Friday, May 4, 2012

Stickers, Sandwiches, and Success: Teaching Strategies and Tips

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Iris Yuan

student achievement best practices - stickers, sandwiches, and success
Teachers face a wide number of challenges both in and out of the classroom. Below, two amazing teachers share student achievement best practices and strategies and steps that have proven successful in their teaching careers. Jamie Nestor has worked with students from grades 5-12 for over ten years, teaching Latin and Ancient Greek. Aaron VanderYacht started out as a Teach for America corps member and now teaches reading, writing, and math in grades 4-12.

For Aaron, a successful lesson starts with the mindset of his students. He recognizes that every student does want to achieve more, so he takes the time to assess each student’s attitude, strengths, and areas for improvement. Meanwhile, Jamie uses a “student-centered” approach, so that her students have more control over how the curriculum runs.

“I start by activating prior knowledge – figuring out what students know when they come to me. Then, I identify misconceptions and work to deprogram them and build upon truths,” says Jamie. She would also take note of what type of learner the student is, such as auditory or kinesthetic.

The next step is to keep the student engaged and establish motivation. To accomplish this, Aaron uses funky colored pens or paper, stickers, jokes, and laughter throughout his lessons. He hints, “As much as a 9th grader might try to pretend that he doesn't care about some silly sticker, you can bet that somewhere in there he's excited. Nowadays, I love to carry around stickers, stamps, and other simple rewards.”

Despite these efforts, it is inevitable that some students will start the lesson feeling lazy or unmotivated. You might hear, “I’m never going to get this, why bother…” or, “I don’t need any help, I’m fine.” To counteract these attitudes, Aaron makes sure to highlight positive progress along the way.

"Even when working with a student who is really struggling, I try to constantly create ‘positive sandwiches’. This means that I will start most of my comments to a student by highlighting something positive (‘I see your organization is really clear in this paragraph.’), follow it with constructive feedback (‘I see you tried to add a detail from the paragraph, but this detail doesn't directly support your topic.’), and then finish with a positive comment (‘Let's look back at the text, because I saw that you did a great job of highlighting a lot of important details.’). When feedback is 'sandwiched' between positive comments, problematic reactions are less likely to ensue later on,” he says.

Another common challenge is figuring out how to tailor these strategies from an individual level to a classroom setting. “It takes careful planning, strategy, insight, and adaptability to anticipate and provide what each child in the room needs for the best learning outcomes,” says Jamie.  “That’s why tutoring is so great. In a 1:1 setting, I can build a relationship with a student more quickly, and with that, perceive what that child needs. I can then provide that learning space more immediately and with undivided attention.”

Regardless of where the lesson is taking place, getting direct feedback from students at the end of the day is vital to moving the lessons forward.

“One of the best things that a student can say to me is, ‘That was easy!’ I always respond by saying, ‘Of course it was, because you practiced and put in hard work so that it would be!’ It's especially meaningful to me when I hear this after a student has taken a major test or quiz. Knowing that he or she is able to sit with their work and feel confident and relaxed is what makes teaching exciting,” says Aaron.

Iris Yuan is an Education Consultant at, a website that works nationwide to rebuild the tutoring system in K-12 education. For more information, follow @Tutorspree on Twitter. You can visit Aaron’s profile here ( and Jamie’s profile here (

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