Saturday, 28 January 2012

Praise just isn't good enough!

As G&T co-ordinator at my school, I've really become aware of the negative impacts of praise and effort grades. Talking to students, sat in front of me with a report displaying a row of gleaming 'Excellent's for effort, I found myself asking them if they felt the same. Most of them simply replied that they did the work, met deadlines, but didn't really consider their effort to be anything out of the ordinary.

So what effect does this have? If we are teaching students that cruise along at GCSE getting As and Bs that their effort is 'Excellent', or even 'Good' then what happens when it gets hard? It's something we really struggle with when students have to suddenly become independent at AS/ A2 and actually put a bit of effort in to get a good grade. Let's face it GCSEs are easy for some people.

If you just say, 'Well done!' to a kid, do they really know what they have done well, or do we leave them to work that out for themselves? Certainly that is the problem with simply rewarding attainment without identifying specifically what worked (and what didn't). It also is a little ridiculous to reward effort - how can you judge someone else's effort accurately? Obviously if they haven't done the work then that's a bit of a giveaway, but 3 paragraphs could be the end result of drafting, crafting, changing and improving, or 10 mins on the bus with a borrowed biro and a hangover!

I reminded myself of something that really works this week when I had to deliver a training session to new staff: 5 star praise. Not my idea, but something I've stolen from a management training book I found on my Dad's bookshelf a few years back: The Mind Gym*.

The five stars are:

  • Context
  • Explain what specifically went well
  • Describe the impact it had
  • Reinforce their identity
  • Congratulate

(Should have a snappy mnemonic to remember it by in the tradition of all good teachers; 'Cedric' doesn't quite do it for me!)

Most praise in my experience seems to stop short at 'congratulate'. If you want the behaviour repeated, however, don't leave them to work out for themselves what that behaviour is.

Academic example:
In your essay last lesson, I really liked the way you remembered to use connectives at the start of paragraphs. This meant your level went from a 4 to a 5. I'm really impressed that you focused on your target as it shows me you're really trying hard. Well done.

Behaviour example:
I really like the way you came into the room calmly, got your books out and sat ready to learn. It means we can start learning straightway and you make me happy! That's why you're my favourite class. Well done!

Give it a go; it really does work. It might seem a bit awkward at first, particularly if it is out of character, but maybe try admitting that too!

One final thought, just remember, colleagues need praise too. Why not try it on them?

*The Mind Gym Time Warner Books 2005 ISBN 0-316-72992-2

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The power of just shutting up for a bit

One of the things I'm interested in at the moment is talking less. At school my TLC is currently investigating ways we can get the kids to take more responsibility for their learning and become less reliant on teachers for everything. Unfortunately, most teachers like the sound of their own voice a little too much (ever accused a kid of that?!) I know I am guilty of that crime as a frustrated actor.

This week I am going to time the kinds of talk in my lesson, then try to limit the amount I am contributing, after all they should be working harder than me!

I am very lucky to work with some exceptional colleagues. On Friday, I went to observe a Y11 Drama lesson which was truly inspiring. Nobody spoke for the entire time. Appropriately, it was on mime. The levels of engagement were astonishing and there was no doubt that it was a truly memorable experience for teachers and students alike.

Each student was presented with instructions not to talk on entry. Music was used cleverly to create a mood and control the energy. They were given character cards to mime and then collaborated in groups to create a silent comedy routine. Evaluation could take place via laptop if needed, but the students opted out of this. It culminated in a performance with a silent handclap and identification of particular skills on the whiteboard.

I guess there would be many who say, "Couldn't happen here!". True of my place too. The same member of staff also had an entirely silent day at school. This included break duty, Senior Staff callout and CPD in the afternoon! Some people swear they remember having a conversation with her, but she resolutely remained silent. It had a few interesting results. The truanting kids she was called out to round up followed her gestures and facial queues without trouble. It defused a potentially volatile situation. It is interesting to reflect how our mouths can cause trouble we don't intended! It also creates a calmness and reflection that can also be enormously helpful
. Finally, it created an opportunity for the more mischievous amongst us to take advantage of one of the noisiest members of staff being gagged for a day!

So, I'm going to try it too, but not in quite so drastic a form. I am going to limit my talk though. Maybe then I can stop being the most disruptive element in the classroom...

"I do like you, but I want my gum back!"

I don't think I'll forget being screamed at this week. It made me reflect on how, despite everything you get told about behaviour management, the only person you can control in the classroom is yourself.

Strategies employed (all of which I still regard as useful!):

  • Greeting at the door with a smile.
  • Ending with "thank you" rather than starting with "please".
  • Giving choice.
  • Clearly explaining consequences.
  • Planning a lesson with competition and challenge.
  • Tonnes of praise.
  • Reminders of past glories.
  • Having a chart to record praise and the winner each week gets a phone call home.
  • Using the school's rules and discipline system.
  • Lowering my voice.
  • Appealing to their empathetic nature.
  • Finally, emotional blackmail...

It apparently has no value at all if a student "needs" his chewing gum back!

After 15mins of being screamed at, he finally left as my next class arrived. At the end of the day, I did get a beautiful apology. So maybe something did work. Either that or he does like me after all!