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Preparation, Practice, Praise = Purpose


It’s almost semester exam time. Each student in each class will take a two-hour cumulative exam. This exam will weigh in at 20% of the semester grade. It counts a lot. Students are getting nervous, teachers are getting nervous, and apparently the copiers are getting very nervous because none of them are working.

So I am spending this holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King by dedicating it to a day of work. I am honoring him through service to my students. I’ve set my Purpose for this week – Preparation, Practice, and Praise. I work with many disadvantaged children, as a special educator. I work with those high school students with attention disorders, learning disabilities, poor reading skills, physical limitations, and emotional/behavioral issues. They have to pass the same exams as everyone else, with some modification as appropriate for the IEP.

This week my purpose is to prepare the exams for the students, and the students for the exams. In some cases I’ll create word banks for students to use, or revise the wording of an essay question, or provide definitions for key terms. I might change the multiple choices from four to three. I could even shorten the length of the test for the student with time issues. All students get a review sheet to study from, with questions to answer and terms to define. For some of my students I have to prepare those answers and definitions for them. And with the study materials we provide I also need to provide encouragement, and reassurance, and practice enough so they become confident of their success.

Too many special education students come to exams thinking “I can’t do this, I am going to fail again.” I failed some tests in my lifetime, and I know success takes PREPARATION and PRACTICE. I’m giving them practice work and materials for preparation. But they need something more.

So I’m adding PRAISE – the third “P” of exam time. My students need praise – good words congratulating them on what they have already accomplished, and recognition of what they can do. We have two days of study time in each class this week. On those two days I’ll fit in these three important elements. Preparation – study review guides to complete and learn/memorize. Here’s a tip: I’ll let the students pick out which classical music CD they want to listen to during the study days, so when I play the same thing during exams it will be a mental trigger. Practice – sample problems, both multiple choice and essay questions, which the students will grade themselves. Praise – I’ll pass out grade sheets to show successes, and I’ll talk about how well the class has worked together. We’ll do some partner work so students can encourage each other. I’ll write a note for each student with a word of encouragement. I’ll ask them to write a paragraph of self-encouragement. I’ll let them know how much I care about their success now and in the future.

It’s what I do for a living- I teach the “P’s” – Prepare, Practice, Praise. It’s my PURPOSE.


Wow, I am so relieved to see another person in my shoes. I am a first year 4th grade teacher (this is my second week on the job), but I came from the business world working my way up from a secretary to becoming a public affairs manager. I would like to think I bring a bit of fresh air or something different to the classroom because my experiences are so different from a traditional teacher. Yet on the other hand, I feel intimitated because I do not know all the tricks of the trade.

Sometimes I worry that we are not truly instilling the values and skills needed out in the workforce. I can see how teachers are torn between teaching to the test, but at the same time making learning fun and helping children realize they are our future leaders.

Thanks for your blog.

Ms. Denney,
I just read your article in the November/December 2005 edition of Teacher Magazine. I too am a second career teacher. The first 28 years of my professional life was spent with the Navy. I retired in 2000 as a Command Master Chief. I too share with my middle school students many stories of my world wide adventures. Including in some of my stories are my adventures in High School. You see I am a graduate of Arundel High School class of 71.
After I read your article, thoughts of my days at Arundel came rushing back, I felt compelled to write to you, and applaud your new career. BZ! (Navy expression for well done)
I can be found in the 1970 yearbook with the junior class and in the 71 yearbook with the concert choir.
Arundel provided the foundation for my many successes in the Navy and with my new teaching career.

Robert B. Tate Jr.
Middle School Director
Kehoe-France Northshore School
Covington, La.

Diagnosing 'mental disorders' is NOT an exact science. That's what makes it dangerous sometimes. I worked with 'autistic' kids in a hospital setting, and the 'Psychiatrist' had intense psychotropic ordered for 'acting out behaviors.' WBR LeoP

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