Monday, January 26, 2009

The Owner of the Stapler

A couple of years ago two of my students were taking tests, and one said to the other "I bet I do better on my test than you do on yours." 
"I bet you're wrong," said the other.
 "Am not."
 "Are, too." 
And they argued awhile until one said "OK, whoever gets the higher score gets Mrs. Peters' stapler." 
"What?!! My stapler?"'
"Well, we won't really keep it, but one of us will OWN it." So, one of them earned a higher score, and "owned" the stapler. And it started a whole class culture that student with the high test score of the day owned the stapler. It meant absolutely nothing. They don't actually get to go home with anything. And yet it means everything. Later, the kids started writing their names on the board when they won the stapler. And they might add comments like "Now, I'm the Lord of the Stapler", or "Mwahahaha, I've beaten you all with my high score."  Kids come in extra just to check on who owns the stapler now. 

So, I have this freshman boy who I've really been trying to turn into a student. A few months ago he wasn't that great at taking tests. He didn't know how to study. But I've been coaching him on how to make his efforts more efficient. Last Friday he earned the stapler. The look on his face was incredible! He left the classrom feeling like he was a genius.  Today he won the stapler again. It was one of my proudest teaching moments. He was so excited, and I knew I had made a difference, not only in his knowledge of Geography, but also in his ability to study and take tests. His self esteem rose about 300 points today. Later, after this student had left, another student came in the room and saw that CW had won the stapler. She decided to call and congratulate him. I love it that we have this meaningless, random symbol that encourages kids to do their best, and gives them back confidence and prestige among their peers. 

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