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INTRODUCTION: Excellent student performance in the classroom may be recognized in many ways. It may also appear to go unnoticed by the students. This project seeks to address the potential de-motivation felt by students when their class efforts that go beyond basic expectations are not recognized by the instructor or fellow class members.
The studies of Motivational Theorists like
Frederick Herzberg strongly suggest that giving praise or recognition for
someone’s perceived good work is the primary motivation for continued good
work. It is a better motivator than money! Hertzberg makes a distinction between
motivation and hygiene factors. Motivation factors include recognition,
achievement, responsibility, and growth. Hygiene factors include working
conditions and pay. Herzberg noted that the hygiene factors do not motivate and
can actually de-motivate performance.
Herzberg based his Motivation-Hygiene theory
on extensive case studies of factory workers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His
research has been replicated and advanced by theorists like Harvard
University’s David C. McClelland.
Managers (teachers) often believe that
motivating employees requires giving them extrinsic rewards (paychecks, grades).
Herzberg, however, believed that the workers were motivated through feeling
responsible for and connected to their work. The work itself becomes the
reward. Managers (teachers) can help the employees (students) connect to their
work by giving them more authority over the job, as well as offering direct
and individual feedback. That feedback should be accurate, based on demonstrated
PURPOSE: In this activity the
classroom manager, the teacher, makes deliberate verbal acknowledgement of good
work to students in a beginning computer class. The goal of the project is the
improvement of classroom performance through the use of the acknowledgements.
SUPPLIES/SET UP: Create a spreadsheet
with the rows labeling the names of the class members and the columns labeling
the dates of class. The columns need to be wide enough for brief 6-8 word
At the start of the class when presenting
the syllabus and explaining minimum expectations: I tell the students that there
are two classroom performance factors that really garner my respect and
Students who help a classmate
Students who turn in lab work and
homework that exceeds expectations
I tell them about my 2 spreadsheets:
One spreadsheet records their
assignments and test results
One spreadsheet records behaviors that
garner my respect and appreciation
I tell them that the first spreadsheet is
private and only shared when a student wants to see how they are doing in the
class. I tell them that the second spreadsheet provides information that I share
with the class at the beginning of the first class of every week. I ask them if
anyone would be embarrassed if I publicly recognized great, exciting or
supportive things that they are doing.
Encourage discussion on what is meant by
“great, exciting and supportive things.” Draw examples from students as to
what they consider great, exciting and supportive. Get consensus. If possible
have examples. I distributed examples of great past assignments and elaborate
term papers from other classes that make use of the various computer
applications taught in the class. I also provided examples that would meet
minimum expectations for the grade so they could compare work. Examples
included a newsletter using features that included images, text effects, special
formatting, strong original content, and Word Art. Another example
included specialized Excel charts with features requiring use of advanced chart
tools. Examples of being supportive of others included helping students with
limited strength in English understand the textbook or helping students with
limited or no computer skills get on the internet to download the student
textbook files. This may take 20 minutes.
I make simple comments on the 2nd
spreadsheet as I watch people work in the lab sessions. I look for the behaviors
that we agreed were great, exciting and supportive. I also make simple comments
when I grade homework or lab assignments and note a great example. I acknowledge
the comments I noted in the spreadsheet every Monday. The fifth week of
the quarter I started a process of asking the students if I “missed” an
acknowledgement in case they noticed a great assignment or action that I missed.
As an end of semester exercise students
write a paragraph or two reflecting on the acknowledgements project. What if
anything did you get from this activity? Was the process fair? Is there a life
lesson here? What is it?
OUTCOME/EXPERIENCE: The students
agreed to the process and reacted with a good discussion that defined the
behaviors we would target as great, admirable and supportive. They agreed that
the assignment examples distributed were beyond basic expectations. A student
raised a good point. Would it be great if a person asked for help as well as
gave help? We agreed that all parties in a helping situation would be
acknowledged as doing something great. Another asked if I could provide examples
of great assignments as models for every assignment. I suggested that I would
prefer that the examples came from students in this class and they agreed that
the work would be shared among class members. I would post assignment examples
so class members could also “judge” the work.
The lab sessions for the beginning computer
classes are very active. Student activity in a lab class is fairly easy to note.
I found that carrying the spreadsheet makes it easy to remember to record the
target behaviors. I look for collaboration, helping behaviors and students
exceeding the work requirements. Asking the students if I had missed anyone the
previous week was an afterthought but allows students to share in the
A student in the class who is blind had
great difficulty in the lecture sessions because of my visual presentation of
material. Another class member, an older adult woman, volunteered to be a note
taker and lab helper for this student. They were the first to be recognized
along with a student who I noted was speeding through an assignment. I was
working with a student who, due to limited English skills, was having difficulty
understanding the assignment. I asked the speedy student if the student I was
working with could take a brief look at her computer screen. They worked
together the rest of the class session.
The first week I acknowledged 4 people. The
second week I acknowledged 6 people. The third week I acknowledged 9 people. The
fourth week I acknowledged 12 people. Many of the same people are being
acknowledged but a few new names are coming in every week. My comments are
brief. Just a simple acknowledgment is shared, “For last week I want to
acknowledge Ariana’s assignment. The mail merged job inquiry letters were
innovative and letter perfect. I also want to acknowledge Sharon and Dmitr for
navigating Excel without the use of the mouse.” I include a quick smile of
admiration and eye contact directed to the appropriate students, and we move on
to the lesson.
Several things are happening as the course
progresses. More and more students are doing great work and I am getting better
and better at recognizing it! Some students have questioned why I did not
consider their turned-in assignment great. This has led to good one-on-one
dialogs on the difference between teacher expectations and student perceptions.
As of midterm, the retention in my class is
about 5% better than previous quarters. I gathered several student-written
comments regarding the project after the midpoint of the class. I will do this
in a more formal manner at the end of the quarter. Early comments were good but
showed that some students also want those extrinsic hygiene factors.
“I liked the fact that good examples
were recognized because I have a better understanding of the range of
assignment work and what exceptional work is.”
“I like helping others and like that
you appreciated us but would like to have it be part of the grade”
“If more teachers would do this I
would work harder”
“It is clear that people like Sharon
deserve a lot of acknowledgement for the help she is giving”
“It was a little embarrassing at first
but I kind of like it”
LESSONS LEARNED: I learned that the
students have no problem receiving subtle but focused positive acknowledgement.
The process is taking very little time from the class periods. The hardest part
of the exercise is being fair and equitable in noting the activities worthy of
acknowledgement. I have to be vigilant in accessing behavior that should be
recognized. In the future I will incorporate from the outset the opportunity for
students to add their own recognition of classmates’ good work.
One thing I learned from the Herzberg
studies is that acknowledging great work to people who do not believe that their
work is great does not motivate. But, when a person does great work and you
neglect to recognize it you can de-motivate them.
I would recommend this activity to anyone
leading a class. One complaint I hear about my fellow teachers, people in
management and leaders is that they do not overtly recognize great work of
others especially work team members or staff members. Initiating and perfecting
a practice that acknowledges good work performance should lead to better
classroom performance and result in a praise infectious atmosphere.
--Jerry Cellilo, Faculty, Computer Applications, Foothill College (CA) firstname.lastname@example.org
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