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Trust Can Have A Pretty Powerful Impact In The Classroom

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'Trust' photo (c) 2011, Artem Popov - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’ll Take 90% Student Engagement Over 100% “Compliance” — Any Day has been my most popular post of the year so far, and was reprinted in The Washington Post as Getting students to engage — not just comply.

In that post, I describe the weekly reading log that I have students complete about their reading at home, and how I specifically do not ask them to have their parents sign it — student signatures are only required. And how students are on an honor system to describe their plan to “catch-up” on their reading time if they don’t read a full two hours a week at home.

As my blog title stated, I’ve determined through a number of ways over the years that 90% of students typically handle it honestly. However, I forgot to mention in that post one other tactic I use to determine that percentage, and I just applied it today in class.

Periodically, I’ll hand out blank pieces of paper to all students and tell them not to put their name on it. I tell them that all I want them to do is write “yes” if they tend to be honest in the reading log or “no” if they are not. I make it very clear that I will not change the procedure no matter what they answer — I want to minimize the odds that students will write “yes” because they’re afraid I might start requiring parent signatures.

I tell them to fold their papers so no one can see what they wrote and have a student collect them. While they’re doing something else later in the class period, I’ll tabulate the sheets (sometimes I’ll have a student do it). Usually, I have two students who write “no” in each class. However, today, in both classes only one student wrote “no.”

As I did today, I’ll announce the results, tell them I’m impressed, though not surprised. As I did today, I will also jokingly announce that I will have the “no” paper analyzed for fingerprints and track that person down.

The purpose behind doing this process, however, is not really for me to check-up on them — there are plenty of other ways I do that (as I mentioned in my previous post). What it does do, though, is reinforce to students that they are in a genuine community of learners who are people of their word. And the one or two students who are not following-through also feel some peer pressure that they, too, need to step up to the plate.

Trust can have a pretty powerful impact in the classroom….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. One of the best scholarly education books I ever read: “Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement.” (Bryk & Schneider) The authors collected considerable quantitative data (all about the numbers) demonstrating that schools where trust was present–between parents and teachers, school leaders and the community, teachers and students–other factors (including extreme poverty) had much less negative impact. Trust has a powerful impact throughout the system. And our systemic federally-driven policies are now based on the opposite of trust– disbelief, doubt, suspicion, stringent requirements for verification. In the name of “accountability.”

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