Saturday, September 30, 2006

A few random reflections

I have been thinking a lot about college. I am getting graduate applications together for numerous literature programs. I have been reading old papers and trying to decide which one to rework and submit along with my application. I cannot believe I have kept papers from since high school in my files. Looking back on my own high school experience and the expectations from teachers at a small, rural, and poor school I am shocked that I can read and write. I did run across a letter that I received from Howard University (yes Keila I wanted to go to Howard). Being the only multi-racial family in a small town is an experience that one day, perhaps with old age, and much forgiveness I will be able to discuss. I wrote Howard for a reading list when I was 13 and I just found the letter they wrote back to, along with a list of books that I read except for the last two on the list that the library (or my mom's collection) did not have. Sometimes I think about the times I spent as a child reading and learning and wonder at the cost effectiveness of pursuing a ph.d. However, this is the letter and reading list that started my path to becoming a literature lover.

Monday, September 25, 2006


My motivation strategies are of the "minimalist" vain. This is done on purpose. If there is one thing I have learned teaching-- it is that you cannot congratulate students for doing what is expected. There is an underlying philosophy that you teach them when you reward mediocre work and behavior. Students NEED to learn the value of intrinsic rewards-- this will help them when there is not a cookie, brownie, or prize for going to work, getting up early or staying late to finish a project or paper, and hopefully, when they graduate college and high school. My students have to work very hard for praise and when I give it I am super specific and I make it sound "good." Last year, I said "good job" when they could have worked harder. I gave reward points when they didn't earn them. And I let things slide by making excuses for my students and myself. Needless to say this was not a very good classroom climate. Although my students felt very free to be creative with me, I could've motivated students to perform even better than they did.

My new system is working much better. I have not baked a single cookie, I have not handed out a single piece of candy, and I only have three exceptional pieces of student work on my "wall of fame." I do not say "good job" and I only say "yes" or "no" when passing student work (idea stolen from another teacher). They work much harder for me and I immediately hand back assignments that are unfinished or unacceptable. All these seemingly harsh tactics are coupled with a relentless drive to keep students on task throughout class. Phone calls and detention if they did not complete assignments or "try" on tests, standing over them until they start working (until they say “Ms. Lee don’t play), writing notes of a positive nature on their papers, or helping them get started and relating positive statements. With students who are inclusion students or low-performing students I am not as harsh as with students who are on grade-level. But I hate having any student that just sits there without even making an effort.

As for motivation that helps keep students on-task when there might be temptation to misbehave (60% days, right before holidays, and or crazy administrative changes) I play competitive games. All keeping in the minimalist vain, I reward students by getting to leave class early, catching a beanie frog to answer a question, and receiving a bathroom pass, etc. Even though I may be teaching students one objective, I have numerous goals for them-- motivation training is one of them. I strongly believe students need to be pushed into using intrinsic rewards as motivation.