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Finding the Carrot

I've taught many grades.  I've had a lot of students.  I've had my share of challenging students.  As different as they all are, I've found one thing in common.  They all want something. 

Some children only want to be noticed.  Luckily, there are many students who want to do the right thing.  Some want to have fun.  Some want to do nothing.  Some want to antagonize their teacher.  In many ways teaching is all about finding that thing they want.  It's about finding that thing that will motivate them.  It's about finding the carrot to dangle.

I really learned this lesson many years ago when I was a young teacher who would do anything for some work experience to get me closer to a real job.  Although most of my training and experience was in the early childhood years, I took a job teaching Language Arts in a summer school program with 8th graders.  I was so very much out of my league, but it didn't take me long to figure out what these kids wanted.  They wanted to pass my class so they could move onto High School.

It was a shock for the boys.  (Yes, it was a group of 8 boys.)  Everyone was taller than I was, and they were certainly tough kids.  They thought all they had to do was show up for the class.  They were quite shocked to find out that they actually had to do work and participate in class!  But I frequently reminded them that they were expected to do the work I gave them, and reluctantly, they did it.  After a while they softened a little and almost started to enjoy themselves. 

The second graders I've had these past few years have been somewhat easier to please.  The thing that works for most of them:  beanie babies!  I have a huge collection of them, and if someone does something well, they get to keep a beanie on their desk for the rest of the day. 

It all started a few years back in a moment of desperation.  I had several beanies around the room as decorations.  The class was restless that day, and I was searching for someone who was doing things right and a way to reward that student.  Finally I found a kid who was focused and working, so I grabbed one of the beanies and plopped it on the student's desk.  That child was so thrilled, that I managed to find a few others who "got the hint" and started to work, so I put beanies on their desks, too.  It was such a hit that I kept it going and it still goes on today.

Sure, the kids want to play with the beanies.  I often remind them, if they play with it, they lose it.  ("It's not a toy, it's a tool to remind you to be good.")  And I have to take them every so often to the laundromat for their "bath".  But it's been a hit.

Who wouldn't want an adorable little beanie on their desk to keep them company?

Giving Feedback

I find it is important to give honest feedback to children.  I won't tell a child he's doing a good job, unless I honestly feel it is a good job.  I tell the truth.

I choose to be honest with children.  They know how they're doing.  If they're not putting in much effort, and you tell them they're doing a good job, isn't that giving them the wrong message?  Isn't that telling them they don't need to try?

I've often found the best way to build self esteem is to give opportunities for the child to work.  I'm sure most people, after completing a very difficult project, are beaming with pride.  I remember caressing the cover of certain reports in college, simply because it was the result of a whole lot of hard work, and I felt proud that it was completed.

In every day work, I use a simple system.  Since I work with young ones, they need feedback within a day if possible.  Since many are non readers or beginning readers, I need to make it simple to understand.  I use highlighters and a traffic light system.

I'll highlight the child's name in one of these colors:

Green:  Go!  You're doing just what's expected of a second grader.

Yellow:  Caution:  there are some things you need to be careful about

Red:  Stop!  There's a problem here.

There is one more color I use:  purple.  Purple means "above and beyond the expectations of a second grader."  Purple means they are royalty.

I'm very stingy with purple.  They really have to go "above and beyond" to get it.  And they should be extremely proud when they earn it.

These are the papers I usually show off to the whole class.  Not only do they get the feedback they need, they are now role models for the others.  (Of course, it doesn't hurt that I bow to them, and refer to them as "kings and queens".)

And what about the kids who gets yellow or red?  Does this destroy their self esteem?  Of course not!  They know that if they didn't put in any effort, they won't get much in return.  They also know if they don't like what they got, they have the power to change that.  I often remind them:  when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

How do you give feedback?

Speaking of Heroes

I had the most incredible morning. The town where I grew up dedicated a road in the name of my dad. 

My dad was a legendary football coach and Phys. Ed. director in my home town. He not only coached many successful seasons, he established a sports program in the town which has been in place since 1953. 

As I walked from my car to the spot for the ceremony, I noticed several sports teams playing on different parts of the field, cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the upcoming game, and an impromptu basketball game. There were signs and banners rooting for the home team. 

I realized, this scene was very similar to the scene I would have seen 40 years ago when I was one of those cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the game. This was the program my dad established all those many years ago. 

Several people spoke about the strong influence he had on the town's sports program, and quoted his incredible record. Former players and colleagues spoke of the way he had with his football players, and called him a great motivator. He truly coached the kids on and off the field. One of his favorite sayings came out today:  "I can, and I will!"

The program ended with my brother unveiling the new street sign.  We all posed for pictures under the sign, and talked to people we hadn't seen in a very long time.  Somehow I managed to keep from crying during the ceremony, but I did shed a few on the car ride home.

It's hard to believe that I could have a lot in common with a man who coached football. Me, with zilch athletic ability.  Me, who prefers to sing or tap dance or teach small children.

But we both have a common theme:  We both would do everything within our power to get young people to be the best that they can be.  We are both motivators.  We are both passionate people who care about kids being successful.  The man has been gone for 9 years, and yet he is with me every day.  He is my hero.

How appropriate for this weekend, the 10th anniversary of 9-11.  A time to celebrate the heroes in our lives.  We certainly celebrated a hero today!

Who is your hero?

Some links:
Bondelevitch Way Open for Travel

Big Blue Football Continues the Bondelevitch Winning Way

David Bondelevitch's blog: I Can and I Will

David Bondelevitch's blog:  Father's Day



Here's my dad (center) with his staff and captains back in the early 1970s.



Celebrate Heroes

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!
We had a great lesson today.   My alternative to a full fledged "9-11" Lesson turned into a lesson on heroes, and it couldn't have been more successful!

I modeled looking up the word heroes in 3 different dictionaries and led a delightful discussion on what heroes are and what heroes aren't.  The best "child friendly" definition came from Macmillian First Dictionary (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990)  Here it is:

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!
A hero is someone we think of as special because of the good or brave things that person has done.

We discussed what heroes are and why they're not superheroes. We talked about heroes in our families, in our school, and in our town.  Then I told them about my hero, my dad.  I told them why he's my hero.  (because he taught me to inspire kids to be the best they can be.)  I told them to think about who their own hero might be, and why that person fits the definition of hero.

While they were at lunch, I typed up Heros Writing Prompt, available here (or click the image) for free!  It has the child friendly definition of heroes, and a lead for the children to write about their heroes.  When writing time came, they were ready to write.  This was the most focused I'd seen this group of children yet this year.  They were so focused, that I actually had a chance to sit down with the children and write about my dad.  We ended up with a variety of heroes.  Lots of moms and dads, but children also picked neighbors, siblings, teachers, and, of course, firefighters and police officers.  Some of their explanations were quite touching!  It was the first time we had enough writing for a sharing session, and the children were truly interested in each others' work.   I was quite proud of them!

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!

American Heroes

I've decided what I'm going to do with my second graders to honor September 11th. I feel that the 10 year anniversary is far too important to ignore, but I'm concerned about sharing such painful events with young children.

Since they're way too young to discuss such frightening events that took place 10 years ago, I've decided to focus on heroes. 

The dictionary defines "hero" as "a person who is admired for courage or noble qualities" or "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities"

Of course, technically "hero" is the male form of this person and "heroine" is the female form. We'll simplify things for my little ones by using the male form for both genders.

We might even bring up that the word hero also can describe a main character of a story. 

We'll have a discussion about what that means, and name some heroes in our school, community, and country. Then we'll do some pictures of the heroes in our lives while listening to patriotic music.

I'll probably cry. Patriotic music does that to me. 

Things I Say Over and Over

There are some phrases that I say over and over.  It gets to the point where the kids say these phrases along with me.
"When I'm done talking not before..."

"... in two shakes of a lamb's tail...

"turn and talk to your partner"

"We don't save places in line."

"Take a bow."

"Take a beanie."

"It's good to see you today."

"Your desk should look like ____'s."

"A wrong answer is better than no answer, because wrong answer means you tried."

"A mistake helps you learn.  That's how I got so smart."

"Thanks for making that mistake.  You helped us all learn."

"Thanks for bringing that to our attention."

"That's a great question."

"Exercise is good for the brain."

"It helps the brain remember if you...."

"As long as you do your best to learn, I'll do my best to make it fun."

I could go on and on, but I won't.  What phrases do you repeat a lot?
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