One of the most powerful tools is to use encouragement -- I do not mean saying, "Good job." Positive encouragement means getting the student's attention (usually not in front of the whole class!), telling him/her exactly what it is s/he did well, and then saying something about why it is important. For example, "Sam, you held your temper when Pete bumped into you. That's a big step in the right direction." Or, "June, you spoke up and added your ideas to the group. Your contributions will make it a better project."
Yes, it takes a bit longer, but kids cannot replicate behaviors unless they know exactly what it is they should do again. "Good job" or other pat praise phrases don't do that. And, yes, for some kids you really have to look hard to find something to encourage. Remember, to encourage the baby steps!
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Have you tried tools to Gamify your classroom like Class Dojo or ClassCraft. Classcraft is better for older students and I find its a great motivator.
I choose a word to focus on (for example, cooperation or flexibility) and put it up on my white board in bubble letters (or written on a big sheet of paper) and then when I see the students doing those things, I call it out, "I see Sam being really flexible..." and fill in some of the word. When the word is filled in then I let the class vote on a special activity.
I like to use a point sheet with target behaviors with a scale of 0 1 or 2. They earned it with no more than 1-2 redirections would earn 1 point, no redirections would earn 2 points. More than 2 redirections earns 0 points. This is done by class period. With new students the criteria to earn the day is set fairly low to get them yo see they can earn the points. It increases for each level. It puts the student in control. Students then trade in their points for tangible and intangible reinforcers based on what they like. Some of my students will Jump through hoops to get a free homework pass or a free drop the lowest grade pass. Others want the extra time with me while others want the candy, chips etc. we typically trade points one day a week.
I work with adults in a GED program. We purchased a supply of dog tags (metal, they look like old fashioned military ID tags) and put our school logo on one side, and the slogan "Never Stop Learning" on the other. When students achieve an educational gain we glue a small crystal on the bottom of a tag and present it to them, along with a certificate we print up ourselves. Since attaining a GED is a long term goal for most of our students, this provides a little concrete encouragement and short term reward along the way. We have found this to be amazingly popular with our adult students and they look forward to what they have christened "Bling Day" at the end of each 8 weeks, when they earn their "Bling".
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