“Props” in this case does not refer to those things used by the high school drama team, but is used in terms of “proper due respect” as in when you recognize someone for doing something exceptionally well. It usually looks something like this: “Let’s give Makia a round of applause for getting that difficult math problem right.” And the class applauds appropriately. The nice thing about props is that it is a reward for good work that is genuinely appreciated but costs nothing and can be managed to only take up a few seconds of your time. This time element needs to be managed if you hope to maintain any rigor in your classroom.
I thought I understood props until I saw Jennifer Baughtman in action at Rawlings Elementary School. She called them “claps” but she had a hundred of them and the kids knew them all. “Great answers, Shekinah! Let’s all give her a bomb clap.” The kids all raised their hands above their heads lowering them as they counted down from five-four-three-two-one- boom, and their hands flew back into the air with fingers wiggling. Over the next hour I got to witness the rainbow clap, the cheerleader clap, the Egyptian clap, the atomic clap and many more. Each one was different and, as I said, the kids knew them all. Part of the adventure was seeing which kid would get which clap. When she could she tried to tailor them to the individual who had earned them. As a result, her class moved along at a very brisk pace while students stayed engaged in the process. It was a testimony to just how effective this tool can be.
How useful is this tool to substitutes? Clearly Ms. Baughtman’s effectiveness was a result of the fact that she had been using this tool repeatedly with her students. However, there is something to be said for a tool that is both effective and free. I have used some of her claps in my teaching; not to the extent she has, but teaching one or two unique claps to different classes and trying to mix them up from class to class. A sub has a reputation to keep up and I like to keep my students guessing about just how resourceful I am. (Pretty darned resourceful, if I say so myself.)