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“So these are the parts you have to improve to have a first-class essay.”

You can, indeed, make this first class. There are some parts of it to address and then you’ll be there.

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“What help do you need in order to make this meet standard?”

If you identify the help you need, the resources are here and you can meet the standard.

“Now the only thing you have to do is get a really potent lead.”

You’ve done a good job and have met most of the cri- teria. If you get a potent lead you will have a complete and high-quality product.

Table 14.6 Implied Messages Embedded in Feedback



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in which it is delivered either verbally or in writing, is one of those moments when we need a heightened awareness of our choice of words, body language, and tone of voice so as to send a positive expectation message.

Two other regularly recurring situations call for teacher reaction: (1) when stu- dents don’t meet the expectations we set and (2) when there is a significant change in performance. Each of these situations represents an opportunity to reinforce effort as the cause of the results a student has produced (attribution training). It is through these reactions that students get the message about how important something is, and whether we believe they are capable of achieving the performance targets.

Reacting to Unmet Expectations

When students do poor work, it is important that they hear about it in a way that conveys our belief that they can do better, and that we are looking for in- vestment of their effort because we believe it will pay off. Some students may display reluctance or resistance when we react in a direct (and sometimes high- energy) way. However, students can also easily interpret low affect, a neutral, or noncommittal response to low-quality work as an expression of our lack of interest or belief in them. And it often is.

In the absence of an appropriate reaction, many students will not believe suf- ficiently in themselves to work harder or do well. This danger is particularly present for students who believe it’s their innate ability that either enables or disables them to perform (Dweck, 2002). When students who hold this belief find something to be challenging or do poorly at something they attempt, they interpret it as confirmation of not having enough ability. These same students, according to “attribution theory” (Weiner, 1996), believe that when they do poorly it is because of task difficulty—and underneath that belief, the damning suspicion that they are not bright enough. Therefore, when students do poor- ly, going after them with high-energy and positive affect becomes an implicit statement of belief in their ability and a call for more effort. It is an opportunity to retrain their attributions about what causes their success and failure.

Reacting to a Decline in Performance

A significant decline in performance is another opportunity to send expecta- tion messages and do attribution retraining. It could sound like this: “This is nowhere near the standard you’re capable of. We need to figure out what is happening and what you can do to get back on track.” A remark like that from a respected teacher can be a powerful spur to a flagging student.

The moment of responding is when we need awareness of our words, body language, and tone of voice to send a positive expectation message.



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Reacting to Increase in Performance

Suppose a student with a D average gets an 83 on a test. The teacher stops the student on the way out the door and says, “You did really well on this test. Why do you think you did so well?” The student pauses, looks down, and mumbles, “Must have been an easy test.” (Note the connection to external attribution— luck or task difficulty). The teacher replies, “Easy test! I don’t give easy tests; everybody knows that. And you got number 14 right. That was the hardest one. Now come on, what do you think you did to accomplish that?”

This teacher is trying to get the student to consider that not only does he have the ability to do well, but that there is something he has done to bring about this result (effort attribution). But if the student doesn’t see himself as having that ability, he will more than likely be silent at this point in the dialogue. The suggestion behind the teacher’s question can be threatening in several ways: “What if I am capable of good work? Will she expect it of me all the time? What if I tried and couldn’t do this well again?” Another student may want to keep expectations low just to avoid working hard.

Another possibility is that by challenging the student to think about why he succeeded, the teacher may be throwing him into social jeopardy. Some seg- ments of school peer culture are built around not doing academic work well and not connecting to school. To embrace being a student and be seen as trying hard could be interpreted as a rejection of one’s peer group norms. This dynamic may occur for some students of color where striving in school settings gets in- terpreted as “acting white” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). A teacher who seizes op- portunities like the student doing unexpectedly well on a test needs to be ready to support the student through the thinking and the possible perceived risks: “Well, you think about it, and when you come in tomorrow, I’m going to ask you again why you think you did so well.” Whether or not the student has a response tomorrow, the hope is that the student will start thinking about the possibility that he is capable of higher performance than he’d imagined and weighing the risks and rewards of trying hard. It is also a time for the teacher to devise strategies for how to work with him to provide support and scaffolds while he proves to himself that he has what it takes.

Arena 7: Positive Framing for Reteaching

It is a common event for a class to end with several students who don’t yet fully understand the material. What, if anything, is going to happen so they have another chance? This is another of the regularly recurring situations where we can seize opportunities to build student confidence or miss opportunities and inadvertently signal to some students that there is no hope for them.



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If we assume that some students won’t or can’t ever get it really, or get it only partially, we feel obligated to move on to new material and drop their gap in understanding by the wayside. “After all, they get what they can get. I can give them slightly different assignments (translation: less demanding) so they can feel success (what they really feel is shame). I have to move on with the cur- riculum. After all, I have to get these kids ready for the Regents/APs/finals! I can’t hold the others back!” The belief behind this statement is that the slower students couldn’t really ever get the material anyway, and that getting all stu- dents to pass requires slowing down the whole class and dumbing down the standards.

But what if we really believe that all students can reach a high standard given hard work, effective effort, and adequate prior knowledge? What instructional practices would we be considering? We would provide time and structure to

Criterion test in advance


Acknowledgment of difficulty or


Clear time, place, teacher,

or source of Information

Recognitions for self-nominees


Fluid movement between groups

permitted at student option

Extension activities for


Teacher tenacity and


A normative practice in the room

• Criterion test in advance

• Acknowledgment of difficulty or complexity

• Self-nomination

• Clear time, place, teacher, or source of information

• Recognitions for self-nominees

• Extension activities for others

• Fluid movement between groups permitted at student option

• Teacher tenacity and encouragement

• A normative practice in the room

Figure 14.8 The Scholar’s Loop

Video: Framing Reteaching



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reteach for students who don’t “get it” the first time around. In addition, we would employ all of the best practices in differentiating instruction and take the initiative to design courses, units of study, and lessons accordingly. This means pre-assessing readiness levels, analyzing the data we collect, and design- ing learning experiences that are geared to a common objective and standard of performance while incorporating options as to how students will arrive there. The options might include variety in how students take in information, how they process or practice what is to be learned, and how they are expected to demonstrate understanding and achievement of the objectives. The degree and kind of support are variables that would be differentiated as well.

One possibility for differentiating support is setting up what some call a re- teaching loop or a “scholar’s loop” (Figure 14.8) as a regular classroom practice. For students who didn’t get it quickly or the first time around, a scholar’s loop is a time and place where a concept or idea previously introduced is taught again or made available again to students with additional explanations, differ- ent examples, or different perceptual modes. It may or may not be teacher led. Other students or other adults may lead it. Self-directed learning experiences or computer simulations may be in the loop. But something happens for students who didn’t get it the first time around to ensure they do get it, and at the original level of rigor and at the original standard, not a watered-down one.

The loop has these components:

p Students should be asked to self-select for the reteaching loop. To do so, they have to self-evaluate: “Do I really get this?”

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