T/TAC Topics                                                                                                   February 2017 v. 2
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The February 2017 T/TAC Topics contained an error in the article,  "Positive to negative feedback ratio".   The error has been corrected.  Please accept our apologies. 
Positive to negative feedback ratio
  As educators, we all have at least one student whose name we say more often than others. Usually it is to redirect inappropriate behavior. It is important to examine how redirection can impact our students. A simple directive such as, "Sit down" can be perceived by some students as negative feedback. Exploring the research related to the effect of behavior specific positive feedback can motivate us to modify our responses to student behaviors.

According to John Gottman's research on communication between spouses, he could predict, with 90% accuracy, which marriages would end in divorce based upon the ratio of positive to negative interactions. He determined marriages with at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction would be successful (Gottman, 1998). Researchers have investigated how the impact of the five to one ratio of approvals to disapprovals affects classroom interactions supports (Beaman & Wheldall, 2000). Lowering expectations to increase the number of opportunities for positive feedback can have adverse effects. Instead, teachers are encouraged to focus on behavior specific praise that emphasizes effort rather than emphasizing fixed qualities such as intelligence (Flora, 2000). After redirecting a student, challenge yourself to squeeze in five positively stated behavior specific comments.


Beaman, R., & Wheldall, K. (2000). Teacher's use of approval and disapproval in the classroom.
Educational Psychology , 20, 431-446.

Flora, S. R. (2000). Praise's magic reinforcement ratio: Five to one gets the job done. The  Behavior Analyst Today , 1, 64-69.

Gottman, J. H., Coan, J., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from  newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family , 60, 2-22.
Benefits of cursive writing
Some of us might remember when cursive writing was a cornerstone in the educational development of school children.  Or, if not, we might recall the beautiful handwriting produced by our parents or grandparents by way of letters, cards, and journals.  Since technology has increasingly made paper/pencil assignments seem outdated,  it might be surprising to find that teaching children handwriting, and most particularly cursive writing, can once again benefit all children; especially children with special needs (McAllister 2016).

Teaching children cursive writing is considered "crucial" by Jan Z. Olsen, founder and developer of Handwriting Without Tears, a curriculum designed to teach handwriting to children. Olsen believes that handwriting is more  cognitively engaging than typing, develops muscle memory, and helps students to better organize thoughts and remember facts and information (McAllister 2016). Some scientists believe that writing neatly in cursive might indicate greater strength in math and other subjects (Watson 2016).

Children who exhibit difficulties with handwriting often struggle with dyslexia, dysgraphia, fine-motor, and various language-based disorders (Watson 2016). Although cursive writing is no longer taught in many school districts, it is reemerging as an educational advantage for students in the special education population. Jan Olsen believes that the multi-sensory experience that students receive from the paper and pen help to keep them focused, on-task, and ultimately more successful with classwork (McAllister 2016).

Asking when to teach a child handwriting might strike up some controversy, but Olsen recommends beginning as soon as possible with chalk or crayons after the child develops fine motor skills. She also recommends starting with printing first capital, then lowercase letters, then moving to cursive toward the end of second grade (McAllister 2016).

There are a wealth of free, web-based work sheets and other resources available to teach cursive handwriting.


McAllister, J. (2016 November/December). Is Handwriting a Predictor of Academic Success? Health Journal, Vol. 12, No.05

Watson, S. 2016, March) Writing Help for Special Ed Kids: Try Cursive! Retrived January 12 from http://specialed.about.com/od/literacy/a/whycursive.htm

Focus on library materials: Differentiated instruction
  There are common misconceptions regarding differentiated instruction such as, "It is just for students who have Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs)," "Tests are read aloud to certain students and that's how I differentiate instruction," or "It is a teaching strategy."  Differentiation of instruction is a way to tailor academic instruction to match the student's needs. For example, you can vary the ways students gain access to the content being taught, vary the process of how students acquire information, change the manner in which students demonstrate understanding of the content, and finally, create a classroom environment that is conducive to the learning process.  It is not just for students with special needs, it is for all students.  According to Carol Ann Tomlinson (2014), "Classroom practices still tilt decidedly to the one-size-fits-all end of the flexibility spectrum. We still gravitate to the familiar, convenient and comfortable patterns that dominated education a decade and half ago (p. ix)."

The T/TAC at VCU library has two books by Carol   Ann  Tomlinson which provide information and strategies for differentiated instruction. The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners offers  insightful guidance, on what to differentiate, how to differentiate, and the whys of differentiation. It lays the groundwork for bringing differentiated instruction into your own classroom.   
Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom takes an in-depth look at assessment and shows how differentiation can improve the process in all grade levels and subject areas. The authors explain how differentiation applies to pre-assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, grading and report cards.

Both books are available for checkout through the library at VCU T/TAC.  To find these and other books available for checkout visit our online searchable library catalog at:  http://opac.libraryworld.com/opac/home.php

Tomlinson, C. (2014).  The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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