Shame, shame, double shame

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately; both for myself with trying to get more exercise and for my students. We’re doing a unit in heath on healthy habits and I’ve been trying to use what I’ve learned about habit forming for myself to help them to change small habits to build up their healthy choices. For the most part, I have a group of students who are relatively active and eat pretty well with a few exceptions. It’s hard to know how to motivate those few who just don’t want to be active other than, well, what I’m doing already I guess, sharing positive stories, encouraging and celebrating their successes.

What I want to stay away from at all costs is shame. There’s too much around body image and so called “motivation” that is shame based. Sometimes it feels like if there’s anything “wrong” with our health, then it is our fault because we’re too lazy to exercise to fix the thing that’s wrong. Not getting enough sleep? Exercise more. Feeling depressed? Get more exercise. Gaining weight? Get off your couch and move!

It’s this whole weird complicated mess of emotions when it comes to body image and fitness and health. It’s hard to get motivated to start and hard to help others get motivated to exercise more while skirting things like shame. “It’s my fault that I feel like this”. Putting a positive spin helps, thinking about making positive choices and making it more about responsibility to yourself and your health rather than blame, but it’s a hard and mucky emotional bog.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days is I’ve had some success with getting more exercise this past month and I noticed an interesting benefit that brought back an old memory. This month, I noticed that my cramps and my period were much milder than usual. Normally they’re extremely painful and unimaginably heavy (approximately 4 times heavier than an average woman’s period) and this month has been surprisingly easy. No pain killers needed. But it’s not like I’ve never been this active before and one month doesn’t actually prove anything. It does however, make me think of a time that a teacher used shame to try to “motivate” me to be more active and how much that backfired.

When I was 16 and in grade 11 I took this course called PAL – Physically Active Lifestyles. At that time I was walking to and from school, about half an hour each way, dancing 4 times a week plus practicing at home, and was active generally, biking, ice skating, swimming, lots of walking, not sports or anything but dance was pretty intense so I was very fit. One day I started having cramps at school so badly that I could barely walk but I wasn’t one for missing school. In PAL that day we were going to play tennis but I told the teacher my stomach hurt and I didn’t feel well enough to play. I sat out and watched the class play.

At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and asked why I hadn’t participated that day. The teacher overheard and in a loud voice said that “Jeannie is not physically active enough to help alleviate her menstrual cramps.” I wanted to fall into a hole and disappear. Why would a teacher do something like that? There was so much wrong with that whole statement. It’s amazing how something like that can stick with me for almost 20 years that even now I feel ashamed just thinking about it and it’s not an easy story to share. And 16 year old me was a lot more easily embarrassed than 34 year old me. 34 year old me would have stood up for myself.

Teachers are people, and people make mistakes. I wonder if that teacher knew that I didn’t take her class seriously and thought that somehow this would motivate me to change that. I didn’t respect her much as a teacher, and after that, well, my respect for her went way down. After all, not only was her statement incredibly inappropriate and rude, it was also false. I was physically active. I wish I was half as strong and in shape as I was back then. Did that motivate me or any of my classmates to be more active? I doubt it. It certainly didn’t motivate me.

So when I’m doing a fun, on your feet moving kind of video or exercise, I try to encourage them all to try rather than telling specific kids to get up and move. I hope none of them ever feel ashamed of how they look or if they’re out of shape because I know that shame is not a good motivator.


Class pet?

When I started teaching this class in October I made one of my goals to listen to what my students wanted for our classroom and what they wanted for their learning. One of the things they asked for was a class pet. My first instinct was to say, no, it’s too much work and has nothing to do with our curriculum blah blah blah, but instead of saying no, I said I would think about it and we could do some research.

Every once and a while over the last three months they would bring it up and we would discuss various options and then at the beginning of December I put out a challenge to them to do some research on cost and care of a few different options. It took a while for them to really step up to the plate but when I told them that if they didn’t do the work, we couldn’t get a pet, they started taking it a little more seriously.

One of my students suggested that it could be their after winter vacation present when they get back so on Wednesday I went in to a pet store to look at a few of the options we had talked about and talk to a person who knew more about this.

We had discussed that anything with fur wouldn’t be a great idea because we have students with allergies, and as fun as it would be to be able to handle a cute little guinea pig, having sneezing and red eyed students wouldn’t be great. Plus I wouldn’t be able to leave it over the weekend and I would worry about taking it home with our three cats.

One of the grade 4 teachers, one that most of my students had last year, has fish in his classroom so we wanted to do something other than fish. Birds are too loud. So we settled on getting a reptile of some kind.

Turtles were a pretty good favourite at first but there are issues with them carrying salmonella on their shells and I don’t have a sink in my classroom. I kind of wanted to get a snake but there were too many phobias. Which left getting a lizard or gecko of some kind.

My students did some research on what kind of lizard or gecko would be suitable and not too expensive. A lot of them liked the idea of getting a bearded dragon. They make good pets. They’re fairly sociable and can grow pretty big. They’re interesting to watch and, well, having the word dragon in their name is pretty cool.

A few students favoured the idea of getting a gecko. They’re also very cool and relatively social and most websites agreed that they make good pets. They’re a little easier to care for than bearded dragons and less expensive. They don’t grow quite as big which has it’s pros and cons. I like the idea of having a nice 2 foot lizard in my classroom that I can take out and have crawl around, but then again, that means a larger, more expensive living space and more food.

Armed with this research, I went into the pet store and found a guy with great snake tattoos over by the reptile area and told him about my class and the research they’d been doing and what we were thinking. It took him a while for him to warm up to the idea. I’m not sure if he thought I’d be squeamish about handling reptiles or had no idea what would be involved, but telling him I’d worked at a natural history museum and was used to handling reptiles helped, plus I told him my first choice was a snake but that I couldn’t get one because there were too many phobias in my class.

The bearded dragons were so cool. They have a lot of them at the store and they’re active and interesting but expensive. I got to hold one, luckily my hands were warm so he sat on my hands quite happily and I was so tempted to get one regardless of the cost.


Baby bearded dragons, looking more like dinosaurs than dragons

But then he showed me the leopard gecko morphs and I fell in love! Not only are they cheaper to buy and house and feed, they are so beautiful! The ones they had there were a dazzling array of yellow, pink, purple, iridescent, some with spots and/or stripes.


So many different colours! How do I choose just one?

They’re a bit less social and they don’t grow as big but I’m okay with that. I got to hold one for a while as well. He only tried to get away when we went to put him back in the terrarium. Having something smaller will mean if it gets out it’ll be harder to find but luckily this kind of gecko doesn’t climb walls unlike some others, so I won’t be finding it on the ceiling or anything.

My students come back to school on Tuesday. I go back on Monday so some time between now and Tuesday morning, I think I’m going to go buy us a class pet. So exciting 🙂

Tickets please

After blogging about it, talking it over with our M&R teacher and doing a lot of thinking I have gone back to using positive participation tickets in my class. We had a big discussion about it on Friday and, after being out sick on Monday, I started using them for the first time today. While the system isn’t totally fleshed out yet, basically this is how it works:

A student speaks French, gets settled quickly, helps someone out, goes above and beyond what is asked of them, I give them a ticket. These tickets can be redeemed for privileges, things like; indoor recess with a group of friends, time in the gym, Smart board games, Lego and so forth. The idea with the “rewards” is that they were mostly group rewards, not just for an individual.

What I haven’t worked out yet is the “value” of each of these rewards. I suppose I need to come up with some sort of price list or something so that the students know how many tickets they need to save up. Now I know from video game theory that the most effective reward systems start of with small, easy to achieve goals and then over time make the goals harder and more time consuming. But rather than increase the value of the rewards (with some sort of strange inflation?) I think as time goes on I will make tickets harder to get, so for example whereas now, if a student attempts to speak French, even by repeating what I’m saying back to me, I give them a ticket. In time I will only give out tickets for full sentences or spontaneous French.

The other advantage of this system over last year’s is that, rather than constantly having to get new tickets, I’ll be able to re-use the same tickets over and over again until they fall apart.

Today’s introduction to the tickets went pretty well. As I expected, almost all bought into the system instantly. I saw hands go up from students I hadn’t heard from without specifically calling on them before. And yes, this is extrinsic instead of intrinsic motivation, but you know what? It was a happier, more peaceful classroom this morning when we were doing our French work. And hopefully I can gradually pull the program back as they become more confident in their abilities and eventually they will buy into the real reason that we’re doing all this learning – to better themselves.

Any hints or tips on how to make this program even better?

Going back to carrots

I’m thinking of going back to positive participation tickets. Instead of giving my students actual things in the draws though, I’ll try for less tangible prizes, like having a group in for indoor recess, or taking a small group to the gym or getting first choice of responsibilities.

My reasoning? Well I’ve been trying for the past three and a half weeks to get my students motivated, not only to learn French, but to be respectful and supportive in our classroom. I’m trying to create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and at times I’m struggling. I feel bad for the students in our class who are trying very hard and I would like to reward their struggles with more than just words. I feel like I shouldn’t have to. I feel like they are doing what they are supposed to and they should feel wonderful about themselves because of it, because they’re meeting their learning goals that we set, but I’m also starting to feel like it isn’t enough.

I’m also finding that quite a few of my students are hesitant to try, hesitant to make a mistake. I hope this is not because of anything I’ve done. I model that I make mistakes all the time and have to fix them “Madam a fait une erreur!” I exclaim and fix it, or look up a word I don’t know on Google Translate. But learning a second language is tough and it’s put them out of their comfort zone for sure. I get that. I’ve been there. After all, French is my second language and I didn’t learn it until I was 12.

So my idea is to start off using the tickets and then gradually use them less and less frequently in hopes that the external motivator will help build some positive habits that will become internal motivators. Am I foolish in thinking this? Am I opening up a can of worms that I won’t be able to close or am I doing the right thing here? Really looking for some advice on this one.

Read to Self trials

I haven’t been keeping up with my blogging this past week. I had a feeling I would slow down a bit in September. Things are so busy. Last weekend’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival was amazing and a well needed break. My husband’s band had an amazing show and placed second in the competition. Thanks to everyone who voted and came to the show. I’m so proud of them.

At school, my class is progressing. We’re starting to develop some good habits and routines. Some days they seem to require more reminders of those routines than others. There French skills are progressing as well. It amazes me, watching them figure out what I’m saying, what they need to say, learning the sounds and the grammar of a new language. It’s been a few years since I started French Immersion, 15 years now actually, and I have a vague recollection of how frustrating it was at first. But despite their frustration, most are catching on to the daily phrases and routines that we do in French and are getting more accustomed to me speaking in French.

As I mention in my First week with students post, I’m integrating some parts of the Daily 5 program into my Intensive French classroom. In February I’ll be implementing the whole program. For now we’re focusing on read to self. We did an I-chart of what that looks like, we talked about the three ways to read a book and we have a chart on the board for a visual representation of our stamina progress. More so than any other year, I’m finding their stamina is erratic. Some days they are able to read for 14-15 minutes, other days they only have stamina for 2 or 3 minutes, or can’t get settled at all. I am noticing a general trend of more time as we go along, but we have setbacks still. Today their stamina was 2 minutes.

I had one student today who did not want to read at all. This student had been having a difficult week and was being obstinate. I tried having other students encourage this student to try and reminders of the three ways to read a French book but to no avail. And I do believe strongly that when we’re building up our class stamina, it has to be the whole class.

Does anyone have any tips for how I can help this child? It wasn’t just this one issue today. I tried speaking one on one a few times, and have attempted to contact home to see if there’s something else going on but haven’t been able to reach anyone yet. How do you deal with students who refuse to buy in to this?

Moving from carrot and stick motivation

Even before I became a full-time teacher, I struggled with the idea of how to motivate students. While in university we looked at various methods and discussed how students who are intrinsically motivated (motivated to do something because they know it will benefit them) work better and have a more meaningful education than those who are extrinsically motivated (those motivated by either fear of consequences or because they will get something else if they do well).

Extrinsic motivation is often called  using “Carrot and Stick” motivators. So you tell a student that if they do this thing you want them to do, they will get a candy (carrot) but if they don’t do it, they will get a detention (stick). In some way it is nearly impossible to get away from using carrots and sticks. After all, if a student does well they get a high mark, if they don’t do well, they fail. I suppose the amount of importance you give to those marks can change whether or not they become motivators. I myself as a student was highly motivated by marks and by praise.

In a previous post over the summer, I thought about Video game style motivation where I talked about using goals to help motivate my students. This is something I have started doing a little this past week, having the students express their learning goals in writing.

But I also spoke about my positive participation tickets. So far I have not resumed this practice and I would like to refrain from using it this year for several reasons. One is it’s a carrot. It motivates students to something I want because they will get something from it. I found it difficult last year to see the students become greedy about the prizes last year and it also took up a lot of time and money to get the prizes. The positive participation tickets came from a system developed for the intensive french program. Most intensive french teachers use them or a variation to motivate their students to speak French. I’m concerned that if I don’t use the system that when my teaching is observed, my choice to not use this system will be questioned and I’ll be told to start using it again.

My other concern is what to use instead. Last year I tried to go without my tickets with one of my grade 5 classes. After a few days of not getting any hands I started in with the tickets and suddenly the hands went up. I also randomly call on students using a random name selector. But so far this year I haven’t seen participation from a lot of my students. What motivators have you used in your classroom that work for you?

Teacher Talk Tuesday

Here’s my second blog hoppin’  post for the week. Today’s topic is giving advice to new teachers. I will qualify that as giving advice to teachers who are in their first year of teaching because I am still a new teacher. So here’s my little bits of advice.

1. Don’t take on too much at once. It’s very tempting when you first start teaching to join all the committees, to start all the extra-curricular activities, and to implement every good idea you’ve ever heard. It’s not possible. You still have to teach full time and have a life outside of the classroom. Focus on a few key things that are very important to you and don’t be afraid to cut things out if you feel you’re getting overwhelmed.

2. Ask for advice and help from other teachers but reserve the right to ignore it if what they say doesn’t fit with how you want to teach. Listen respectfully to what they have to say, use it if it’s a good idea, store it away for later if you don’t want to do it.

3. Have fun! Teaching can be a very joyful career. We are so lucky to be surrounded be children who look up to us and we can get in there and play from time to time. If you enjoy what you do, share that joy. Your students will pick up on that enthusiasm.

4. Try not to get bogged down by the negative things other people say. Whether it’s about a student or a new program or the weather, some teachers (and people in general) just vent all that negativity to whoever will listen. As teachers we sometimes have more than enough emotional strain in our lives and don’t need any extra. Let it be like water off a ducks back rather than taking on that negativity.

5. Be your own advocate. This goes even more so for substitute teachers who are trying to get full time teaching jobs. Don’t be afraid to let administrators know how wonderful you are and what you are willing to do, what extra special things you bring to education. You are special and you are caring and you are amazing at many things. I know this because you are a teacher and only special, caring and amazing people are called to be teachers.

Have a wonderful first year!