Praising Students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade

“Rosa has lined up so respectfully for recess.”  “Wow, Ethan is managing his time so well by checking the instructions.” “Check out how Candice has taken the time to carefully revise her piece before publishing.”  Here are 13 reasons–one per grade–to make positive praise one of your most valuable teaching tools.

Kindergarten: Motivate students by attaching their names to something positive.

Don’t we all hope for a little validation for our hard work?  School is a full-time job for students, too, and even your kindergarteners value recognition for their efforts.  “I see Kate waiting her turn to get a drink at the fountain,” goes a long way for a five year-old working on patience.

1st Grade: Highlight those who make appropriate choices.

This is not to be confused with grooming a flock of “teacher’s pets,” especially since that usually involves recognizing a select few.  Teachers should make it a priority to frequently catch all their first graders making good choices.  “I notice David found a great place to read his book,” conveys to the rest of the class what you value.

Helpful starting tip: use a blank class list to actually tally your positive feedback.  Not only will this help you develop awareness of how frequently you praise certain students, it will also help you notice how frequently you issue praise in general.

2nd Grade: Eradicate the common habit of focusing on those making inappropriate choices.

Since mischievous 2nd graders tend to stand out, this is much more difficult than it sounds. Next time you notice an off-task student, instead of going straight for direct reprimands, try praising a student within his or her proximity who is following instructions.  “I appreciate how respectfully John is raising his hand to share his ideas” gives effective feedback both to John and to a classmate who has shouted out, while placing the positive attention on the student making better choices.

Note: We absolutely believe that constructive criticism has its place; however, we contend it should be a secondary strategy–not your primary one.

3rd Grade: Teach students about the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Perhaps you have set up some kind of extrinsic motivation system in your classroom, such as earning classroom “money” for positive behavior.  Especially when used intermittently, this can be a valuable classroom tool.  However, imagine a statement such as, “I’m impressed that Johnny didn’t even need to earn a bonus to push in his chair.  He has become a responsible enough 3rd grader that he knows how to take care of our classroom without any extra reward.”  There is clear potential there for shaping a student’s desire for self-development, rather than always depending on tangible rewards.

4th Grade: Reinforce your instructions.

It’s exhausting to repeat yourself to inattentive students. Instead, picture this scenario.  As you discuss with your 4th graders the procedure for your latest science inquiry experiment, you jot each step on the whiteboard.  Then, as soon as students begin, flood the transition with simple, out-loud observations of those double-checking those procedures, such as “I see Kalli quickly gathering her supplies as we discussed for step 1,” or “Paul is double-checking step 3 on the board before he proceeds.”

The point: Proper instructions get reinforced, you don’t feel like a nag, and students who follow instructions get some recognition.  Win-win-win.

5th Grade: Reinforce your expectations.

As your fifth graders have generally become quite familiar with one another through their primary years, they often become quite social–which adds both liveliness and challenges to your classroom management approach.  Proactively reinforcing the appropriate times and contexts for socializing may keep the school year running more smoothly.  Some examples of this kind of feedback: “I see Marta respectfully listening to her group member, waiting to contribute her ideas until it’s her turn” or “Joseph wisely chose not to stand by his best buddies in line so he won’t be tempted to chat as we walk down the halls to lunch.”

Chris Suderman
Chris Suderman
6th Grade: Encourage specific growth.

Each year, my feedback tends to center around one idea or theme.  Some have included:

  • Make life easier for others.
  • Say no to distractions. (Inspired by Steve Jobs quote.)
  • You may solve your problems in ways that aren’t problematic for yourself or others.

These themes arose from the opportunities for growth I observed in each class collectively, and I voiced them every single day through my specific positive praise.  “Nancy made Jim’s life easier by stacking his chair when she saw he was busy at the end of the day.” “Robert is saying no to distractions by putting away his pencil during instructions.”  “Cindy solved her problem of losing her permission slip by making a new one for her parents to sign.”  My fifth graders became so familiar with it that they started using similar language in their own conversations.  Daily illustrating what it looked, felt, and sounded like through positive praise had a much more lasting impact than an individual lesson might have had.

7th Grade: Give reminders to off-task students without confrontation.

By 7th grade, most students “catch on,” often manifested by eye-rolling.  A strategy that involves reminding students of appropriate behavior without direct confrontation may be the very tool you need that will preempt power struggles throughout the year.

8th Grade: Build rapport with students.

By 8th grade, overt teacher praise is often officially “uncool.” Depending on the student, you may actually push away certain students if they feel overly recognized.  But as you gear your positive praise toward a more one-on-one level, it can still have a powerful role in building your relationships with students as they sense you respect them as mature young adults.  For instance, you may pull aside a student for this kind of feedback: “I could tell you dedicated some thoughtful reflection in your essay; I have other students that don’t yet understand what that kind of serious reflecting looks like, so I was wondering if you’d mind my sharing it with the class?  I can keep your name anonymous if you would prefer.”

9th Grade: Align your practices with research.

At Purdue University, the Department of Child Development and Family Studies discussed John Gottman’s positive to negative feedback ratio.  According to his research, marriage relationships thrive when that ratio is balanced at 5:1.¹  This research is reinforced in the classroom by numerous additional studies which find that “the use of contingent, behavior-specific praise has been linked to positive student outcomes, including increased student academic engagement and decreased disruptive behavior.”²  We simply must have a greater number of positive interactions with our students than negative.

fasdf via Flickr
10th Grade: Let the modeling of quality thinking and choices come from students’ peers.

21st Century learning and teaching is defined by a technology-facilitated shift: from teachers as sources of knowledge, to guides who coach students to assess and evaluate the knowledge now at all our fingertips.  Embrace this shift by allowing student peers’ work to be the model wherever possible.  Supporting the philosophy that quality ideas can come from anyone–instead of just one wisened individual–is both empowering and realistic in this modern age of collaboration.  For example: “Check out how Lucas is approaching this algorithm.  How can that strategy be helpful for some individuals?”

11th Grade: Encourage students to make better use of their resources.

Let’s say you put some dictionaries in your classroom (or the link to on your class blog homepage), hoping that will help eradicate spelling errors.  Maybe you even give your students a mini-lesson on how to look up words in the dictionary for spelling aid.  However, none of your best efforts will encourage students to utilize that resource as well as praising a student who does so.

12th Grade: Cultivate a growth mindset.

The way we praise students has a greater impact on their development than we may realize.  A motivation researcher at Stanford, Carol Dweck, has addressed the terms, fixed mindset and growth mindset.³  Students who receive praise that focuses on innate ability (“You got 100%–you’re so smart at math!”) develop a fixed mindset–instilling perfectionism, fear of failure, and belief that ability is static.  When the praise centers around effort (“You got 100%–you must have worked so hard!”), students develop a growth mindset–leading to courage, perseverance, and belief that ability is malleable.  See an inspiring video on this subject by Khan Academy below.

  1. Poulson, Shruti S. (March 2008). A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship. Purdue Extension, CFS-744-W. Retrieved from
  2. Rodriguez, Billie J. and Sprick, Randy. Why a Positive Approach to Behavior? A Research Summary. Randy Sprick’s Safe and Civil Schools. Retrieved from
  3. Dweck, Carol S. (January 2010). Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. Principal Leadership. Retrieved from
Photo Credit:

5 Back-to-School Posters for Any Classroom

School is back into full-swing for many schools by now.  Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important.  Here are a few of our favorite reminders.

#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto


(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too.  Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)

#2:  Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder

Via William Ferriter’s flickr stream

#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy

via Ann Landers
via (@4collegeparents)

#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence

Background image by Case Wade
Background image by Case Wade

#5: And this.

printers smell fear
Via @WeAreTeachers

Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!”  Have a great 2014-2015 year!

Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato

Keeping a Window Open: 10 Tips to Keep Up with Education during (Extended) Parental Leave

If you’re pausing your teaching career during parental leave for a few years, we have some ideas to help you keep up with the education world!

#1: Watch for license renewal credits opportunities

When the time comes for you to resume your teaching career, you don’t want to be stuck with retroactively tracking down hours and paperwork!  Develop a professional learning plan now, combing your state or country requirements.  Contact your prior administration for documentation of any accumulated credits during your employment.

#2: Volunteer at your last school

Strap on that Baby Bjorn or occasionally drop off kids with a babysitter to maintain educational ties in your community.  Gauge what’s realistic for your circumstances, though, whether it’s simply to read with students now and then, or to facilitate an extracurricular activity, such as a TED-Ed Club

#3: Volunteer online

Sign up to tutor online! Become a Granny in Sugata Mitra’s “School in the Cloud.”  You can even combine #2 & #3 via interactive platforms like Skype.  For instance, when I was housebound during our school’s annual PYP Exhibition process, I volunteered to mentor a few student groups through weekly Skype “meetings” instead.  The students loved sharing their progress on the webcam, and I loved being involved despite my situation.

#4: Set up a Twitter account!! (and otherwise build/maintain your PLN)

This is probably the best way to keep current: the latest practices, digital tools, and issues are thoroughly shared and discussed on Twitter.  Building your PLN of other passionate teachers around the globe further enhances the professional development potential.  For further convincing, check out Krissy Venosdale’s article, “I’m Not Going to Convince You That You Need a PLN.”

#5: Join webinars & e-courses

Classroom 2.0 LIVE hosts free online shows.  PLP Network offers purchased E-courses (with options for graduate credit, too). And once you’ve established #4, Twitter Chats can be especially helpful–for me, one solid chat usually ends with with about 37 new open tabs of resources.

#6: Organize your old resources

Was packing your classroom materials a whirlwind of items flying into unlabeled boxes?  Then you need to fire up your scanner and read our post on getting organized.  ASAP.  Your sanity will thank you later when you resume teaching.

#7: Organize your new resources

After getting inspired by the 37+ tabs of resources discovered during a Tweet Chat, make sure you can find them again!  Establish a bookmarking system that works for you, be it a Delicious account, or several categorized folders to sort your bookmarks on your browser (Chrome is a great option since it saves your bookmarks across your devices if you’re logged into your Google account).

#8: Develop a Skill

Brush up your old high school Spanish using the free Duolingo app.  Fine-tune your piano playing.  Explore PhotoShop or Prezi.  Anything that you enjoy will enhance your classroom, even if it’s not directly related to your content–after all, your future students need models of adults pursuing passions!

#9: Revamp Your Class Blog!

Browse your favorite class blogs, and then find ways to incorporate your favorite user-friendly features on your own blog!

#10: Re-evaluate your WHY as a Teacher!

Reflect on your previous practices and honestly assess what can be improved or tossed altogether.  Consider how you can return to the educational work-force with an even deeper commitment to authentic learning (on that subject, be sure to check out our tips on becoming a 21st Century teacher)!

And of course, remember to make the most of this precious and swiftly passing time with your little one(s)!

Credit: Mary Wade

Featured Image: Death to the Stock 

How the Digital Age is Altering Education’s Landscape (it’s not the gadgets…)

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹

Drip Effect

Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed.  However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²).  To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.

Sudden Educational Evolution

For many years, education remained fairly static.  Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation.  Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.

Now, all that is changing thanks to technology.  It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers.  It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration.  It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun.  It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices.  Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!

The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability

This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom.  What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning?  In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control.  The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:

Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209.  See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).

Walking the Talk

I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.”  Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out.  My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words.  Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective.  Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.

Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:

Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky.  But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.


  1. Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013.
  2. Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.”
  3. Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

Featured Image:

Jason Paluck

Gender & Education: 4 Crucial Points for Change

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” (Eckhart Tolle).  That’s why we’re contributing to the dialogue on gender differences in education.

#1: Challenges exist for both genders

Author and literacy advocate Pam Allyn has written several powerful articles that rally the public to recognize educational barriers to girls’ education across the globe, such as this one here, here, here, and here.  She urges us to take action on terribly serious realities, including the fact that two-thirds of those who are illiterate are female.  She has established “LitWorld’s girls’ LitClubs that meet around the world, sometimes in secret, to read together and write together” (“For These are All our Girls”). With all this action on behalf of girls, one might expect that Pam’s work is limited to that sex.  But it’s not.

She has also written Best Books for Boys, in which she highlights several obstacles to boys’ reading, including the following: “the testing mania and the idea in our culture that learning is symbolized by children sitting quietly in their seats has been, in some cases, defeating for active boys” (p. 21). She regularly writes articles about all children, and the stories they have to share (such as this one, or this one).  She even founded the Books for Boys literacy program.

There’s an important pattern here: one of recognition and action for all children.  Those of us involved in children’s education must be willing to acknowledge that academic barriers exist for boys and girls alike.

#2: The challenges for each gender are different

Evidence of the unique educational challenges for both genders is mounting.  We list a few points below.

  • Girls often receive cultural messages that undermine their self-images as learners, explorers, and thinkers. A recent commercial by Verizon illustrates this:

  • In the developing world in particular, girls are also faced with lower rates of enrollment due to a variety of cultural reasons. released a powerful video highlighting that cycle:

  • Boys often receive cultural messages in the classroom that passions and dispositions common to their gender do not belong. A recent video by Prager University summarizes the way this impacts boys’ education:

  • The rates for post-secondary degrees are consistently lower for males than females.  Some of these numbers are shown in the infographic by National Student Clearinghouse below:
National Student ClearingHouse
National Student ClearingHouse

#3:  76% of teachers are female (source)–and that really matters!

Author Leonard Sax extensively researches gender differences, and has cited several ways female teachers might pay closer attention to the differing needs of their male students.  One such difference lies in what’s more visually appealing to females than males.  Says Sax:

“…boys are more likely to draw a scene of action, such as a monster attacking an alien; girls are more likely to draw people, pets, flowers, or trees, with lots of colors. The people in the girls’ pictures usually have faces, eyes, hair, and clothes; the people in the boys’ pictures (if there are any people) often are lacking hair, clothes, often the boys draw mere stick figures in one color. How come? The usual answer “Because that’s what we teach them to do” is unpersuasive, as I explain in Why Gender Matters. On the contrary, many of these boys insist on drawing these pictures not because teachers tell them to draw such pictures, but in spite of the teacher’s repeated pleas, “Why do you have to draw such violent pictures? Why can’t you draw something nice – like what Emily drew?” (source)

Another difference he discusses is hearing, even citing it as a possible contributing factor for the more frequent ADHD diagnoses for boys over girls.  “…the average boy may need the teacher to speak more loudly–roughly 6 to 8 decibels more loudly–if the average boy is to hear the teacher as well as the average girl hears” (source).  Teachers need to be aware of such differences to ensure they do not unintentionally favor their female students.

(For more on the ratio of male teachers to female teachers, check out our post, “Elementary teachers less than 25% male in US”).

Awareness Point #4:  Comparing which gender struggles more is unproductive to progress

As author William S. Wilson wrote:

“Comparisons deplete the actuality of the things compared.” (from “Conveyance: The Story I would Not Want Bill Wilson To Read”)

Articles like Bryce Covert’s “Enough Mansplaining the ‘Boy Crisis’ — Sexism Still Holds Back Women at Work,” offer criticism when concerns are raised for one gender, because they feel the other gender is more victimized.  However, such comparisons undercut our collective efforts for children; we need “all hands on deck” in order to address the educational struggles facing all our youth.  With objectivity and compassion, let us endeavor to understand and improve the state of education for children everywhere.

Featured Image Credit: 

UNICEF Ethiopia