part of a group will want to live up to the group’s expectations for success. Try to connect your students to the positive aspects of your class’s culture as often as you can.

22 When students are lavishly praised for things that they should have done well as a matter of routine, their achievement level drops significantly. The impact of sincere praise is immeasurable.

25 There is no magic bullet. A technique that works well for one student may not be effective for others. Good teachers constantly use a wide range of motivational strategies to reach out to every student.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Four Nifty Little Ideas

It is not always easy to find the time to make changes that are not vital to the well-being of our students, but that would still add a bit of fun and motivation to our daily routines. Recently, I was able to find that time in the form of a three day snow event. As a teacher, I love snow days. I’ve always used the gift of unexpected time to recharge and explore new ways to accomplish mundane tasks.

While you may live in a part of the world without snow days, you still have lots of nifty ideas for the little things that can make a big difference in a classroom. From fresh bulletin boards that instruct as well as decorate to ideas to make simple tasks easier, motivational, and just plain fun, please feel free to share your ideas and suggestions.

Here are a few things that I found the time to do during the snow days to make my class just a bit more fun and interesting for my students. I hope the four nifty little ideas can help you and your students!

• To deter students from being tempted to look at each other’s papers during assessments, like many other teachers, I have my students use cover sheets. Instead of the plain recycled paper ones that they had been using, however, I created cover sheets using bright paper, cool clip art, and motivational quotations. It took about thirty minutes and has been worth every second of the trouble. It’s fun to see students read their cover sheets and compare their sheets with a classmate’s.

• I checked out this nifty site in an attempt to find new ways to motivate my students to overcome their learned helplessness: While this site may not appeal to every grade level, it is certainly an idea worth tweaking.

• I also wanted to start the new grading period with a fresh bulletin board or two in place. By using Google’s “Images” search tool, I was able to look at hundreds of photos of classrooms and bulletin boards around the globe. What creativity teachers have! If you would like to give your classroom a midyear spruce up, it’s worth a try.

• My students love to play Free Rice. I’ve challenged my classes to race to donate one million grains of rice. Currently, the donations are going to help Haiti. Playing the games at  is a wonderful way for students with computers to use every minute of class productively. Because I believe in making success visible in a classroom, I used my snow day time to create a giant bar graph for each class. Student captains are responsible for keeping score on their bar graph. Students working together to solve a problem in the world while learning vocabulary words? Worth the energy for sure.