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Donna Kelley

"A few years ago, when a telephone was installed in every classroom in my school district, a colleague allowed use of the phone as an incentive for high scores on spelling tests," recalled Donna Kelley. "I loved the idea, and I too began using the phone as a tool to validate my students' work and communicate with parents."

Donna Kelley's fourth graders get to brag about their accomplishments.

Kelley firmly believes that effective communication between home and school is an invaluable teaching tool. In her Westminster, Colorado, classroom, she uses a variety of communication tools, such as classroom newsletters, phone calls to the home (before problems become serious), Friday folders, conferences, and one that is especially popular with her fourth graders -- "brag calls!"

"At the beginning of the semester, I discuss what high quality, standard, and substandard work looks like in each subject area," Kelley told Education World. "I establish with my class what level and quality of work earns a brag call. I explain to them that when work is exceptional and exceeds the standard, I'd like them to share with their parents their excitement about a job well done. Each year, I focus the brag call on a subject area I want to emphasize. I have used it with different content areas: math, writing, and reading. This year, the emphasis is on spelling."

The Jefferson County Public School students adore earning the privilege to use the telephone. When Kelley returns papers marked "brag call," they beam! Her system allows the instructor to determine the standard and skill level students must achieve to receive recognition, and easily accommodates and includes special-needs students. The kids overwhelmingly tell Kelley, "I like to hear it when my mom (or dad) tells me, 'Good job!'"

Kelley says "brag calls" promote effective parent-teacher communication.

Parents feel validated, too, says Kelley. She repeatedly has been told by them, "It made my day!" Although she makes a point of staying within earshot, she never has had a problem with any child using the phone inappropriately during a brag call.

"One afternoon I overheard a kiddo tease his mother that he was in big trouble," Kelley said. "He let her stress for a second before he admitted, with pride and a big smile on his face, that he was actually making a brag call!"

For Kelley, the benefits and rewards of brag calls are numerous. The small amount of time required to make a brag call is well worth the return in smiles, reinforcement of high quality work, and positive affirmation for both parent and child. One of the few difficulties she has found is dealing with student disappointment when a brag call isn't earned.

"I tell them, 'Well done! This is good work!'" added Kelley. "It's my way of saying, 'You're almost there, and next time you'll do it!'"

Images courtesy of Donna Kelley.


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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