• Alan David Pritchard

THE PRAISE MODEL PART 3: Acknowledging the Person

Updated: Oct 6

During a peer mentoring session with a colleague at a school in the 80’s, I was asked to become aware of my opening and closing routines as a class teacher. If anyone had asked, I would have told them that I acted as gatekeeper, and greeted each student as he/she entered the room.

However, as a result of peer observation, I realised that, more often than not, my first words to students were usually instructions to “tuck in your shirt” or “spit out that gum”.

I wondered what message I was sending to my pupils as they entered my classroom. Given that they were, essentially, guests in my room for an hour, how welcome did I make them feel?

Did I even make eye contact with them as they entered? Or was I busy somewhere near my desk, busy getting things ready and glancing up every now and then to bark an instruction?

And during the lesson, did I even acknowledge their presence, or were there students who become almost invisible because they quietly got on with things while the misbehaving others attracted my attention?

This led me to wonder just how often I was acknowledging the person when dealing with my students. I know I regarded them as learners and students, but how much did I really know about the pupils I taught?

Let’s take the quietest one, for instance. Did I know what her hobbies and interests were? Did I know what her favourite colour was? What scared her most? What her aspirations were?

I soon realised that while I knew about some aspects of the students I taught, I knew very little about their true interests. So I created a little questionnaire, asking them to share details that they were comfortable sharing – things like their favourite movie or tv show, learning preferences, opinions regarding what they were learning, and a few others, covering things like sports, fashion, hobbies.

I then collated the data, not just to discover more about the people I taught, but also to see what impact it could have on my teaching and the way I approached student learning. Although this took some time to collate, when I had finished analysing their responses to my questions, I was pleased I had made the effort.

I suddenly had a way of engaging the students more during the lessons, and even capturing the interests of the more reluctant learners. I discovered, for instance, that over 80% in an all-boys class, enjoyed watching wrestling programmes on the internet. And that most of my Year 9 class preferred comedies as a movie-genre.

The question I asked myself was: if I could link their learning with their out-of-school interests, would they be more interested in their school work?

The answer is an emphatic yes. Reluctant readers were more inclined to focus on texts when those texts reflected their interests. So I set comprehensions based on texts from wrestling magazines, began using wrestling terms when teaching metaphor and simile and found ways to incorporate wrestling in as many areas as I could.

The same class also enjoyed moto-cross, so again I tried to use it as a springboard for their learning.

For my Year 9’s, I searched out texts by favourite comedians and comics, and used them when teaching all aspects of English grammar.

I realise, of course, that it does require some effort to constantly keep up with finding ways to express their out-of-school interests in the classroom, and all this might seem too daunting or time-consuming for some. For me though, it helped my students to become more interested in what I was trying to teach them and ultimately led to better classroom behaviour and improved attention levels, so I felt it was worth it.

Another obvious way to acknowledge the person is to greet every student by name. Imagine how you would feel if the head teacher stood at the staffroom door and the first words he/she says to you when you enter are, “Tidy your hair!” or something along those lines. Compare that with, “Good morning Mrs Smith, nice to see you! Here’s to a great day!” Greeting each person individually to welcome them into your lesson goes a long way towards creating a friendly classroom atmosphere.

In addition, another helpful idea is to attempt to speak to each person on a 1-2-1 basis as often as you can. When students are asked to “get on with things”, that is an ideal opportunity to briefly chat to them about how they feel about their work. When the class sees that you are working your way around the room to chat with every person, they are more inclined to have some work done by the time you get to them.

Sitting at your desk while the students are working independently is not just poor practice, it robs you of the opportunity to engage with them to observe more formative learning habits.

Also, you could invite students to write a response to your written feedback on their work so that there is a form of written dialogue between you and each student. One way to encourage this, is to have a question at the end of your feedback that the student needs to answer. So, for example, if you have marked a piece of work and written your comments, you could invite them to agree or disagree with your observation. Or ask how they intend to ensure they learn from the corrections and comments.

Finally, here are some questions to consider when pondering ways to personalise student learning. Imagine these questions come from one of your more reluctant learners, and then use them as the basis for creating a questionnaire or a stimulus for finding your own ways to acknowledge the person.

1. Do you provide opportunities for me to display my real interests?

2. Am I allowed to have, and to express my feelings about how and what I am learning?

3. Do you praise and reward more than you punish and chastise?

4. When you mark my work, do you only indicate my mistakes?

5. Do you know what frightens me most in life?

6. I enjoy a variety of learning experiences – do you provide them for me?

7. Is it safe for me to make mistakes in your class?

8. Do I have any say in how work is approached?

9. Are my achievements outside of the classroom recognised in school?

10. Is there opportunity for input into negotiated rules?

11. How often in a lesson do you speak to me?

12. Does my opinion matter?

If you have anything to share about this post, feel free to write your comments below.

In my next post, I will provide simple techniques to illuminate the path forward when beginning new topics or areas of the curriculum.

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