Step 1 Title

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.

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When you reward for improvement, every student receives recognition for breaking personal records.  Special Ed and Gifted pupils find themselves in a lively competition on the same playing field.  Maria’s parents never graduated from elementary school; Herman’s parents are both doctors.  Each student increases their reading speed by 10%.  In a traditional classroom, Maria, a weak reader, might fail, while Herman gets Student of the Month.  In a WBT classroom, equal rewards (as you will see) are bestowed on Maria and Herman.  We celebrate growth, more than skill.  Herman has to keep pushing hard, day after day, or watch Maria win recognition as a Super Improver.  The message we communicate to our kids, over and over, is that the only person you have to surpass is yourself.
In upper grades, 5-12, we use a sports theme, Rookie to Living Legend. In lower grades, K-4, we use an animal theme, Turtle to Peregrine Falcon, ranked according to speed. Put each student's name (or number) on the right side of the display. If you're a fireball K-4 instructor, and we hope you are, replace the vertical scale with an attention grabbing horizontal display across your classroom's front wall. For details, see page 9, Fast Track.
On the first day of the Super Improvers Team, set an improvement goal for all students. We suggest improving in WBT's Rule 1: Follow directions quickly. When you see improvement in transition speed, a crucial skill, praise the student.  If the pattern continues for several hours award a star.  After 5 stars, the kid’s color changes from Turtle white to Penguin blue (or whatever color you choose) Note: the cards don't move ... only the color changes! For example, Hector, a bit of a slowpoke, shows increases in speed when getting out his study materials. Praise him.  If he continues for a few hours becoming the new Speedy Hector, award the boy a Super Improver star on his name card.  Daphne, naturally quick, peps it up even more than normal when cleaning up her desk.  Praise her new talents. Then, when she maintains her new pace for several hours, give Daphne her star. If Hector or Daphne slow down, don't remove stars! Praise and incentives are more powerful than scolding or punishing. Simply say, "When I see you return to your speedy self, I will give you a new Super Improver goal for more stars.” For more details, see Fast Track. Our yearlong strategy begins with lots of praise at the start of the year and few stars. This makes improvement stars valuable.  Mid-year, less praise and more stars.  In the spring, when you really need student energy, it’s raining stars!
We want to see improvement in academic skills and social behavior. Growth in academic skills, that could be rewarded with Super Improver Stars, include improvement in:
  • pemanship
  • sentence variety (two sentences in a row don’t start with the same word)
  • increased use of adjectives (or prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions, appositives, etc.)
  • reading speed
  • mastery of math facts
  • direct instruction focus
  • collaborative learning energy
  • insightful questions
  • multi-sentence answers to the teacher’s questions
Growth in social skills, that could be rewarded with Super Improver Stars, include improvement in:
  • kindness
  • praise of classmates
  • use of "Please, thank you, you're welcome"
  • good sportsmanship
  • considerate leadership
  • mentoring lower grade students.
  • following any of WBT’s Classroom Rules
When do we want to see improvement? All. The. Time. In what? Every. Single. Thing.
You have to change your goggles.    You’re not looking for the good kids.  You’re looking for improving kids.  You cannot pick an improvement goal for the whole class, unless everyone can show growth in reaching that goal.  Therefore, don’t use "quietly walking in the hall" as a class target, unless every student makes a ruckus when they leave the room.  A common mistake that educators make with the Super Improvers is rewarding good, rather than improved, behavior.  “Look at how nicely Melvin writes!  He gets a Super Improver star!”  No star for Melvin unless his neat handwriting becomes even neater.  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!  Give that girl praise … day after day.  Then, award Ida a star for her new handwriting skill.
After several weeks, give a small group of students individual goals.  Juan needs to work on keeping his hands to himself.  Martina should read more upper grade books.  Change class and individual goals as necessary but don’t have too many individual targets because this creates a bookkeeping nightmare.  For your most challenging kids, set improvement goals that will be the easiest for them to reach.  Privately, tell Murray, “If you could keep your feet off the desk before first recess, that would be an improvement.”
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.
  In secondary, the Super Improvers works exactly as it does in elementary with one exception: you post cards for class periods instead of individual students.   You can still start with two class goals. Great examples are 1. Number of Students in Seat at Bell, and 2. Number of Students with supplies. You'll jump for joy when you hear students reminding each other in the hallway to bring a pencil to your class because they want their star! As the class earns ten stars, their card is replaced with the next color, and you set two new specific goals for that class period.   Each month, choose several students to be on the Super Improver Challenge Team. Post their names on the class period card. When these students show improvement they receive a tally mark on the card. Ten tallies earn the whole class a star! Every once in a while, you can give the entire class a star because of one student's outstanding improvement!