Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wonder, By R.J. Palacio

The Beaver Dam Unified School District is excited to accept a donation of 45 copies of the New York Times bestselling book “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio, from the Nathan and Tiffany Wilke family. Wonder is a heartfelt story about a young boy who has a congenital facial abnormality. After being homeschooled, he enters school for the first time in fifth grade and has to cope with a range of reactions to his appearance. Wonder is an uplifting, inspiring story that readers of all ages will enjoy and learn from. The copies of Wonder will be housed in the libraries of each school in the Beaver Dam School District and will be used throughout the district in book clubs, classroom read alouds and literature circles. On behalf of the Beaver Dam Unified School District, Superintendent Steve Vessey would like to thank the Wilke Family - Nathan, Tiffany, Eli, Manny and Abe - for this very generous donation.   

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Even the most inexperienced educators will be quick to site three key variables to success in advancing the academic achievement of students: classroom routines, behavior management and student motivation. The beginning of the school year is a time to institute and practice classroom routines, as effective routines are the foundation of effective behavior management, but this time of year, March, often shines a spotlight on student motivation. 

Motivating students to actively engage in a classroom starts with establishing and nurturing a positive relationship with each student. Now is a good time to take inventory of the relationships you have established with your students. Remember what I have written numerous times on this blog: students do not learn from people they do not like and respect. Think about the relationships you have with the students whose motivation levels you find most concerning. Have you established a positive relationship with these students’ parents? Do your students know you are in the business of student success, and you are there for them to ensure that they are successful, to celebrate their success and to share that success with their parents? Does every student have an opportunity to find success every day? Reflect on how you track student successes. Does this process intimately involve the student and their parents? Are you tracking and celebrating success, or are you tracking a habit of failure? Often times we find that the students who are exhibiting the most prevalent motivation issues are trying to endure long losing streaks. Get students on winning streaks, and their motivation will follow. 

Below are six strategies to consider as you search for ways to motivate students through March, April and May:

Work as a Team to Achieve a Common Goal
Create an atmosphere of creative competiveness, and relentlessly pursue a goal that is important to a group of students, class or school. These goals can span the course of one week, a month or more. Offer rewards that align with our vision of leading the way in student growth and achievement. For example, instead of offering food or trinkets as incentives, offer extra/extended time in our library media centers, copies of books, an outdoor learning session (when weather warms) or more technology time. We are more creative than ice cream coupons and candy bars. 

Entertain and Create Interest
The social and emotional level of development of all but our oldest students indicates that they are heavily egocentric and need to know how learning targets connect to their lives. This certainly is not a criticism of young people; rather, it is a fact of developmental psychology. We have to continually strive to overtly connect content to our students’ personal lives. Engage students with technology. Use SMART boards, Elmo projectors, cameras, laptops, iPads, and, yes, even smartphones to aid and abet your efforts when possible. This is difficult, takes creative energy, and it is a risk. Students love to see their teachers take risks and perhaps fail, because it means we give them permission to take a risks and fail. Substantial learning grows from failure.
Participation is not Optional
Student participation is paramount to student success. Create an atmosphere and expectation that all students will participate every hour, every day. Use student names in problems you create, classroom posters, writing prompts and performance tasks. Students love to see their names in print. Draw student names from a jar of Popsicle sticks to ensure students are selected randomly and every student participates.  Have students think, pair, share with a neighbor to increase involvement and student collaboration.  Student participation and collaboration are key instructional benchmarks in Domain 3 of Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

Photograph Kids
Photograph students and their successes. Post the pictures around the classroom and send a copy home.

Instructional Design
Create lesson framework where students are actively engaged, self-directed, experiencing success, invested and empowered. Reflect on your plans for the coming days, and check off strategies that create a context that support the four previously listed strategies. Not all students will respond to lessons in the same way. Some find success and motivation through hands on activities. Others thrive while working in groups, and yet others prefer to read and write quietly. Help students stay motivated and engaged by mixing up lessons so that students with different preferences will each experience time focused on areas of strength.

All students want to experience success; some just need help getting there. Have students take a hard look at themselves and critique their own strengths and weaknesses. Students are motivated when they feel in charge of creating their own objectives and goals.

A teacher is the single most important variable in determining a student’s level of academic success. As we work to understand and improve student motivation, we will enhance the classroom experience and performance of the children we serve. There are proven strategies that instructors can implement to positively impact the motivation levels of students. Try the six strategies listed above, and continue to research this topic. Work to spur student motivation, help them engage, encourage each to take ownership of their success, and watch student motivation rise with the temperature outside.