One of my classes came in today and I had just spent a good hour grading their work from the weekend before. I stood in front of them and said, "I really can't give any credit, except to one person. Only one person read the directions and did this the way I expected. So, the rest of the class did not receive any credit--I put a zero in for the first try. I'm not disappointed; you are all pretty new at this."
Several kids looked like they might cry. One boy started sputtering at me, and I had to ask him to speak more respectfully. I felt awful. Was I really the first teacher in the two weeks of school that has told them they aren't going to receive credit for work that does not meet my standards?
"Don't look so sad!" I hastily added. "I stay after school one day a week and I can help you, and show you what you need to do to make it right. That day is tonight. Please come if you can, and we can fix this."
After that I taught them the lamest joke in Spanish, which basically goes, What does the fish do? The answer is nada, which means both nothing, and swims. They got it, they laughed, the mood lightened, and we worked on skits for the rest of the time--lots of great questions, and mini-lessons.
Promptly after school several students showed up in my room, and we worked together to make the work right, and they were singing, and smiling, and one girl said, "This is actually fun." We sat in a big circle and laughed at how easy the work really was, with practice.
I hope they know that staying after is never a punishment, it's just another chance to practice and become better at these new things.