Recognize Student Strengths

 In Assessment, Professional Development

Recognize Student Strengths. Today’s Exercise asks teachers to reflect on whether they consistently recognize student strengths. Historically, teachers have encouraged unsuccessful learners to act in particular ways by using grades as a punishment tool, such as assigning zeros on incomplete work and taking points off for misbehaving in class. This does little to motivate struggling and unmotivated students to achieve or to improve their behavior. Not all students are motivated by grades, especially those who fall behind on their work and score so low that they see no way out. We’ve threatened these underachievers with grades enough to know that our punitive actions do not equate to more students succeeding.

Remember, when students recStrengthseive information from a teacher about their performance, their self-worth is enhanced or challenged. Stop for a moment. Take a hard look at the consequences of our actions. Students who face struggles in life, experience constant defeat, and consequently exhibit modest if any confidence enter our doors every day. Many of these students hear us nagging them to complete their work. We threaten to assign an “F” grade. We do this “for the good of students.” But students don’t necessarily respond to our actions. Naturally, we rationalize their failure by shifting blame from us to them or better yet, their parents.

Just when we give up on students, they tease us by turning in their work. Seeing the least amount of effort from underachieving students, we assign them a positive grade on an assignment hoping this grade will motivate them to do more work. Sooner than later these students fall into the same old pattern and again receive failing grades from us. Unlike what we feel about our helping actions, students don’t feel good about the effort grade we assigned them. They realize they did not hit the achievement mark. Saying it a little differently, students received something  positive from following our directions rather than achieving an academic goal.

Rick Stiggins shares an assessment experience chart describing what “winning” and “losing” strategies look like for students in our classrooms (Stiggins, 2007). Students on the losing side have not consistently experienced a classroom where teachers clearly communicate well-defined learning targets and use good formative assessment approaches to coach students to succeed. As teachers, our goal is to place students in winning situations where they are eager to learn, take on challenges, and own their learning. We need to enter our classrooms each day with the purpose in mind that comes from Coach John Wooden, one of the best basketball coaches and teachers of all time. To be effective teachers he tells us “we have not taught students, until they have learned” (Nater and Gallimore, 2006).

We should not judge our effectiveness by how much we teach, what we teach, and how we teach. Rather, we make a positive judgment if we have approached students every day knowing that our success depends on how well students learn. We must judge our work as teachers by viewing how well students learned, especially students who struggle the most.



Celebrating Our Strengths bulletin board via

Stiggins, R. (2007). Assessment through the student’s eyes. Educational Leadership, 67(8), 22-26.

Nater, S., and Gallimore, R. (2006). You Haven’t Taught Until Students Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

The Effective Teacher GPA is an exercise to help teachers reflect on their teaching practices. The content is from Who’s Engaged? Climb the Learning Ladder to See by Janet K. Pilcher (2012), the text that forms the basis of the TeacherReady curriculum.


TeacherReady®TeacherReady, #AltCert, #TeacherPrep, Teacher Certification, #Teacher is the state-approved Educator Preparation Institute of the NCATE accredited Professional Education Unit at the University of West Florida. Upon completion of TeacherReady, individuals earn a professional teaching certificate from the State of Florida. Visit the TeacherReady at or connect with us on Facebook to hear stories about the more than 1,000 individuals now making a difference as a classroom teacher.

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