Middle School Update
January 15, 2016
Thanks for taking the time to build relationships with the kids today. Whether it was hiking, walking, mud-bathing, volleyball, rock climbing, soccer, or just hanging out, the time together was invaluable. When I told the kids they needed a teacher to go someplace with them, not once did anyone complain or roll their eyes. Are these really middle school kids? (Don't worry - they'll do something next week to remind us that indeed they are.)
When things get busy and rough in the middle of the semester, try to remember spending this day enjoying the sun with students and colleagues. Have a restful weekend!
Kids Need Some Carrots to Inspire Learning
The Carrot or Stick Culture
Dangling a carrot in front of someone means you are offering a person something that is desirable to him, in an effort to influence some course of thought or action on his part.
The old idiom, “carrot on a stick” or “carrot and stick,” uses this simple root vegetable to illustrate two very different ways of motivating people. The carrot “on” the stick is a tool to dangle in front of a beast of burden to get it to move or pull a heavy load. Carrot “or” the stick, implies using either positive reinforcement, the enticing carrot, or negative consequences, namely a beating with a stick!
Carrots to Discover Motivation
Part of my teaching involves finding out what “carrots” entice my learners. As Freeman points out, there are many different carrots, just as there are many different ways of getting to know my learners in an effort to figure out what enticement to dangle in front of each.
Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, and Writers Notebooks are an excellent source of getting to the root of the matter, to find out what motivates each individual learner.
Our recent, three-week journaling assignment asked each student to choose from five possible responses and to submit a total of seven detailed and well-written journal entries.
The prompts themselves were designed to make the kids reflective of each day. Some asked the kids to consider what they do well and what they need to work on improving. Some simply gave them the opportunity to write about their lives and their daily routines inside and outside of school.
What they say about home gives me insight into the pressures they feel outside of school. What they say about our daily routines at school helps me make adjustments to my teaching and to personalize my instructional approaches. These things, along with small peeks into their hopes, fears, and dreams, help me identify any carrot that may need dangling.
Most students are easily motivated by sweet carrots. These are activities they naturally enjoy. Others prefer a different type of karat, represented by the riches and jewels that glitter in Homework Passes and Free Choice Activities. Still others choose the caret, which shows an innate desire to review their efforts, to look for extra credit opportunities, and to intrinsically insert changes that will enhance their learning experience.
Recognizing Carrot Moments
When I think about Gostick and Elton’s idea of the benefits of recognition, I think about that old teacher trick of “catching kids being good” rather than focusing on negative behavior. Recognizing the efforts of each student affects the entire learning community.
“Mary already has her name and date at the top of her paper,” still sends flutters of activity through the room, as the kids who’ve forgotten to do so quickly add these components to their work.
In an article on the application of the Carrot Principle for school administrators, Christina Feneley discusses the importance of building trust. Just like administrators, teachers need to build trust with their students to be effective leaders. Feneley reminds us that, “Mistakes will always be made; holding your (students) accountable includes celebrating the mistakes that were worth being made in light of the innovation and progress that accompanied them.”
A teacher’s comment that “Johnny forgot his homework when he packed up yesterday, but he came in early this morning to take responsibility and get it done,” doesn’t let Johnny off the hook for forgetting his homework. It focuses on giving him recognition for being responsible and innovative in how he handled the situation. Simple statements like this have an impact on the classroom culture as a whole.
A Carrot (or Two) a Day
My job as an educator is to dangle learning opportunities in front of my students in the hopes of spurring enthusiasm, curiosity, and a desire to do their personal best. Intrinsic motivation, however, is not something that can be taught. By definition, it comes from within.
Kids need carrots, not to trick them, but to inspire them. Trying to get to the root of each individual learner, digging deeper in an effort to recognize each unique little person’s contributions to our classroom (and having a healthy sense of humor), help build our Carrot Community.
…That’s all, folks!