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Giving Props

April 5, 2013
Saye solves a log problem and gets props from his classmates.

Saye solves a logarithm problem and gets props from his classmates in 12B.

Peace Corps has three goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

My blog has always been a goal #3 activity, designed to help people ‘on the other side’ understand life in Liberia.  Today, however, I want to do something a little different.  Today I’m going to blog about teaching.

Last summer I read Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and have implemented many of his techniques with great success.  The book outlines 49 techniques that teachers have been documented using in America’s top performing charter schools.  Over the next few weeks I plan to write about the techniques I’ve found most useful and how I’ve applied them to teaching in Liberia.

Today it’s all about technique #35: Giving Props.

Props are a way to celebrate student success and create a supportive and encouraging classroom environment.  They are an excellent way to make class fun and add energy.  They can also be almost anything!  The key is to choose something quick and easy that everyone participates in and that can be easily cued.

The first prop I tried was ‘two snaps.’  It was simple.  A student solved a problem or answered a question correctly and I said, “Give Junior two snaps.”  The whole class snapped twice and we were back to work.  They loved it so much in 11th grade they started yelling “bawk! bawk!” which translates to something like “$100! $100!”  So instead of two snaps now I just say “Bawk Bawk, Comfort!” and everyone joins in.  When I solve a difficult problem or do something they like they’ll sometimes even give me my own.  “Ms. RB, I give you bawk!”  When they won the football game they marched to our house chanting it and snapping.

(Do I need to say I loved this?)

It’s been a little more difficult in 12th grade.  In typical senior fashion they are small too-cool-for-school.  ‘Two snaps’ worked for about a month then half the class stopped doing it.  So we talked about it.  “I can see you don’t love ‘two snaps’ and that’s alright.  It’s important that we find something you do love, though, so we can celebrate all the good work you do in here.”  I sent them home to think about it.

In 12B they took it so seriously they held a vote after I left and agreed on ‘thumbs-up.’  Now I say ‘thumbs-up, Precious!’ and we all put two thumbs in the air.  These days they give me hard time if someone solves and I forget to cue ‘thumbs up.’

 

Watch a longer version of the video here.  (And check back in the coming weeks as I plan to add clips from the other classes.)

In 12A we staged an American Idol style vote as each volunteer performed various hand signals, claps, and snaps.  It was evenly split: half the class wanted to keep ‘two snaps’ and the other half wanted to do a double thumbs-up.  “Can we try both?” I asked.  “The person can tell us if they want ‘old style’ or ‘new style.’”  They agreed to this… then it immediately fell apart.  After someone solved a problem I asked, “show your style.”  Rather than indicating ‘old style’ or ‘new style’ people started doing completely different things like waving, clapping, and jumping.  For the most part it’s all right, though, so I’ve let it continue.  (“Show Your Style” happens to be a popular song in Liberia, which probably helps!)

Interestingly, as a result of ‘show your style’ I’ve seen students volunteer to come to the board for the first time ever.  They have an idea for a style and they want a chance to show it and have the class join in.  The other day I overheard a quiet girl say, “I’m going to solve quick today so I can come on the board and show Ms. RB my style!”  It’s dangerous to have an open-ended prop but given results like this I think it’s worth the risk.  You just have to be firm that things like “Everyone jump up and run outside!” like Jonathan tried one morning, are not props you expect from serious students.

As with anything, when you add props to your class it is important to be enthusiastic and repetitive.  Explain why you’re asking them to do it and how it will benefit them.  When I introduced it I said something like, “We’re going to do a lot of hard work in here.  When someone does something fine it’s important that we thank them and celebrate our success as a class.  When I say ‘two snaps’ put your hands in the air like this and snap.  Let’s do it together.”  Then you should ideally have a lesson planned that will involve plenty of student participation and, hence, the giving of props.

Make it a routine for you as well as them.  Remember to cue it (and do it!) every single time so no one feels left out or wonders what they did wrong.  Repetition will also normalize the behavior.  We do this every day.  No need to snicker or feel silly.

Have you used anything like this to encourage or motivate people?  Please post about it in the comments below so we can have a conversation.

Next week I’ll write about how I use I/We/You and techniques #12-15 to structure my lessons and maximize my 45 instructional minutes each day.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. suzanne permalink
    April 8, 2013 9:52 pm

    Bekka:
    Thank you for your suggestions! As you may recall, I have taught for years. This year, I added a simple response system. When I am teaching a complex multi-step process, I pause at several points to ask–How are you doing? Students respond by raising hands to show how well they think they are comprehending–5 fingers–solid, 4 fingers for good, 3 is okay, two or one–not there yet! When I see 3’s I review the current step, while with 1s or 2s, I’ll go back two or three steps until I see 5s. When I have 5s, I push ahead. The system works for virtually any subject. (You may recall I teach church history, theology, Bible).

    Looking forward to your next tip!

    • April 9, 2013 11:06 am

      Thanks, Suzanne! I love this suggestion. It’s so important to constantly stop to check for understanding rather than just doing it at the end. I’ll definitely try this next time I introduce a new topic.

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