Saturday, February 25, 2017

Power of Positive Reinforcement

We all love to hear how great we are. It does not matter if we are 5 or 95. Unfortunately, positive feedback seems to be a forgotten tool in education.   “Positive feedback is so powerful and yet so rare. People crave it and when they receive it, it can change their performance and their life.” (McCarthy, 2017).  Students are no different. And it is easy to tell good students that they are going job. However it is really difficult to give difficult students positive feedback. And as every teacher knows that it is the difficult child that needs the most positive reinforcement.

I work for a virtual school, which means I do not see my students. Our middle school program has instituted ABC calls to make sure that every student gets a call from a teacher each week. ABC calls means that we split up the alphabet amongst the teachers and make calls from those students with the last name. For example, if I am assigned A-C, then I call all of the students with the last names that starts with A-C.  The math teacher would call D-G the same week, so the students with those last names would be call.  The science teacher may call H-K students.  The history teacher L- N students.  The art teacher O-S students.  And the music teacher call T-Z.   Make no mistake- this takes time. And in a time when teachers are already overwhelmed with practically EVERYTHING, it is difficult to make time for ONE MORE thing.  But since we rotate the alphabet among the teachers, we are able to attempt to make the personal contact to each student every week.   But we try to focus on at least one thing that the student is doing well.

Even though it can be very difficult, we try to find at least one positive aspect for each student to focus on. And students and parents like it. For example, I had a low performing student that I called one day. When his mom answered the phone and I identified myself, her response was literally “what did he do now?”  I told her that he did a great job participating in class. I also told her that I was calling to thank him for his help with another student. There was silence for a minute and then she started crying. She said that she had never had a good report from any teacher about her student. Now the next time I called and had to talk about grades, she was much less defensive and more willing to work with me and her student.  Although this is an extreme example, most of the time I get a similar response - “I wasn’t expecting to hear good news from school” - from the difficult or struggling students and their parents.  

As previously stated, the difficult child is the most difficult to give positive feedback.  However, there are other aspects of the students than academics.  We teachers sometimes spend more time with our students than their parents do.  It is our responsibility to find something good in every child.  “Perhaps you recognize a kind deed or word they offered to someone . . .Or maybe you’re touched by their kind smile or a helpful comment they made.”  (Amodeo, 2014). Sometimes the positive feedback is only “I noticed you tried really hard on this assignment. I appreciate your hard work” or “I see that you logged into class this week.  Thank-you for coming to class.”  

One of the teachers at our program shared that she spends 15 minutes a week giving only positive feedback to students.  I try to do this as well.  I do my positive feedback via email on Fridays.  I have a form letter that I send that just says “Hi.  You did an outstanding job this week in Language Arts.  I appreciate how hard you are working.  Keep up the great work.”  I don’t think is anything special, just an acknowledgement of the work the student is doing.  It is really interesting on the responses back.  Most students and parents don’t even respond.  But I usually get one or two students or parents that do respond.  Mostly it is a thank-you.  Last week, I got a response from a student who stated that he struggled in Language Arts, never really liked Language Arts, but really appreciated the encouragement. It was one of the best emails I got that day.  Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.

Amodeo, John, PhD. "The Power of Positive Feedback." Psychology Today. Psychology Today,
19 July 1994. Web. 10 Feb.

Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. "Sign In: Registered Users." The Power of Feedback - Nov
16, 2016. A Review of Educational R Esearch, 1 Mar. 2007. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

McCarthy, Thomas. "The Power of Positive Feedback." The Peak Performer. Thomas McCarthy
& Associates, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2017.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

All that Data

“It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all data.” Sherlock Holmes “An Adventure in Scandal” (Doyle, 2013).

Sherlock Holmes is the epitome of using data. He looks at seemingly random pieces of a puzzle, analyzes what he has gathered, and then draws a conclusion based on his perception of the data. Everyone is impressed with the conclusion. His data is qualitative not quantitative, which makes his conclusions even more amazing.

Teachers have had to become more like Sherlock Holmes. We are expected to take pieces of data, some of it is seemingly random, analyze it, and then draw conclusions about students. Most of our data is qualitative, just like Sherlock Holmes’s data. The difference is that we teachers have a lot more data about a lot more people (students, not murder victims) and are expected to take this qualitative data and squash it into quantitative results. This is really hard because. , it is really difficult to implement the use of student data in a systematic way. It is also very difficult to implement data when there are so many directions that the data can be used.  “How [data is]  used depends on a variety of factors in each school and in each teacher’s classroom. Some teachers are embracing student data to inform their teaching, while others believe there’s a risk of an over-reliance on hard numbers that doesn’t take into account the human factor.” (  

Now I am not saying that we should not be collecting and analyzing data about student performance. This is very important. However, I feel that people outside of the classroom  are trying to make teaching strictly a science instead of  appreciating the art that is involved. When people are reduced to numbers, then individuality is lost. Any great teacher knows why Johnny can't read - the test just shows that he can't - the teacher knows about Johnny and his situation, which does not fit into quantitative result sheet.

We need to find a balance. According to Ronald S. Thomas “We don’t need ‘data driven’ schools. We desperately need ‘knowledge driven’ schools.” (2016).  We teachers need figure out how to use the data to create knowledge driven schools in which all students can succeed.  To do this we need teacher leaders to help find the balance between the student on the spreadsheet and the student in the classroom.  

We obviously can't throw out all data and go back to teacher intuition. That makes no sense. On the other hand, we can't spend all of our time consumed in making children into neat numbers that fit into spreadsheets. Somewhere in the middle is where we need to be - the knowledge driven program. I believe that even Sherlock Holmes would agree with that deduction.

By. "Is All This Student Data Changing the Way Teachers Teach?" MindShift. KQED News, 2
June 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, and Daniel Stashower. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. New York, NY:
Race Point, 2013. Print.

Morrison, Jennifer. "Why Teachers Must Be Data Experts." Educational Leadership:Data: Now
What?:Why Teachers Must Be Data Experts. Ascd, Dec.-Jan. 2009-10. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.<>.

Thomas, Ronald S. "My Nine 'Truths' of Data Analysis." Education Week. N.p., 06 Oct. 2016.