While there have only been three days of school so far and it's waaaaay too early to tell whether or not this will be the case (just as ESPN.com is jumping the gun on projecting my Spartans to go to the Rose Bowl), I made an important realization: the Ninja Board is perhaps going to be far more useful as a tool for developing classroom culture (which, of course, would affect student motivation in turn). This is because I can use it to define and recognize those "awesome moments" in class and capture them for posterity.
Some things went according to plan on the first day. I said absolutely nothing about the Ninja Board. I didn't even point it out. I was secretly planning to award the first ninja point to the first student who asked about the Ninja Board. I figured someone was going to at some point.
The entire first block passed without anyone asking about it.
I was genuinely surprised at first; then I began to think that perhaps nobody would ask about it unless there was more to pique their curiosity than just a blank wall.
I looked for other opportunities to award ninja points to a few students. During my second block class -- which also ended up passing by without anyone noticing the Ninja Board -- one of my students asked me if I wanted to see the folder she was using for my class. I said I would love to, so she reached into her binder and pulled this out:
COOLEST FOLDER EVER.
So I decided to award her a ninja point for being the "first to bring in a ninja item."
I have a particular way of awarding ninja points. When a student does something worthy of a ninja point, I say nothing. I don't announce, "CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WIN A NINJA POINT!" (Doing so would be very un-ninja-like; ninjas don't announce to their victims, "GREETINGS! I AM ABOUT TO ASSASSINATE YOU WITH THIS KATANA! YOU'D BEST ATTEMPT TO FLEE!")
Instead, I jot a note to myself on my iPad: I write down the student's name, how many points they earned, and the reason they earned the points. During my planning time, I make a sign for each student that earned ninja points:
So after the first day, I picked out three students who earned a ninja point. (And the cool thing is that since I tell the students absolutely nothing about the Ninja Board, I can come up with all kinds of reasons to award ninja points.)
The next day, another block period passed without any questions about the Ninja Board. Finally, however, one student approached me during second block with the question:
"Hey Mr. B, what's the Ninja Board?"
I smiled. I smiled partly because I was happy someone had finally asked me that question after nearly two days of waiting. I smiled partly because she was going to get a ninja point for asking that question. Mostly, though, I smiled because I knew what my answer was going to be:
"That is an excellent question."
And I said nothing else. I think I giggled involuntarily.
A few more students earned ninja points on the second day, and more names were added. On Friday, I have several more inquiries about the Ninja Board, and each time I replied with a non-answer. Slowly but surely, interest in the Ninja Board started picking up.
Even though I'm being incredibly stubborn with my refusal to explain the Ninja Board to my students, I do want them to know what they're earning ninja points for. So, in addition to their names, I also post a list of "unlocked ninja achievements." Here's the complete list from the first week of school:
In all honesty, only about one or two of these "achievements" were pre-planned. The rest are being made up as I go. When I notice my students doing something really awesome, like demonstrating leadership or kindness, that kind of thing deserves ninja points. If I have one of those little student/teacher "moments" where we're building or supporting good rapport, I give ninja points for those, too. To keep my students on their toes (and partly to include those students who are traditionally the "invisible" ones), I also award ninja points for other random things.
It seems to add a certain whimsy to our classroom culture that I particularly enjoy. I'm curious to see how the Ninja Board will continue to play out in week two.
Incidentally, there's much more about the Ninja Board that I haven't revealed yet on this blog -- but that can wait for another time.