Good Questions: How do you motivate students?

I was recently asked how I motivate my students.  Immediately, I thought, what don’t I do to motivate students?  I do everything short of standing on my head… no, wait a minute — I do that too, along with cartwheels, Captain’s Coming, Indian dances, and “old school” 4-Square.

Motivating students is at the very heart of being an effective teacher.  It’s a huge topic that encompasses just about everything we do, so let’s break it down. Continue reading

When Kids Make Mistakes

I noticed the doodle around 9:30.  Three big rings of pencil on one of the kids’ tables that weren’t there when school started an hour ago.  I had one student who sat at that table and had been having a tough time that morning, so I figured it might have been him.  Another teacher who works in my classroom asked him if he had made the marks, and he said no.

When I think back to being a kid, I have sharp memories just like this.  Of times when I was accused of something and, on impulse, lied.  That first denial, that tiniest, littlest lie, slips out so quickly.  And before you know it, you’ve planted your feet on the ground.  You’ve told a lie, and now you have to stick by it or else be found out as the person who did the wrong thing and then lied about it. Continue reading

Why It’s Important to Apologize to Children

It happens to the best of us.  You are normally a very patient person.  Your classroom is a joyful, well structured place where the room hums with happy learning.  But today has been a long day.  Today, your normal strategies haven’t worked.  Perhaps all your children stayed up late to watch the Red Sox game and they brought Halloween candy for snack.  Or you have a cold and your head pounds and your throat hurts, and you’ve been interrupted One. Too. Many. Times.

And if you’ve never felt this way, you’ve never been an elementary school teacher.  Simple as that.  So if you are reading this on one of those days, you are in good company.  It’s gonna be ok. Continue reading

Cognitive Psychology in the Elementary Classroom

My husband Kevin has read (and improved) almost everything I’ve written in the past 15 years.  After my last post about behavior plans, which he liked very much, he had three observations: (1) I should write about the love of learning kids experience in my room, (2) teachers are surprisingly manipulative, and (3) the posts I’ve been writing are mostly about behaviorism.

To the first point: Kevin’s right.  Posts about freedom, inspiration, and love of learning coming soon!

To the second point, about manipulation: what an interesting way to put it.  Good teachers build strong bonds with their kids, develop trust, and define clear expectations and boundaries.  Do I use those strong bonds to make kids work harder than they would on their own?  Of course!  I use all the resources I have to make them want to do what I (and their parents, our district, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) want them to do.  And is that manipulation?  I suppose so, but another way to put it is that it’s an effective use of influence and motivation, always in the service of student learning and growth.  I have more thoughts on this.  Another future post!

It’s Kevin’s last (excellent) point about behaviorism that I want to write about today. Continue reading

Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 2

This is the second part of my two-part answer to Christine’s question about behavior plans and rewards.  Part 1 discussed whole-class reward systems, and now we’re on to individual behavior plans.

I use behavior plans frequently, starting around the second week of school.  Today, I’ll share three variations, but each of the plans I use is designed to do the same thing: to help students make better choices in the classroom.  Each individual student’s goals are different, but might be to focus better, to put more effective effort into their work, to work cooperatively with classmates, or to follow certain norms for classroom behavior. Continue reading