Hack 3:1 Feedback

Hack the magic 3:1 positive feedback to encourage students and tap into their potential.
Feedback is necessary in the classroom, but are you keeping your ratio within the magic area? The magic ratio is when our feedback is most effective, and triggers growth in our students.

It sounds pretty magical doesn't it? It is hard though. I mean think about your classroom at any given time. While most of your students are on task and diligently engaged in their learning what sticks out at you? I am willing to be that it is the one kid in the class who is off task. I know it would be for me.

We are trained as teachers to keep students learning for every minute of every day that we are with them, and when even a solitary student isn't engaged our brains focus in on them. I mean, we strive for perfection, so how could we not?

Research has shown that when three forms of positive feedback are given for every one negative forms of feedback that is where the magic happens. This is the magic area. Research also shows that you should keep this ratio for each student, not just the class at large.

For me, it is really hard to focus in on the magic area when I am driving myself crazy making sure everyone is engaged. I mean really, really hard. This is where I challenge myself.

Catching Up to the Magic

I HATE for the first feedback that I ever give a student in a given period is negative, but let's face it, it happens. When it does happen though I make a conscious effort to then give three compliments in the following two minutes. This may seem like a very short window, but it really pours on the magic when you are able to accomplish it.

For Example:
Little Johnny is using his scissors to carve up a pencil instead of working. I first correct him and ask him to get to work This is the negative feedback or correction. I glance at the clock. Johnny first puts his scissors back where they belong and I thank him. (That's one for the positive tally.) He gets his necessary materials, and I say, "Looks like you are ready to go." (Another check in the positive column.) After making a quick circle around the room Johnny is well on his way of being on task, so I pat his shoulder and tell him to keep it up. (That's three.)

None of the feedback that I gave him was particularly long, or thought out. It was completely situational, but supported his choice to be one task. Now of course not every student is going to get right to work, but I am will to bet that most will, and even those that don't will make at least a move towards working that we can capitalize on. When students are rewarded for their efforts, they continue to make good choices that build their self esteem.

Start with the Magic

Of course, it is always better to start on a positive note than to try and play catch up. In order to achieve this I implore a simple system of keeping track of purposeful positive feedback.

Whole Class

For whole class feedback I simply put three coins in my pocket. These could also be math maniplulatives, Skittles, or whatever floats your boat. As I give the class a positive piece of feedback I take one out. (The Skittles I eat, everything else gets placed in a designated spot.) If I have to give a whole class correct, or negative feedback, I start back over with three items in my pocket again. My goal is to always have an empty pocket at the end of the day. 

Individual Students

Hack the magic 3:1 positive feedback to encourage students and tap into their potential. For individual students I use sticks with students' names or numbers on them. All of the sticks start in one cup at the beginning of the day. I will pull sticks throughout the day to give positive feedback. The pulled sticks go into a second, then third, then fourth cup. The goal by the end of the day is to have every student in the fourth cup. 

I am a really visual person, so seeing the movement down the row of cups helped me immensely to keep track. 

This also does not take into account spontaneous positive feedback, so ratios should be even higher. 

Keeping Feedback Effective

There are a few hard and fast rules for making the most of the feedback that you give. Telling a student that you like their shirt is great, but isn't the most meaningful way to build a positive relationship. 

Feedback should:
1. Be specific
2. Be timely
3. Be frequent
4. Be sincere
5. Be built around effort, not the end result

If you keep all of this in mind, you are setting yourself up to be a feedback rockstar! You can live in that magic space! 

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Black History Month in the Upper Elementary Classroom

How do you teach Black History Month in an upper elementary classroom? This blog post is full of ideas!
Are your upper elementary students already familiar with popular Black History figures? Are you struggling to make a plan for this year?

If you teach upper elementary the odds are that your students have already learned about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall. This does not mean that they are not important, they are vital to our students' education, but there are many other inspirational and influential African-Americans that we can learn about in our classroom.

At the end of the day Black History is American History. We owe it to ourselves and our students to learn about influential African-Americans all year long, not just during February.

**This blog post includes Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click through and make a purchase Amazon gives me back a little bit, but it does NOT affect the price for you. These purchases allow me to upkeep my blog. Thank you!**

Ask Your Students What They Know & What They Want To

This does not have to be huge ordeal. You could come up with a whole interest inventory, but personally I chose to give students a piece of notebook paper that I would have them fold in half. On one half they would write the names of people that they know about and the other half they would write people they wanted to know more about. 

Sometimes this led to me finding out that the majority of my students knew very little about ANY African-Americans, and sometimes they really knocked it out of the park.

Along with this, I encouraged my students to not think of just specific people they wanted to know more about, but rather categories. A few broad categories that my students were always curious about were African-American firsts, African-American men, African American women, and athletes. 
In order to accommodate their passion for learning I created these jigsaw resources with each of these categories in mind. I tried to include some of the more popular historical figures as well as some that they might not have known about.

Bring in Literature

There are some truly incredible books out there about African-Americans, and many of my favorites go unnoticed. When we truly love a book, as I do with these, our students will buy into our excitement and will want to know more and more about these new members of the Black Community that they are being introduced to. 

Even if you do not have the opportunity to share these books in a read aloud making them available to students by just having them in your classroom is invaluable to them exploring our history. 

I had the good fortune of teaching at a school that had author Phil Bildner come visit, and I learned about the incredible book The Hallelujah Flight. It has truly become one of my favorite books to read with students, especially when talking about perseverance and goal setting.
Another wonderful piece of literary nonfiction is Wilma Unlimited. Before reading this book with my students I knew very little about Wilma Rudolph's life, but she is one determined person!  
If you are looking for a more familiar African-American to share with your students Salt In His Shoes is an excellent example of working hard and being passionate about what you want. It is the story of Michael Jordan, growing up.
There are of course many, many more pieces of literature that make the lives of influential African-Americans come alive. These are just a few of my favorites.


No matter how you try, there isn't enough time to even scratch the surface of all the amazing, important, and influential African-Americans that have impacted our lives, so what better way than to have students choose someone they want to learn about. They can then research that person and present what they have learned about them to the class. 

There are many ways to go about research projects. I personally love to have my students create some sort of visual that goes along with their research so that we have something to connect their presentation to. 

Tracing poster projects are a great way to make life size visuals. 

Another great way for students to show what they have learned is by creating a trading card of their individual. 


Of course, we can learn and research all we can, but if our students don't remember it then it doesn't make nearly as big of an impact as it could! 

How do you teach Black History Month in an upper elementary classroom? This blog post is full of ideas! Using cooperative learning structures are a great way to review that students have presented to one another. One of the best strategies that I have used is the Who Am I? strategy. 
-Each student is assigned a person by placing a sticky note on their back. 
-They do not know who they are.
-Students travel around the room asking questions about their person.
-When they are ready they can take an educated guess as to their person.
-Those who need it are given hints.
-Continue on until everyone has figured out their person.
This is a great strategy, because the sticky notes are super quick to make as students present their people, and then make for a quick review.

Another popular strategy for reviewing with my students has always been I Have Who Has? This strategy works like a wrap around game that allows students to work together to identify facts about 36 different influential African-Americans. 

If you are pressed for time then this PowerPoint gives an introduction to 45 different African-American abolitionists, Civil Rights leaders, athletes, pioneers, and artists. It is a great way to introduce a variety of people to students, and makes it a good jumping off point for a larger study or research project. 

There is no one size fits all method for our classrooms. 
No matter how you choose to teach Black History, a vital part of American History, just teach it. 

Incorporating Maps into Everything

Prevent a cartophobic generation by including maps in everything you do in the classroom! The 2nd one is my favorite!
Maps. They are everywhere in the world, but yet are underrepresented in our classrooms. Why is this?

Story time: I have the directionality of a nat, and honestly most nats would probably take offense at that statement. Give me a map and I have a bit of trouble doing anything. This becomes a bit of an issue when I work part-time for a company that puts on races, this half marathons and triathlons, where my job is you guessed it, setting up the course. This of course requires me to read a map, usually not to scale, with someone's, who is not readily available for questions, chicken scratch all over it. Let's just say it gets ugly.

So the last time I was staring blankly at a map hoping to recognize something, anything that makes sense to me I got to thinking. I really think that I have some sort of map phobia, or cartophobia. I wish I were kidding.

While not doing my job, or putting off having to actually figure out the map, I started thinking about why I have such an aversion to maps. I think it really has everything to do with the fact that I didn't really work with maps outside of identifying the parts of a map in elementary school until I was an adult. Even when I first started driving if I was going somewhere I didn't know I would print out the MapQuest directions and go step by step (yes, this is what we did before we had phones with Google Maps), never looking at an atlas or even a city map.

That is all to say that I was inspired to introduce more maps into our classrooms, because while Google Maps is absolutely wonderful, and saves me daily, I would like to think that we can inspire a new generation of cartophobia-less people.

So on with it already right? I tried to think of all the ways I could to include maps within the context of all content areas, because we all know integration is the only way to make it work.

Maps and Literature

Make it a class project to find maps, most likely via the internet, for the settings of all the books you read. Begin small with your read alouds, and soon I think students will get into and want to find maps for the settings of their own reads too. Can you imagine what a wonderful bulletin board that would make???

Don't stop here though, start asking questions about the maps once you have them. You can begin with little questions like, "What direction would you have to go from San Antonio to get to Austin?" and work your way towards more critical thinking skills. 

I am imagining a plethora of maps hung around the room, or on a bulletin board, and that is the go to area when you have a spare thirty seconds before heading to lunch specials. I would even suggest having students generate the questions and submitting them to try and stump the class. 

Maps are also an excellent item to study when learning about nonfiction text features. Many maps display different text features all in one location.

Maps and Classroom Community

Maps even have a place in community building activities. For example you could work on team building with this Maps Fan & Pick Activity, or class building with this Maps Find Someone Who Activity. Why not get a double whammy of goodness with maps and community in one place?

Maps and Math

Maps go pretty naturally with math when it comes to coordinate planes, which is a great use, so I am going to scoot right past it to another idea. 

How about having students create and/or answer word problems about maps. This is really applicable for all levels, because you can start with counting items such as, "How many intersections are in the city of Carthage?"

Of course questions can be as complex as you would like as well, and I think the real power from this comes from students generating the questions. 

Another natural fit is using maps with your geometry unit. Maps, especially city maps, are full of lines and angles. Imagine the possibilities! 

There is also a plethora of ways that you can use maps when studying measurement, particularly distance. 

Maps and Writing

The first idea I have for maps that includes writing is a letter writing campaign. Each student could write a letter to a tourism office in a place they are interested in learning about requesting a map. Most places still carry paper city maps, and are happy to send one. 

Another idea would be to use maps as inspiration for creative writing. Each student can randomly select a map to study and then create a story for. Imagine the creativity that could be unleashed when all students are given is a location, but otherwise have complete freedom to just write! 

Prevent a cartophobic generation by including maps in everything you do in the classroom! The 2nd one is my favorite! A third idea is to have students plan a route for a trip using Google Maps that they can then reference specific geographic points on while writing about their trip. 

Maps and Science

This is where I say use the ever living daylights out of Google Maps and Google Earth. 

The first thing that comes to mind is to look at landforms and the way they are changing due to weathering, erosion, and deposition. 

Really anything you are studying that has a location can be linked to maps immediately. Learning about the rain forest, let's take a look at where it is on the world map. Learning about Marie Curie? Why not pull out a map of her birth place?

Maps and Art

Are you looking for your students to have a little more freedom? How about having them create their own maps based on either a literary place or even their own imaginary location. Encourage students to include detail, map features, and write questions that could be answered by their maps. 

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