Review: “The Power of Praise: Empowering Students through Positive Feedback” by Richard James Rogers (includes giveaway!)

During my year-long tenure at an Indiana Title I high school, I noticed a few things that bothered me quite a bit. One of them was that nearly every teacher at my school, from the ones just setting off on their teaching career to the ones getting ready to sail into the sunset of retirement, shared a fatalistic attitude when it came to our students. Admittedly, teaching at my former school cannot be an easy task under the best of circumstances. Most of our kids came from poverty of some degree, the majority also spoke first language other than English. It’s a nice idea to design a curriculum that is supposed to immerse these young people in their new language, but I wonder if anyone has considered how difficult it must be to attempt to learn English (starting with a whole new alphabet) while trying to understand lesson content with nary a support structure in sight. Yes, we had school assistants, but few got as involved as I did, and some preferred to not get involved at all while their charges struggled to understand what the teacher was trying to explain.

When the biggest help you can expect is a dictionary and extended time to give a test, as a teacher you must get frustrated beyond belief. However, is that really when you should simply throw in the towel, mutter to yourself that it’s all pointless, anyway, and let the confused and lost run the show? Is it really fair to enter a classroom and exclaim after having met with your students only once or twice that “that’s how they are, they won’t get it and they don’t want to try, let’s just get through the year”? What I saw were teachers and assistants attempting to deal with these kids by punishing every single bit of “bad” behavior, which often led to the kid disappearing from school for a while, not supporting or praising wanted behaviors. One teacher collected huge reams of paper completed during class, only to have these papers disappear forever. When I asked him why he didn’t return them, he replied that he felt kids would try to cheat their way to a better grade by making corrections at that point. In America, students write in pencil all through high school, which is ridiculous and certainly plays into this teacher’s fears.

Sadly, because of attitudes like these, many of my students ended up being left behind. They couldn’t learn from their mistakes because they never saw what they even were, and they couldn’t figure out how to ‘be’ better because the ratio of punishment to praise leaned heavily towards the former. This is why I wish books like “The Power of Praise” would be required reading in more schools, especially ones like mine, where teachers and students would benefit from a proper pep talk! *stick it out until the end of the review for a chance to win your own copy!

“The Power of Praise” contains 23 straight-forward tips, collected by Mr. Rogers throughout his teaching career. They are divided into three sections: The Philosophy of Praise (the whys and hows), The Mechanics of Praise (specific applications), and The Efficiency of Praise (or, how to not spend all day writing peppy notes). Any teacher anywhere will be able to find at least one or two points that can be applied to their students. Perhaps it won’t change the entire classroom, but I can guarantee it will have an impact on at least some of your students. As he did in the previous book, Mr. Rogers sprinkles plenty of anecdotes throughout the text to give real-life examples on how to apply the 23 secrets. The book concludes with a list of questions to allow the reader to reflect on the text, quite useful as the book is a slender, quick read.

As in the previous book, there are lovely illustrations by Sutthiya Lertyongphati, as well. Unfortunately, sometimes the size of the example pages is too small to properly convey the information without the use of a magnifying lens. In one example that is meant to illustrate self-evaluation by the students by means of different-colored pens, the black-and-white illustration spectacularly fails to make exactly this point. I also found a few spelling errors – it’s a gift and a curse.

On the plus side, aside from the useful information, there is Mr. Rogers’ attitude, which is always decidedly positive. It is easy to tell that he cares for his students and is highly committed to enable them to be successful. His no-nonsense writing style leaves even the reader feeling empowered and supported. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a method to support students in a positive, empowering manner or needs to reconnect to the reason why they wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Perhaps this book won’t fix all the issues you have at school, but it will help.

“The Power of Praise” is self-published. I received a review copy from the author in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own, unless otherwise stated.

Giveaway! Two lucky readers have the chance to win a copy of “The Power of Praise” on this blog! Simply leave a comment below this post and tell me why you would like one. This giveaway ends on March 31, 2020. Winners will be notified by April 3, 2020.

Review: “Chasing Greatness” by Mike Roberts

My husband will tell you that it’s easy to observe when I’m obsessed with something: I start my own total immersion program, usually by reading a stack of books as tall as the Frankfurt “tv tower” that used to be visible from our balcony back home. My most current obsession, and one that doesn’t seem to want to let up, is learning about teaching. Weird? Well, I am lucky enough to co-teach two biology classes at my current school, and after I finish CELTA certification this summer, I hope to have my own EFL classroom soon. In my head, that translates to “there’s no time like today” to figure out how to be the best instructor possible.

“Chasing Greatness” would not have been picked up by my book radar, had it not been recommended in a newsletter I subscribe to (thank you, newsletter!). The title alone is not that descriptive, where content is concerned, and the cover features a road and a footprint. Author Mike Roberts cleverly finds parallels between teaching and running a marathon (say what?). Although I am not ambitious enough to go long distance, I used to enjoy running when I had the luxury of doing it on beautiful forest paths, which are somewhat lacking here in fields-in-a-square Indiana, so I understand the attraction of the metaphor. Incidentally, it not only works well, but is also presented in a very readable, interesting format.

There are 26.2 chapters (really), each with a title that relates equally to marathon training and teaching, like “It Takes Planning”, “At Some Point, You’ll Want to Quit”, and “People Won’t Understand Why You Do It”. In almost every chapter but one, you will find an introduction that has to do with running, an interview with a marathon veteran, a part that goes into teaching, and an interview with a teacher. In between, you will find questions to ponder and things you can implement in your classroom tomorrow. Each part has a running-related title like Warm-Up, Aid Station, or Cool Down.

People who have been teaching for a very long time might complain that there’s nothing new in this book. I’ve only been at it for a year, so I can’t judge if that’s true or not; personally, I found the book a fast read with lots of great ideas, and I really appreciated the teacher profiles! You may shy away if you’re not athletically inclined or find the color choices for the cover too male-oriented, but please don’t let that keep you from reading this book if you’re looking for inspiration and/or ways to improve your and your students’ time spent in the classroom.

“Chasing Greatness” is published by Times 10 Publications. I actually bought my own copy, nobody is expecting me to review it, and all opinions are totally my own. Read this!

Review: “The Quick Guide to Classroom Management” by Richard James Rogers

Some of you know that I started a new job in August. I was looking for a way to do something resembling a practicum in Teaching English as a Second Language, but I also needed to get paid. What worked out for me was taking a position as ESL School Assistant at a local high school. When I started, I knew that I wouldn’t really be teaching anyone. The job description sounded like providing assistance to kids who were struggling to keep up with their school work because of language restrictions. After my first day, during which I shadowed an experienced assistant, I was ready to throw in the towel: it appeared that her day primarily consisted of trying to get kids to be quiet and persuade them to do any work at all. Fortunately, I decided to go back the next day and see my own students, and I have been committed to the cause ever since.

However, I also quickly realized that in fact I would need to find a better approach at getting students to do what they needed to do to get the work done that was due. Yelling, talking to them in the hallway, and pleading with them to pretty-please do the reading wasn’t going to help anyone. So, being me, I sought help from experts. At some point during my research, I ran across Richard James Rogers’ book, which had garnered some good reviews and looked useful at first skim.

For a beginning teacher, a career changer like me, or someone who is in dire need of some new ideas on wrangling kids, this is a great resource. As Mr. Rogers is a graduate of the British school system, the real-life examples are based on it, but they are quite easily transferable to various subjects and settings. The tone of the book is wrought with gentle humor, a trait that is certainly helpful to any teacher. There are also wonderful illustrations by one of Mr. Rogers’ former students, some of which are lovely examples of what great note-taking can look like – useful when you’re trying to show your students how to take notes properly.

As you might have guessed from the title, you will find plenty of classroom management tips in these eight chapters, all of which aim to ignite students’ interest and keep them hooked to prevent bad behavior or nip it in the bud. There are tips on using tech in classroom, building good relationships with parents, doing proper exam preparation, and what pitfalls to avoid with new colleagues. The final chapter talks about teaching overseas, which is of particular interest to anyone in my future field of employment.

Every once in a while, Mr. Rogers runs a promotion of this book on Amazon, where you might be able to snag a copy of the Kindle version for free. But even if you don’t, if you fit any of the profiles mentioned above, this is a good investment.

“The Quick Guide to Classroom Management” is self-published using Create Space. I purchased my own copy, and all opinions are, as always, my own.

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