Having gone on and on a few blogs ago about how important it is for bloggers to cite their sources if they wish their arguments to be taken seriously, I'm now going to do just the opposite: rely on your faith in my recollection and basic integrity as a blogger.
A number of years ago Peter Elbow described an interesting experiment conducted by one of his colleagues in the composition program at SUNY Stony Brook, where he was then serving as Composition Program Director.
Seems this colleague wanted to know whether positive comments only, positive and negative comments, or negative comments only led to the greatest improvement in her students' papers.
This was classroom-based research at its very best, in my opinion: an interesting question, pretty clear ways to measure the results to the satisfaction of the researcher, and immediate consequences in terms of changed behavior, should the results conclusively indicate the value of one way of proceeding over another.
So she started by writing positive comments only on the papers of one of her freshmen composition classes, and a mixture of positive and negative comments on the papers of another of her classes.
The results: both groups of students improved about equally in their writing, and both seemed to value the types of comments that were written on their papers about equally. The difference was not in the performance of the students, but in the attitude of the composition instructor herself. "Writing positive comments only on one set of papers was the best form of professional self-renewal I've ever experienced," she claimed. I'd look forward to reading that set of papers as a challenge--even as a contest between me and the students in that class. Could any of them write one paper that was so bad I'd find nothing positive to comment on, at least with a genuinely positive comment?
"Each time I'd sit down with those 'positive comments only' papers I've have a sense of thrill, a sense of expectation. What would I encounter with this set; how successfully would my students try my capacity for discerning and writing about something genuinely positive in each of their papers?
This not-so-surprising version of a "hawthorne" effect (see July 9 post) on the teacher who is 'observing' her students has interesting implications, it seems to me, for the sorts of 'appreciative noticings' I've suggested might initiate a school-site based blog site. It suggests that there might be a value to doing this 'electronic noticing' even if you sent out invitations to this particular party and none of your school colleagues deigned to 'appear' at your electronic party.
More practically, this informal research finding on the ameliorating effects of making positive comments on the person making these comments suggests that there is a strong reason for doing so, whether or not one envisions or believes in the larger vision of educational change that I've argued for in previous posts. You should do so because you'll feel better about your job and your working environment if you do. And does anyone really doubt that a more positive attitude on the part of a teacher has anything but a salutary effect on her or his students' learning?
I'll end this blog entry with a post I just received from EdWeek, since it relates in such an interesting way to what I've been talking about above, and because it involves one of the teachers who has been doing, for many years, just what I have been suggesting with his classes. Noticing what goes right when things go right, and talking about it electronically (as well as, quite voluminously, in more traditional print forms). The teacher is Jim Burke, an high school English teacher at Burlingame HS in Burlingame CA (just south of the SF airport), and the site he uses to discuss his educational suggestions is (check it out!)
Dear Jonathan Lovell,
LIVE ONLINE CHAT:
Getting Ready for the New School Year: Advice for Teachers
When: Wednesday, July 26, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern time
Submit questions in advance:
Join us for a special live Web chat for teachers on preparing for the new school year. Our special teacher-guests will take your questions on what to expect in the early weeks of school, what teachers need to before school starts, classroom-management and instructional strategies, and much more. This is your chance to get a jump on planning and get feedback on your ideas and potential problem areas.
* Jim Burke, an English teacher an Burlingame High School in California, is the author of "Letters to a New Teacher: A Month-by-Month Guide to the Year Ahead" (Heinemann). He is also the recipient of the 2000 Exemplary English Leadership Award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
* Hanne Denney, a career changer starting her third year as a special education and social studies teacher at Arundel High School in Maryland, writes TEACHER MAGAZINE'S blog "Ready or Not." She recently received a master's degree in leadership in teaching. Read her blog here:
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