100 Teacher Tips 41-43 | Focus on Positives | Funny Class | Praise Students

Tip 41: Focus on the Positives

Negativity is like quicksand, but be fair with your criticism. As a teacher, there are many obstacles in your way. The best way to deal with it is to focus on the positives. Negativity won’t make anything good.

If something bad happens, respond to it rationally and try to make the best of it, because as soon as you focus on those negatives, it will affect your performance as a teacher and person.

I’ve seen so many teachers get into that negative mindset and it always just gets worse. I want you to be positive. Look on the bright side of things and also show that to your students, because students will learn from your mentality. If you are a positive person, your students will feed into that and they will become more positive people in the future.

Tip 42: Fun Class

Add humor to your lessons. The best teachers embrace the lighter side of life. As discussed in Teacher Tip 41, you have to focus on the positives. We should focus on making our lessons and classes fun. Students find it more enjoyable when you add humor to that process.

Think about your favorite teacher. They always had a different way of bringing humor to the classroom. Maybe by interpreting some questions or some material differently, they always joke with their students and I think you should do the same thing, but I want to warn you there is a difference between making a joke and being a clown!

You can have a fun lesson and be funny in class, but don’t be the butt of the joke. Many teachers think, “Oh, I’m just going to entertain my students.” No! You can have an entertaining class, but don’t be entertainment for the class. So, bring humor into your class but don’t make it all about yourself.

The best teachers make their lessons fun and you should do the same in your classes.

Tip 43: Praise Students

Praise students appropriately to build their confidence. You need to raise the self-confidence of your learners and you can do that through appropriate praise when they do something right. When they do something good, tell them, “Oh, you did such a good job! I really appreciate it.”

I recently heard the story from a friend. His mom told him he was the best potato peeler in the world. He felt so proud, so every time she made dinner he would come in the kitchen and peel the potatoes and she would say, “Well done, you’re the best potato peeler in the world!” Week after week he would peel potatoes to show that he is the best. It continued for years until he reached adulthood and realized his mom heaped praise on him he continued peeling potatoes for her. We can do the same as teachers. We praise our students when they do something well and build their self-confidence so they will be eager to improve in the future.

I want to warn you not to praise them too much. What you should do is give them praise, but also tell them how they can improve whatever they’ve done. Heaping praise is a form of motivation. As teachers, we should encourage our students and motivate them to be the best possible students and humans they can be.

43.1 Don’t use meaningless phrases

“As a positive, enthusiastic teacher, I often used effusive praise and all kinds of exclamations to boost my students’ self-esteem and willingness to participate. I bubbled out meaningless phrases like, “You are so smart!” “You’ve got a natural talent!” with little regard to whether or not these particular phrases did anything to enhance self-efficacy in my learners.  I just wanted them to feel good…” 

Prof. Debbie Silver, in her book ‘Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight: Teaching Kids to Succeed’ (2012), explains how she realized how wrong it is to cover up the poor performance of students.

Whenever her students failed, she quickly tried to minimize its importance so they wouldn’t lose confidence by saying things like, “Oh, that test was really hard,” or “Well, maybe science is not your thing.” However, through her studies, she came to realize that the choice of words teachers use when commenting on the results of students is a critical factor that is often overlooked to effectively inspire learners to become independent, self-motivated students.

According to the Attribution theory (Bernard Weiner, 1980), the responses of participants came to be classified as one of four groups: 1. Task: “The assignment was so easy/ too hard.”  2. Luck: “I guessed correctly about what to study/ She asked only the stuff I didn’t know.” 3. Innate Ability or Talent: “Being good at sports runs in my family.” “I just can’t draw anything.” 4. Effort: “I studied/ trained really hard for it.”

The first three attributions are external factors that students claim is beyond their control, they basically deny having control over the results. The only factor that the learner can control is effort.

“When teachers praise innate talent and/or luck, we are basically diminishing the student’s role in her own success. If we allow kids to dismiss their low achievement as a result of the task difficulty, we are complicit in letting them off the hook,” Prof. Silver says.

Teachers should use praise to help students accept responsibility for either their successes or failures. We must guide learners to attribute their success or failure to effort, rather than feel entitled or victimized. Feedback needs to address only things over which students have control – their choices and their effort.

43.2 Examples of Effective and Ineffective Praise

“Effective feedback starts with carefully selecting words that are honest, specific, nonjudgmental, and specifically chosen to help the student figure out how to get better. It should inform them about their progress. It should not judge, label, accuse, excuse, or even praise. It provides instructive knowledge that will enhance the student’s performance.” (Debbie Silver, 2012)

Examples of ineffective praise Prof Silver mentions are “global positive reactions” such as the over-used, “Good job! Awesome!” when the results are mediocre and sub-standard. She calls it “a bland uniformity that suggests a conditioned response,” such as “Okay, well done.”

Ineffective praise is bland, as it provides the student with no real feedback or information about their performance. For example, “It’s okay, turn it in.” “Don’t worry, it’s fine.” “It’s acceptable.”

Comparing the results of students may provide specific information, but is negative and non-effective, for example, “Okay, but can you try to play like Ben?” “It’s fine, but you’re not keeping up with the class.” “Good job, though you still didn’t make the top score.”

Effective praise, on the other hand “, promotes appropriate attribution, it specifies the particulars of the accomplishment.” Effective commentary “shows spontaneity, variety and other signs of credibility that suggest clear attention to the student’s accomplishment.”

Effective remarks are genuine, they have credibility and attention to the student’s accomplishment. “Your project shows that you did a lot of research.” “You really improved much this time.” “Your essay made me feel like I was right there.” “You executed that move by the book.” “You mastered part C really well.”

Effective praise provides students with information about their competence or the value of their accomplishments. “This paper shows that you grasp the concept.” “Thanks for showing the group how to solve the problem.”

Effective praise orientates the students towards task-related behavior and an appreciation for problem-solving. “You scored 20% higher than last time, keep it up!” “You made good progress these past few weeks.”

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