I’ve been intentionally taking three specific actions regularly this year to support students, and they seem to be going well. I thought readers might be interested in hearing about them, as well as offering suggestions on how I could improve them:
Highlighting Student Success To Their Friends
I’ve blogged about this before, as well as written about it in one of my books, though I did not do it much last year. I’m making it a priority this year.
I generally take five minutes during three time periods each day – right before school, during lunch, and right after school – to walk around the school. When I see one of my students (present or former) “hanging-out” with one or more friends (the more the better), I politely “butt in” and quickly say something to my student’s friend(s) like, “Did you know that Juan is always helping other students in class – he’s a superstar!” or “Did you know that Mark did a great job on his last essay – he’s a superstar!” If they’re former students, I highlight something they did in previous years. Students generally make a show of being embarrassed, but it’s clear they like it, and I’ve overheard students in class say (when I know they don’t think I’m listening”) things like “Mr. Ferlazzo told people I was a superstar a lunch today!”
Yes, I know I should focus on celebrating specific actions they’ve taken to help them build a growth mindset, and not just call them a “Superstar.” I try to do that as much as I can. At the same time, many of my students are facing multiple challenges, and I think any kind of public or private praise can make a difference.
Last year, I did the most successful goal-setting activity (I wrote about it in a very popular post, Now This Is A Student Goal-Setting Strategy That May Actually Work) in my entire teaching career.
This year, though, I thought I could do something even better.
I have student teachers in two of my ELL classes this year. Our school is very clear, however, that the collaborating teacher and the student teacher are always “co-teachers” – none of this leaving the room when the student teacher is teaching business (see Seven Strategies For Working With Student Teachers).
Though it’s only been two months, my students and I have been lucky to have two exceptional two student teachers this year. So I’ve felt comfortable beginning to have short, private conversations with each student in my other room (my new classroom is actually two connected rooms) about one thing they would like to improve this year – whether it is their writing in English, their behavior in the classroom, their ability to focus, etc.
Students then complete a short form (you can download the English version here – I have Mandarin, Thai, Hmong and Spanish versions on my computer at school) that includes potential obstacles and how they can overcome them. They tape it on the inside of their textbook and, then, as you can see on the form, each week they have to list two specific actions they took to make progress towards their objective. I let them know at the beginning of class that I’ll be pulling them out that day, and they have some time to write a few words prior to my pulling them out.
Each class has about twenty-five students each, and it looks like I can meet with four-or-five each period and still have plenty of time to observe and assist the student teacher or teach a lesson myself.
It’s early in the process, but it seems to be going well. I have the translated forms because I don’t actually intend the goal-setting activity itself to be for language-learning. Many of the student-generated goals are about learning English, but I want their thinking about the topic to be as sophisticated as possible. I use peer tutors to help me understand when I don’t speak the students’ home language.
I think this process is sustainable over the long-term with student teacher support, but I might be wrong. We’ll see, and I’ll keep readers updated.
The last action I’ve been taking may sound a bit strange but, it, too, seems to be having a positive effect.
When students have done work that is clearly below the level they are capable of doing (or, in other cases, have not done something they should have done), I say something like this the first time it occurs: “You’ve demonstrated many times that you are extremely capable. For example, when you did _________________________and when you did ____________________________. Would you agree you can do better than this? Please remember, you’re Alma (or Marco or Li)!
I emphasize that last part (I don’t yell it) and, practically all the time students immediately get the message I’m trying to communicate: that their true identity is the person who does the exceptional work, not the person who didn’t do the good job.
Thereafter, if there is a re-occurrence, I don’t say anything “directly” questioning them. All I say is “You’re Alma!” or “You’re Li!” I have never (so far, at least) gotten a defensive reaction and, on the contrary, have always received a positive response that indicates to me that the student knows they “messed-up” and have not lived up to their or my expectations.
On top of that, I sure as hell feel much more energized by saying “You’re Maria!” than, “Why didn’t you do your homework?”
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I’m all ears if you have comments on these strategies or suggestions on how I can improve upon them….