I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I remember playing school with my dolls and stuffed animals. When I was in my early elementary years, I had a severe speech issue and was terrified to go to school. I'd do anything to not go, and my mom often ended up letting me stay home. But two teachers came to my house several times and tried to encourage me. They told me they needed help in the classroom. That made me feel so special that I ended up going. Those teachers made a difference in my life, and I want to make a difference too.
Now, almost halfway through our first "normal" school year since 2018, we teachers are still seeing learning gaps across all academic areas. Strategies you may have used for years might not be working now, because students are different than they were 10 years ago. One of our jobs as teachers is to get students excited about learning. When they’re motivated to learn, they naturally give and do more. Here are some tips for creating an accelerated learning environment in your classroom.
Hold Data Chats
A few days before your students take an assessment, schedule a data chat with each of them. I keep the conversation short—about two minutes—simple, and private. We discuss their previous scores and set a realistic goal together for their next assessment. Students are intrinsically motivated and love tracking their progress with a graph, which is a great visual for younger students. Seeing their goals and knowing where they want to go instead of comparing themselves to their peers gives students the gentle push they need.
Provide Words of Encouragement
A few positive notes of encouragement from you can go a long way. My students love when I write on their desks with dry erase markers. “You can do hard things!” or “I believe in you.” If writing on desks isn’t an option, you can use fun sticky notes or write something simple on one of their papers they recently handed in. I had a student tell me recently that he saw I wrote, “You’re a smart cookie” on one of his papers. He said with a big smile on his face, “Thank you so much.” A little encouragement can make a big difference in building your students’ confidence.
When your students meet their goals individually or as a class, be sure to take the time to celebrate. Students love coming up with ideas for prizes or ways to acknowledge their growth. My students’ favorite prize is bringing blankets to school to create forts with the classroom desks and chairs. They love to read in the forts with flashlights, and it doesn’t cost me anything. Knowing they will get rewarded for their hard work in a way that’s meaningful to them is a great motivator.
Create a “Student Shoutout Wall”
Teachers usually hang student work on bulletin boards or hallway displays but creating a space in your own classroom to display student work is a great way to celebrate individual student success. When you see student work that is “glowing,” hang it on the wall. In addition to displaying student work, place paper near the board to allow your students to recognize their classmates. For younger students, you may want to write at the top, “I’m proud of ___ because of ___.” Example: I’m proud of Emma because she counted to 100. Seeing their work displayed creates a sense of pride for your students, especially when they know their peers also support them.
Involve Parents and Caregivers
Families love being part of their child’s success. I ask parents or caregivers to send in notes of encouragement to their child before an assessment, at the beginning or end of a unit, on back-to-school night, or whenever you think they need a little pick-me-up. I place the notes on my students’ desks before they arrive. Reading the notes is a great way to start the day. For students who may not get one, I always have parents offer to write extra notes for other students.
Teaching post-COVID can be challenging, but we're all in this together. I let my students know I’m their biggest cheerleader and will always believe in them. If your students believe in themselves, they will make progress.