Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar

I recently did my first sub job at an alternative high school. It was an eye-opening experience as my jobs so far have been at pretty good schools with well adjusted kids.

My conclusion? The students at this school were not that much different than at other schools. Yes, class sizes were much smaller, voices were louder, and kids joking about drinking, drug use, and parties abounded. But, as economist extraordinaire Dan Ariely teaches us, everyone responds to incentives, and students at alternative high schools are no different.

The assignment was for students to answer questions about a textbook reading. Class was over 60 minutes long, and for these "alternative" kids, that kind of attention and concentration just wasn't really happening (needless to say, nor would it be for just about any classroom). So, I decided to discuss the reading instead. It was about Christopher Columbus, and what these students knew blew me away. They knew about the expedition, the spice trade, his dealings in slavery, the oppression of natives, and greed.

I was impressed, so I told them. "Man, you are some really smart kids. I'm totally impressed," and then went on with the discussion.

That was the spoonful of sugar. It was their incentive.

It wasn't intentional; it was just an honest example of giving praise when praise is due. For the rest of the hour students were attentive, respectful, and contributed wholly to the discussion. No more talk of parties, no more side discussions. just focused students sharing their thoughts about this country's shaky beginnings.

Q. What are your thoughts on using praise in the classroom?

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