Stamping Out the “IDK’s”

I have several motives for writing this:

  • Public confession of my ignorance (good for the soul)
  • Celebrating the wonders of a seemingly magical motivator, knowing I’m not the last teacher on the planet to try it

One of the new teachers in my department mentioned more than once that she stamps student papers.  She wasn’t the first teacher I heard of doing that, but I could think of nothing as silly as stamping papers…until I tried it.

My new process:   I do a few minutes of direct instruction.  Then I give the students a similar problem to attempt.  I walk around the room and stamp their papers with a stamp that says, “terrific.”  It was $3.95 at Walmart.

The effect:  Because I am physically stamping the paper, I feel more compelled to be accurate in my assessment of each student’s attempt.  The students, for some odd reason, desperately want their papers stamped.  This even works with my seniors who come to me disaffected, “Wait, me first!” Seriously?  Instead of pretending they are working their example when they really don’t get it, they call me over for help.  Asking for help looks the same as calling me over to stamp…and they want the stamp.  They are willing to ask for the help they need in order to get the stamp.

It still seems a little nutty:  letting go of having everyone engaged in the same part of the lesson in the same way at the same time.  The earliest students sometimes socialize after they celebrate.  But having every single student in the class feel successful with their experiment is priceless.

I am hereby committed to a more consistent and higher quality informal assessment habit.  While I will continue to use a variety of methods, stamping out IDK’s is, by far, my favorite.


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