The Power of Second Chances

I, like most teachers, have really high expectations for my students. I also work with middle schoolers, and I know the first half of this sentence has a large portion of you thinking to yourself that I’m a brave soul. But I love them, and I know that they’re capable of great things. In fact, I believe that middle schoolers are the most underestimated people in our population. But I’ve only come to realize that as I’ve learned to give my students the power of second chances.

I really see this power come into play on large essays and projects. Students spend a lot of time pouring their hearts and minds into them, and I do my best to give them input along the way. Tools like Google Apps for Education are making this easier every day. But there are also many times when I’m unable to see their progress every day.

Because of their hard work, their projects turn out great. I enjoy looking at them, and they often prompt me to see a small sliver of the world in a new light. However, when I sit down to give them a summative assessment, I also find a few things I haven’t given comments on along the way. I see a few small things my students could tweak to take their project to the next level (or two or three), and these make up the final grade and comments I leave my students.

But I’d like to argue that it shouldn’t stop there. I’ve begun allowing my students to take that summative feedback and apply it once more to their project, just to see what might happen. Yeah, they can earn a few points back, but more than anything, I want them to see what just a little bit more time and just a little bit more feedback can do their work.

And they do. I’m sitting here smiling as I think of all the projects that really finalized in the stage after they’d received their grade. These are the ones that truly rocked my world. These are the ones that I’ll remember no matter how old I get. These are the ones I share when I present at conferences. But more importantly, these are the ones of which students are most proud. These are the ones that email to their grandparents or post on Facebook. These are the ones that make their faces light up. And that pride in their work, that makes it all worth it.



The effect of attention grabbers: Classity-class! …Yessity-yes!

Engaging students from the first moment in a lesson is an art form. In a day where students hunger for instant gratification and often require an entertainer as opposed to a teacher, this unique set of student engagement strategies fits the bill.

We as teachers experiment with many ways to capture student focus: counting down, clapping, raising our hands, and so on. With varied student populations at any age or level, in any setting, the “Whole Brain Teaching” call and response technique is truly a best practice. This is an effective attention-getter before or at any time during a lesson. Using call and response, the students respond verbally to the teacher with the same inflection and tone with which they were called. This strategy calls students’ attention to the speaker, allows them to speak while giving the speaker their attention, and requires their response and engagement. At the point of response, students are engaged and open to the information being presented.

For instance, when utilizing the “Class” call and response at any given point during the lesson, the teacher begins by saying the word “class” any way he or she prefers, and the class in turn is responsible for mimicking the teacher’s voice and volume level by responding “yes.” So if the teacher says, “Hey class!” then the students respond, “Hey yes!” Likewise, if the teacher says “Classity-class!” then the students say back to him or her, “Yessity-yes!” This strategy gives students the opportunity to respond appropriately, while giving them a needed verbal release during instruction, and allowing them to enjoy mimicking the speaker. The sillier, the better — student focus increases!

An additional call and response technique to increase and sharpen student focus is ”Hands and Eyes”. This strategy can be utilized at any point during the lesson as well.  When students need to refocus, the teacher simply says, “Hands and eyes on _______.” Students respond in turn by focusing their attention on the chosen person or object (such as the board) and clapping their hands together, leaving them clasped in front of their bodies. At the same time, students are also responding verbally by repeating the words of the teacher in the same manner. This method, again, gives students the opportunity to speak out during a time when they are quiet and listening, and allows them the opportunity to have fun mimicking whomever is speaking, while focusing their attention in a novel way.

There are many other “Whole Brain Teaching” strategies to be explored and utilized within the classroom. These two call and response methods have been proven timelessly effective. In a day when capturing and maintaining student focus is increasingly difficult, these techniques are among the best practices in the educational realm. If you have more ideas, please do share in the comments!