As we describe in our new book, Whole Brain Teaching; Fast Track: Seven Steps to Teaching Heaven our primary goal in WBT is to reward students for improvement, not ability. We praise excellent effort more than excellent work. We nourish growth rather than innate talent. Thus, every child, special ed to gifted, can be equally successful.
In traditional education, rewards for ability result in the same students winning recognition, year after year. Too often, our brightest kids skate by with minimum effort while less talented pupils bail out of a race that the system has taught them they can’t win.
For Step One in your journey to Teaching Heaven, create a Super Improver classroom display as described below. (For lots of free Super Improver Graphics, and an amplified description, go here.)
Each teacher enters all students' names in an online spreadsheet and then scores each pupil, weekly, based on the following scale. (Secondary educators use their average class ... neither the best, nor the worst.)
0: Amazer: One or more class disrupting meltdowns per week or almost never on task.
1: Beloved Rascal: Blurts out three or more times a day or rarely on task.
2: Fence Sitter: Unpredictable, sometimes off task, sometimes on task.
3: Go Along: Usually on task but often needs prodding.
4: Sweetie Pie: Teacher's favorite: Almost always on task + rarely needs prodding.
5: Student Professor: Almost always on task + rarely needs prodding + eagerly leads class in WBT lessons
10: AlphaHawk: Almost always on task + rarely needs prodding + eagerly leads class in WBT Lessons + cares more about others than self
Newbies: Score all new students a 2, until you know them better.
Tweeners: To avoid grade inflation, when in doubt between two student scores, always pick the lower score.
To ensure objectivity, don't look at points from previous weeks; use blind scoring. The engagement of your kids improves ... but often at a rate that is too slow to notice.
Your SEA online spreadsheet has a page for every instructor and automatically calculates the weekly average for their class. In addition, the average for all teacher’s weekly scores, the school SEA (priceless data!) appears on the first page.
At the bottom of each teacher’s spreadsheet is a brief, but remarkably useful, log.
Week 1: SEA: Plan: AHA!
Week 2: SEA; Plan: AHA!
(And so forth...)
Teachers enter their SEA and jot down a brief plan for improving their score. The AHA! is only filled in if the teacher makes a discovery, has an enlightening insight, worth sharing with others. As a general strategy for increasing student engagement, teachers reward, of course, for improvement, not ability.
The remarkable power of the SEA is that it reveals the unfolding educational life of every student, the weekly strategies of every teacher and, what is too often lost, their illuminating insights.
In place of test scores, federal and state data, numbers required by the district, focus on your pupils' engagement average. One number, easy to understand, becomes the primary index of a school's educational health. Lift a WBT school's SEA and disruptions decline, teacher morale ascends, test scores climb ... all driven by the accumulation of priceless instructional discoveries. Improving student engagement is the rising tide that lifts all boats.
A common mistake that educators make with Super Improvers is rewarding good, rather than improved, behavior. “Look at how nicely Melvin writes! If he starts adding adjectives, he might get a star!” No star for Melvin unless his excellent writing skills improve.
Ida’s handwriting is illegible; she has many virtues, but writing clearly isn’t one of them. But look here! Ida found a way to write more neatly! She’s arrived at the corner of Super Improver Lane and Personal Growth Blvd. Star her!
Your natural tendency with challenging kids is to ask them to improve their most aggravating behavior. But this is not immediately possible. Sammy’s crying is aggravating because it is so frequent. It’s so frequent because his outbursts are a natural reaction to a frustrating world … a natural reaction that is deeply wired into his brain’s dendrites. Give your challenging kids improvement goals that are easiest for them to achieve. If you tell Sammy that his one goal is to stop crying, then he’ll learn, before long, that an improvement star is beyond his reach.
A strategy we’ve found effective with our Beloved Rascals is to give them a list of behaviors and let them choose the one they think would be the simplest to improve. For students who have a difficult time with self control, set up the list so the behaviors are isolated to a time period: keeping your hands to yourself in line before first recess, keeping your hands to yourself when walking to the library in the afternoon, etc. You could include crying on Sammy’s list, but within time periods or parameters: no crying if you lose at tether ball, no crying about crayons during morning drawing.
1. Number of students in seat at bell.
2. Number of students with supplies. You'll somersault with joy when you hear kids reminding each other in the hallway to bring a pencil to your class because they want their star! As the class earns stars, their card is replaced with the next higher color. Each month, ask the class to nominate Leaders. (They nominate, you choose). Post Leader names on the class period card. When these pupils show improvement, the whole class, stunningly, earns a Super Improver Star. “We’re three stars ahead of Period 4 … but we’ve got to catch Period 1!!” We don’t know why, but Period vs. Period competition drives teens crazy … in a most wonderful way. Keep adding to your Leadership team throughout the year. Earning stars for their period, makes Leaders more popular. In Teaching Heaven, you control the spotlight.
We've decided not to use Class Dojo's option of subtracting points from students. Keep rewarding your Super Improvers. Those lovely bells you hear, ring out from Teaching Heaven.
During meetings, staffers award each other stars for Improving in the current target power (First two weeks: Saying "Please" more often!)
Staffers are also encouraged to award themselves stars for improving in the Current target power.
When five Turtle stars are earned, the card is changed to Penguin blue.
Week 1-2: Please
Week 3-4: Thank you/You're welcome
Week 5-6: Praise/Thank you
Week 7-8: All of the above
Week 9-10: Smiles
Week 11-12: Positive Talk
Week 13-14: Form New Bonds
Week 15-16: All of the above
Week 17-18: Glorious Kindness (as defined by Staff)
Week 19-20: Leadership (as defined by staff)
Week 21-22: Courage (trying new skills)
Week 23-24: All of the above
Week 25-26: Invincible Grit "We have Grit! We don't Quit!"
Week 27-28: Creativity (as defined by staff)
Week 29-30: AlphaHawk (acting like your hero)
Week 31-32: All of the above
Week 33-End: Awarding double stars for improvement!