Pushing Performance Through Praise

By Craig Martin, M. Ed., Principal, Michael J. Perkins Elementary School, South Boston

All egos matter, right? Children and adults alike appreciate their ego being stroked.  It’s euphoric and whimsical and can even create a sweet adrenaline rush when you know you have knocked it out of the park.  Athletes thrive on receiving the right feedback from coaches, physicians, and scientists to perfect their run pattern, way they shoot or throw the ball,  and even how they move or mold their bodies to get the most efficient move pattern necessary to finesse their opponent.  The same can be said for teachers in a classroom.

picture1Within the walls of our South Boston school community, you can see teachers floating their spaces, waiving their majestic pens in the air, honing in for accuracy and sophistication of expository prose, multi-step math problem solving, or scientific claims. Student scholars are passionately pressing pencil to paper with ideas and representations hawking their teachers as they get closer to their desks.  Sweat beads are forming and the timer is running out.  They can feel their teacher’s warmth over their shoulders. Seconds seem like light years as the pen races over every line of calculation and response is examined.  Did I do it right?  That check plus means “I Rocked It!” A minus sign means I am still confused.  Either way, Scholars exit that momentary experience smiling or brooding yet anticipatory of the next round of aggressive monitoring that will take place within another hour of that moment.

picture2When I begin in 2013, 39% of our Scholars were scoring Proficient or higher in ELA, 43% in Mathematics, and a mere 5% in Science.  Girls were outperforming their male peers 3 to 1. 38% of English Language Learners were Proficient. And our Scholars on Ed Plans were more than likely to score Warning or Needs Improvement on any assessment they took.  Approximately 50% of our Scholars ended the year reading on level.  Scholar misbehavior was high and many of them were left to wonder if they were on target or on track because feedback on their performance came whenever the next test arrived or was just negative in nature. It was clear a shift in paradigm was necessary to move our school’s academic mountain.

We started this year with higher composite performance index (CPI) in ELA, Math, and Science than in 2013. Girls and Boys are performing within single digits of one another. Three quarters of our English Language Learners begin the year Proficient. About a quarter of Scholars on Ed Plans are outperforming their general education peers. 60% of our Scholars started the year reading on grade level and we are on track for almost 75% of them to end the year reading on or above reading level. We attribute a good chunk of our school-wide success to how we are providing targeted feedback to our students over time.

picture3Every student receives some level of feedback and/or data on their performance three times a day during independent work.  Our teachers have developed feedback codes to communicate to their Scholars how they are doing in real time.  With exemplars in hand, our teachers know exactly what they are looking for and are thinking intentionally about how they will guide students to mastery.  This is by no means a perfected practice or science–but we are noticing a different level of energy, tenacity, and motivation with our Scholars.  Our Scholars crave the attention and the affirmation that their effort was for good cause and is leading them in the right direction.  Our youngest Scholars run up or down the stairs (dependent upon their grade level) to show their check pluses and stickers to our school secretary, the P.E. teacher, and any caring adult in the building who is willing to tell them “Good Job!” or “I am proud of you!”.  We are finding that our kiddos can appear to be egomaniacs and we LOVE IT!

picture4Aggressive monitoring, which is the art and science of providing targeted feedback (in real time) on how close our students are to hitting their learning targets based upon teacher developed exemplars, has become a critical and much needed friend to our instructional work.  Teachers love using aggressive monitoring because it cuts grading by half or even three-quarters of the time because they are not taking home so many papers.  They are also able to record performance on exit tickets and parts of independent practice in real time.  At the end of each lesson, students have received feedback and know how they are doing on standards based tasks and so do their teachers.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

craig_martin_10_400x400Craig Martin is the Principal of the Michael J. Perkins Elementary School in South Boston. He is committed to providing a creative, encouraging, and motivating educational environment that stimulates all students, regardless of labels, language capacity, or learning challenges to be active partners in learning by utilizing 21st Century technologies, culturally relevant and responsive practices, and humor. 🙂 Craig is an Architect of Change who strongly believes all children deserve a sound educational experience integrating technology, music, drama, expressive therapies, and real world connections.  Craig has emerged as an innovative and motivational leader who uses social and digital media to connect communities, life experience as a smartboard for engaging and partnering with educators abroad, and a resounding commitment to championing parent engagement and advocacy. You can follow him on Twitter @CraigCMartin12

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues!








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