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 MagicI 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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