Saturday, 19 May 2012 20:10

The #1 Key to Student Success: Setting Higher Personal Standards (Part 2)

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Last week I wrote that students will make huge strides academically when they begin to expect more from themselves and develop higher personal standards of quality with regard to their work and their behavior. It is wonderful that schools and families talk frequently about the idea of high expectations, but significant progress will occur only when the expectations belong to the children themselves. In this post I share some ideas about how classroom teachers can encourage kids to make this important commitment.

  At the beginning of my teaching career, I was very fortunate to discover a handful of authors whose work exerted a tremendous influence on my teaching philosophy. One of these writers was Theodore Sizer. I quote Sizer frequently in my writing and in my discussions with parents at school, and one of his quotes connects directly to the focus of this post. Sizer asserted that students will maximize their vast potential when they want to be successful and believe they have the ability to be successful. Said differently, students will become perform at their best when they are motivated and confident.

So, in my attempts to encourage children to expect more themselves, I focus a great deal of attention on increasing their intrinsic motivation and their confidence. I have already written a blog series about ten forces that nurture student motivation, and the remainder of this post will feature two suggestions for boosting students’ confidence.

First, whenever possible, before beginning a new project, I show my students examples of high quality work that was done by kids in previous classes. One of the main benefits of teaching third grade for many consecutive years is that I have been able to compile a strong collection of samples for all the major projects we undertake. When I show these samples to the kids, they immediately become more engaged in the task at hand. Seeing what other students have done brings the project to life in a way that mere instructions and descriptions cannot. Seeing high quality work samples also reduces student anxiety and seems to build the confidence in everyone that they can be just as successful as the students whose work is being featured.

Second, I try to talk one-on-one with children as much as possible during each school day. One-on-one time can be very difficult to find, and I typically use our daily silent reading period to hold these types of conferences. At these meetings I like to analyze a piece of work that the kids recently completed and use specific examples from this work to make larger points.

For example, if Susan doesn’t feel she is a capable math student, I will show her an example of a difficult problem she completed correctly and emphasize that she is a capable math student. Providing specific recognition and feedback can do wonders to build student confidence because the proof is as clear as day.

Some students don’t need much of this “building up” and others need quite a bit. Many children don’t expect much from themselves because they don’t believe they have the intelligence or the skills to succeed, and it’s important for teachers to serve as cheerleaders whenever possible to convince them that they do.

As important as it is to recognize students’ work, it’s just as important to recognize work habits, effort, and attitude. Ideally, we will be capturing only positive examples of work habits, effort, and attitude so that students can have a “feel good” moment that reinforces these entities. Real life, however, tends not to work this way, and we can’t be hesitant to step in and call attention to times when the effort and attitude wasn’t their best. It’s not that we are scolding them or trying to make them feel bad. Rather, we are saying that they are capable of so much more, they’re better than that, and they have greatness inside of them if they are willing to work a little harder and put more time and effort into their school work.

When we consistently communicate our high opinions of students’ worth, talent, and potential, students become more likely to believe in and expect more from themselves.
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