There was a fantastic article in the New York Times last week. The subject of the article was current initiatives in improving teacher effectiveness. It cites some interesting statistics including “a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher” and “while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year” (Green, 2010, para. 4).
In discussing what makes an effective teacher effective, the article says, “what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise” (Green, 2010, para. 12). But what are these techniques? It turns out, one of them is ”Positive Framing, by which teachers correct misbehavior not by chiding students for what they’re doing wrong but by offering…’a vision of a positive outcome’” (Green, 2010, para. 29).
This ties nicely to the conversation of how to celebrating students’ success to encourage continuing improvements. While the article doesn’t discuss specific techniques, it does say the “techniques depend on his close reading of the students’ point of view” (Green, 2010, para. 32). It also gives a description of the kind of positive framing it suggests, which are of the “catching students doing it right” variety. Across the literature, this positivity seems to be preferable to the more conventional “correct what they are doing wrong” and “do what I say because I am the teacher” approaches so familiar to all of us.
Ultimately the goal is for the children to operate from Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral development (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 351). They need to learn to do the right thing because it is right, not because they get a reward. The best structure I’ve seen to positively reinforce desired behaviors without tangible incentives is to base the classroom around mutual respect. Students want to behave according to standards because it feels good, they earn respect in their classroom community, and it is the right thing to do. They behave well to honor themselves and their community. This is my vision for my classroom.