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Yo and Yet: Unexpected Student Motivators

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“Yo, Ms. Emmett! I don’t get this yet.”

When thinking of your classroom, you may not envision your students speaking to you in this way. But, maybe you should.

During the summer of 1999, I attended the Marilyn Burn’s Math Solution Institute near Dallas, Texas. While I don’t recall all that I learned there, two little points stuck with me and have shaped my thoughts on student achievement. Surprisingly, they weren’t about math. They were about student motivation.


Yo and Yet!

In the late 90s and early 2000s, slang included the word yo. Trying to relate with my students and be the cool teacher, I hung a poster on my wall that simply restated what I had learned at the Math Solution Institute: Remember Yo and Yet.

I remember that first day of school when the students looked up and asked me, “What does that mean?” Turning and pointing to the sign, I shared that these two words would take them far in life. The yo symbolizes the importance of speaking up and asking for help. The yet represents that something may happen in the future. I wanted my students to know it was okay to say, “Yo, Ms. Emmett, I don’t understand,” or, “Yo, teacher, I can’t do this by myself.”

As I explained as much to my students, they began to adopt the usage of yo. It was our way to communicate that help is needed. But, it didn’t end there. The word yet was added to the end of our sentences: “Yo, Ms. Emmett, I don’t get it yet,” or, “Yo, teacher, I can’t do this by myself yet.” These words instilled hope in all of us that, while we may be struggling now, the future was bright.

Yo and Yet Board-1

During conferences, I heard parents saying how the words had impacted their homes. And, I found myself using these words with my mentor and principal. These two little words held such great hope. These tiny utterances moved all of us into the journey of being lifelong learners, for we learned how to ask for help and we remembered that, eventually, we would get there.

Feedback and Grading

Adopting this “can do attitude” brought another bit of wisdom from the Math Solution Institute session to light. A veteran teacher from Arizona had talked about working in a school that gave no grades. Initially, I was appalled at this idea. What district would ever adopt the practice? Besides, I was a product of “good grades.” They motivated me; they steered me in a direction; they were important.  

But, I was the student where grades mattered because they were good. What happens to the student with bad grades? What keeps them trying; what keeps them working toward success? Granted, I had to send papers home with grades on them, and I had to issue report cards. However, for my students’ practice work, I adopted the practice of conferencing with the student or writing comments to them. It was through this practice that our words yo and yet were used over and over again. My students felt safe to say what they were missing and knew that we were going to work on it until they got it. There was go giving up.

What Can You Do?

I’m not saying that everything I did in those early years was right. I made my share of mistakes, and I only hope that nothing was too stressful for those students entrusted to my care. But, two side-bar conversations from those I respected in the field helped me shape how I would work with others (students, teachers, and employees). We all need a little encouragement; we all need to say yo occasionally; and we all need to remember we just aren’t there yet. So, I challenge you. What can you do with those around you? How can you bring back yo and yet?

SusieSusan Emmett has been with Lincoln Learning Solutions more than 3 years. Her current role is Director of Product. Her experience includes more than 8 years in teacher professional development and nearly 8 years as an elementary school teacher. Susan’s passion is all about student achievement.