Sunday, March 23, 2014

On the Latent Effects of Student Praise

A few weeks ago I ran across an interesting infographic entitled "How to Raise a Genius" while scrolling through Pinterest and I thought I would share the message I took from it. 

The infographic was produced by OnlinePsychologyDegree.Net and the pin linked me back to a blog called Mama OT.

Here's the graphic: 

Genius Infographic

Now, maybe because I am a teacher and not yet a parent I looked past the implication that this graphic was created for individuals to apply while raising their own children and I immediately thought of it's application in the classroom. 

As I have mentioned in my blog before, my first year of teaching was spent with inner-city elementary students.  Many of these students came from families that spoke little to no English at home and most lacked the Norman Rockwell picturesque family dynamic.  That said, most of my second grade students were already considered "lower performing" because they were not as privileged to go home to environments where parents had the resources to limit television time, converse with the children in a way to nurture English language development, push their children to play an instrument or exercise, or even teach them patience.   What I did find, however, was that many of the parents were well aware that their current situations were not the standard formula  for "raising a genius."  So, as a teacher, I noticed that when a student, deemed by society to already to be "disadvantaged" and "low performing" performs well, it seems inherently obvious to praise him.  The parents praised him, administrators praised him, and yes, I praised him, too.  This is what makes the last portion of this infographic so profound - "don't tell them they're smart." 

Let's take a moment to talk about parent/teacher conferences.  When I read the phrase "don't tell them they're smart," this was the first scenario my brain jumped to.  Parent/teacher conferences are those few times a year where parents and teachers actually have the ability to come together and discuss the mutual work involved in educating a child.  That said, each party comes with expectations.  My experience here is two-fold; the first being a child that sat through my own conferences, and the second as a teacher leading conferences for my students.  As a child, I always felt that my parents wanted to leave a conference ultimately hearing that I was intelligent.  As a teacher, I feel that many parents come to conferences wanting verification of the intelligence that they already see in their child - who wouldn't? 

Now, to clarify, I am not condemning praise.  Praise, clearly is a beautiful concept that done correctly can nurture a child to success.  The reason I think the phrase "don't tell them they're smart" is so profound is the fact that parents and teachers must be careful about how we praise our children.  This brings me to my second thought - teachers - think about the number of times a student has given an answer to a question that has been wrong.  I will admit that when I first started teaching my general answer or response was "good," regardless of whether the student was correct of the answer truly was "good."  Why did I find myself doing this?  Because my experience as a student exposed me to the conventional norm that every student response warranted a response from the teacher, usually something "stock" such as the word "good."  Well, let's be honest.  Not every answer is "good" and it is better to be honest with the student than to falsely praise him or her.

After reading this information, my goal as an educator is to be more cognizant of the praise I give my students in order to teach my students (I now work with high schoolers) that hard work breeds intellectual gain.  Parents and fellow teachers, I urge you to do the same.  Let's watch the results together. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Noteworthy Places - Des Moines Botanical Gardens

Last weekend my parents had the opportunity to visit Des Moines.  (YAY!)  Along with checking out a few different shops in the East Village and eating lunch at the infamous Zombie Burger, we decided to swing through the Des Moines Botanical Gardens.  It was exactly what I needed to pretend like Iowa weather was a little closer to spring.  With an 80 degree interior and about 80 percent humidity, I could have spent the day basking in the sunlight, watching the Koi fish, and checking out the neat and exotic foliage.

Here are a few snapshots from the trip.

Seems like a pretty good place to write some lesson plans, right?  I think I might grab a bench and check it out this weekend. 

Currently Craving - Dark Beer/ Chocolate Baking Combos

Want to make your own festive cupcake topper?  Cut a paper straw in half, cut a length of washi tape, cut, and write a message with  a sharpie.  Quick, cute, and easy.

So, I have let myself become completely overwhelmed with life and teaching and have abandoned my poor blog, so, here's to hoping I can get a few updates knocked out before the end of spring break! 

One flavor combination that I've been craving lately is a complex dark chocolate and I've been pleasantly surprised with the dark beer/chocolate combination that seems to pop up frequently around St. Patrick's Day. 

One of the first items on my list of ways to relax over break was to whip up some baked goods.  I'll be the first to admit I love cupcakes.  Who doesn't adore cute little cakes that are dolled up?  I opted to whip up some chocolate stout cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and, not to toot my own horn, but they turned out pretty darn tasty. 

I started with a chocolate Guinness Cake recipe I found on Simply Recipes and I made some slight changes.

Here's what you need to make your own:

Of course sprinkles are a necessity. 


Yields: Approx. 24 cupcakes


1 cup of stout or porter beer, like Guinness (I used a local brew- Millstream Oatmeal Stout)
10 TBS unsalted butter
3/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. dark brown sugar
3/4 C. sour cream
2 eggs
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
2 C. all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (let's get real, a pinch will do.)
Paper cupcake liners


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the cupcake liners in your cupcake pan. 

Place the beer and butter in a large saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted.  Stir continuously to combine the beer and butter.  Add the cocoa powder and sugars.  Mix thoroughly.  Take the mixture off the heat and allow to come to room temperature. 

In a small mixing bowl, beat together the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract until completely combined.  Add to the beer/butter mixture and stir well. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the beer/butter mixture and whisk until fully combined.

Using a table spoon, fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full.  Allow to bake for 20-30 minutes.  Let the cupcakes cool fully before frosting with cream cheese frosting - recipe below. 

Frost and devour! 



1/2 C. butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz. of cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
3 C. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


With an electric mixer or a lot of elbow grease, mix together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. 

Add the vanilla extract and mix until evenly distributed.

Slowly add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese and butter mixture, making sure to scrape the sides to ensure even mixing. 

Using a knife, spatula, or piping back, spread the frosting on your cupcakes. 

Another beer/chocolate recipe I've tried out lately was the adorable Sprinkle Bakes Guinness-Pretzel Truffle recipe.  While there is no picture included because the outcome of my baking did not turn out nearly as pretty as those pictured on Sprinkle Bakes, the final product was at least tasty.  Below is her recipe.


12 oz. bottle Guinness Extra Stout (divided)
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup finely pulverized pretzel rods
3/4 cup crushed pretzels for rolling truffles
  1. Place 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. Guinness Stout in a 2 cup saucepan.  Set aside.
  2. Pour the remaining Guinness Stout in a separate small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 15- 20 minutes.  Be sure to keep an eye on this because, once reduced considerably, it can burn easily.
  3. Chop the chocolate into pieces and place in the saucepan with the Guinness Stout. Place the saucepan over medium- low heat and let stand until the chocolate starts to melt.  Stir with a wire whisk to blend together the chocolate pieces, but don’t whisk vigorously – we’re not trying to incorporate air.
  4. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, begin to add butter 1 tbsp.  at a time. Whisk gently until butter is melted, and then add the 1 tbsp. Guinness Stout reduction.  Stir in the pulverized pretzels.
  5. Pour the chocolate mixture into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until firm (or overnight).
  6. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Scoop out ganache out by the heaping tablespoon and quickly roll between your palms.
  7. Once all the chocolate is used up, chill the truffles in an air-tight container in the fridge until ready to roll in crushed pretzels. These chocolates will keep for 7 days when stored properly in the refrigerator.  Roll truffles in crushed pretzels just before serving (so they’ll be crunchy!).

  • Pretzel rods can be finely pulverized in a food processor.  Avoid getting large pretzel pieces in the ganache, it will give the finished truffle a lumpy, undesirable texture.
  • If crushed pretzels resist sticking to the chilled truffles, roll the truffles between your palms to warm them up, and then roll in the pretzels. The pieces should stick.
  • If you're watching your salt content, unsalted pretzels may be used in the ganache mixture.


If you're craving this taste combination and don't feel like baking anything, pick up a few bottles of Boulder Beer Company's Shake Chocolate Porter.  By far the best chocolate porter I have had yet.  (Pssst... It's also really good mixed with a fruit beer Van Diest Fruli Strawberry