This week, I saw students who were truly proud of themselves because of a piece of paper.
They analyzed their data, revised their hypothesis about their planes, and re-built them in hopes of their new designs flying further. We ran a final test and declared the “winner”.
The morning of our final tests I came into school five minutes early and used a pre-made template in Microsoft Word to create certificates for the winning team from each class, as well as a certificate rewarding the teams that best demonstrated each of the four words from our classroom vision: creativity, compassion, courage, and confidence. Each class has five teams so it worked out nicely that each group got a certificate for something. I thought it would be nice and fun, but I did not even imagine the impact it would have on my students.
After we tested the planes, my students finished up their lab reports and hung them out in the hall. At the end of class, I called for everyone’s attention and awarded each team their certificate. I was so touched by the response. They clapped for each other. They held their certificates and were excited to see their name and the names of their teammates written out. They asked me if they could take out their phone and take pictures of it. And I don’t just mean the team that won the certificate for farthest plane flight; they really were excited to be recognized for their creativity, their teamwork, and their confidence. They hung each certificate proudly in the hall above their lab reports.
I was amazed. Here are these things that I typed up into a template in about five minutes. I printed them out in black and white on plain old regular copy paper, I wrote their team name on there, surrounded by the names of each person in the team, and I signed my name on the bottom. It took me almost no time or effort and cost me pretty much nothing and yet I have NEVER seen them so excited about receiving ANYTHING in class. (AND that includes food, because I have bribed/rewarded with food before; kids love food.)
But my absolute favorite response was a young man in my last block of the day. He is not the most well-behaved student, so he often receiving negative attention from his teachers. Also, he is an exceptional education student, so he does not excel academically either.
His team won the certificate that read: “GRAND PRIZE: Plane that flew the farthest” AND (since it is a small class) also won the “Compassion” certificate for the best teamwork in the class. Five minutes after I announced and handed out the certificates in this class, I glanced over and I saw him holding his team’s certificate and staring at it with this little smile of pride, accomplishment, and joy on his face. It was a look I had never seen him wear before. His eyes moved across the flimsy, black and white, copy paper certificate as he read it over and over like it was the greatest thing he had ever seen and his shoulders moved up and down gently as he took deep, satisfied breaths, basking quietly and privately in the glory of this accomplishment.
This young man has maybe never felt like he accomplished something great in school before, but yesterday, I think he did. He came to the science hall this morning before homeroom with a friend and said to me , “I just came to look at my certificate Ms K.” The Grand Prize certificate hangs above the Compassion certificate which hangs above his team’s lab report, in the order he and his team members specifically planned out.
So, this week I discovered the power of a piece of paper. And I plan to give out a lot more certificates in my classroom from now on.