Classroom Tip #1--The Big Three
All master teachers share a few basic secrets--the one which makes the greatest difference is how they motivate students to learn. Students will respond positively to any activity you plan provided that you include three basic elements, "the Big Three," in your planning. The first is action. Students are like teachers, sitting still makes them nervous or drowsy, or both. A good motivating activity is always active. The second is interaction. Good motivating activities are always social. Group work is always more motivating than individual work. If your activity includes something that students must do alone--it should culminate with something that students do together. Last, but most important of all, a good motivating activity always provides students with a feeling of success. You can always succeed in motivating students, if you plan for student success.
Classroom Tip #2--Failure Breeds Failure
Children begin their schooling eager and curious, but in time many of them become withdrawn, unhappy, and disruptive. When work is too difficult, students have to find a way to cope with the fact that they are unsuccessful. Their strategies for "coping" may include cheating, misbehaving in class, "turning off" the class entirely, or even acting in ways that undermine the teacher. The cumulative effect of past failure even forms a stumbling block to motivation. Students who have been exposed to much failure, may not attempt even simple tasks for fear of failing again. These students never give in to threats, warnings, or force. Usually their strategies for "coping" are stronger and more rewarding than any threat you can enforce. Students like this must gain a feeling of self-esteem in Hebrew bit by bit, lesson by lesson. Sometimes this takes many class sessions to achieve; always it means the teacher must have patience. To start the ball rolling, spend a little individual time with a failing student, coaching him or her in something the class is about to do. Then, at the appropriate moment, allow the student to sense success. Very few things in the life of the classroom are more rewarding--for student or teacher.
Classroom Tip #3--Let Students See Their Success
Wall charts with Jewish stars are one way to help students recognize their own success. But there are many others, too. If there is a computer in the classroom, you can keep a running chart of the students' grades, allowing them to look at their computer record from time to time. Some teachers keep a file folder for each student in an open vertical file on the desk, or pinned to the bulletin board, allowing students to check their progress on individual assignments or see where they stand in the overall course. All of these indicators of success are helpful to you as a teacher, too. You can quickly learn which students need the most help and which students are most likely to be helpful to others.
Classroom Tip #4--Listen to Your Students
There's a difference between listening and what master teachers call "Active Listening." Active Listening is connected to feedback. First you listen and try to completely understand what the student is saying to you. Then you repeat what the student said in your own words, checking with the student to be sure that you have correctly translated the message. In Active Listening, you try not to add your own opinions or ideas to what has been said and not to judge or remark on the validity of the student's statement. If you practice Active Listening, the students will soon understand that you care about them (which, of course, we know you do).
Classroom Tip #5--Merit Cards
Report cards can be a negative factor in motivation. Students like to show their parents that they are succeeding. But report cards more naturally point out where a student is not succeeding. A little technique which I have used for many years will be helpful to you, too. When a student does exceptionally well on an in-class exercise or a workbook assignment, make a mental note. After class is over, spend a minute writing a note or a postcard to that student's parents. Be sure to be specific. "Today in class, David showed that he has been making real progress in vocabulary. He was able to read and translate all seven of the vocabulary words. It was great to see his enthusiasm." Sign the note and mail it to the student's parents. You can be sure that it win end up on prominent display--probably on the refrigerator. You can also be sure that David will come back with a great big smile. After all, you provided him with the best reward--his own parents' approval. No doubt, he was even the subject of a dinner conversation. And so was your class. What a fine teacher you are to notice when a student makes progress! (Important: mail the note home, don't give it to David who may misplace it in his school books, or forget about it entirely. Also important: Try to do this with every student in the class at least once each semester.)
Classroom Tip 6--Phone Home
A call from the teacher should not happen only when a student has acted badly in class. From time to time, set aside a few minutes in the evening to make "public relations" calls. Choose at random from your class roster and speak to two or three of the parents. Tell them how proud you are of their child. "Sarah is really making headway with her handwriting in Hebrew. It's a pleasure to see how she forms her letters." Tell them briefly what you are doing in class. "This month we are working on the basic
Classroom Tip #7--Phone Home, Again
While you are at it, place a few calls directly to the students. Ten them how proud you are to be teaching them. Tell them that you feel they are making progress. Ask them about the class and how they feel about it. Don't be afraid of their answers. Do a little Active Listening. Sometimes, a student knows best what is working and what is not working.