It is more important to Do Good than to Do Well: Classroom Management

All kids (and people!) need positive reinforcement. They need to know ‘I’m doing good’. Yes, they also need to know when they are doing something wrong, to be explicitly told and redirected. But they also need the positive piece to balance out the feedback about negative behavior. Yes, your behavior was not expected for a classroom and this is what you can do to do good.

I recently (as in TODAY!) implemented a new behavior management plan for my reading groups. I initially had a warning system that began last year. Coming from student teaching in a fifth grade to working in a middle school in one on one or small group settings. With my one on one students a redirection or a positive comment was generally enough to guide them along. I also gave punches (our school provides hero cards which we punch for good behavior and other recognitions. Students can then trade in their card for different rewards) and at times with certain students will reward working hard during the period with a quick 5 minute math related game at the end of the period.

With my reading groups, as there are more students, there tended to be a greater need for refocusing as the small group was conducive to side conversations. I installed the warning system last year where they would get 2 warnings before they got a lunch detention. This generally worked with most groups.

This year however I have one group of sixth graders whom this system does not work with. The main reason being that receiving a lunch detention is really not that big of a deal to them. Last week, it got to the point where I wrote out a Level 1 (a form that I fill out describing the behavior and then the student and parent sign and bring back to me). This for me was a breaking point. It was only the end of January and half way through the year. There was no way I was going to continue this way until the end of the year. I would be unhappy, the students were unhappy, and little work would get accomplished.

I first vented to the math specialist which helped me focus my thoughts. I needed to be consistent in my discipline. I also needed to start rewarding positive behavior.

I researched small group behavior management plans and came across this presentation. Going through it there were so many Aha! Moments and items that resonated.

I also perused the second document below but the first one was definitely more vital in shaping my plan.

The first included four reasons why students misbehave. Three of them were spot on! The students were misbehaving because 1) they didn’t know the expectations, 2) they are unaware they are engaged in the behavior or 3) misbehavior is providing the student with a desired outcome (either attention from adult/peers or getting out of doing work. The fourth reason was that they don’t know how to exhibit expected behavior. Since I have had the chance to see the students in other classes as well as the fact that at times they DO behavior well, I knew this wasn’t an issue for the most part.

Another two key points from the first document were consistent reinforcement is key and having a structure the students know is also key.

Honestly there was so much in this document that I could just keep writing about how it changed my perspective on management and my students. I might save that for another post, because I really want to share what I came up with.

I did two things:

1) I created explicit rules and expectations based around our school’s four core values (respect, responsibility, honesty, safety). I reviewed these with the student today and the students were able to spot the behaviors they had been exhibiting. They would say “Ms. K, you made the Stay in your seat while working rule because of me right?” or “Ms. K, the appropriate language one is because of me.” I admitted that some of their past behaviors had shaped (I think the word I used was “inspired”) some of these rules. Other rules were just common sense.

The student didn’t have addition or adaptations to make to the rules (as one student said: “Why would we want MORE rules?”) but through the period when observing them I decided to add a rule about keeping hands to one’s own belongings as the students tend to pick up items around the room (beyond just pens and items like this) without my permission and use them for inappropriate reasons.

2) I also created a point system that correlated to rewards. Students could earn points for completing their work each day they come. They also can earn points if they do not earn any “sad faces” during the day for bad behavior. The student who has earned the most points gets an extra two points. The students periodically take tests. Just by taking a test they get 1 point. By scoring an 80 or higher they get 2 points. At the end of the period the student adds their points to a log and totals up how many they have thus far.

The students can then exchange points for rewards. If a student earns three points during the period they automatically get a punch. From there on out students can exchange points for rewards. For example, 4 points can be traded for listening to their iPod while they work during workshop. 4 points also could earn those 5 minutes worth of drawing time on the chalkboard.

One of the aspects of the rewards was that I took things the students already did and made them earn it. The students loved to draw on the board. I realized one of the problems was that drawing on the board was a privilege not an automatic right. By having them earn it, it places the control of when they do it in my hands. It doesn’t make this off limits, it just gives it structure. I was expecting some uproar over this but they were okay with it. They even exclaimed over “Cool! We can earn 5 minutes of drawing on the board!” I decided not to point out they used to do this for free!

Other rewards include 15 points for 20 minute game time (cards, Board games, hangman) and 25 points for a gym day. I was a little leery of this at first because it seemed like hypocrisy that I would give up instructional time. However, my theory is that it will take them a while to earn all these points. They will be tempted by the smaller point rewards (i.e. iPod, drawing on board) and will use their points on that. The system definitely forces them to plan and use logic for the best deal.

Additionally, for items like the Gym Day I created guidelines:
Gym days must be scheduled at least one day before you want the gym day.
Gym days can only happen during workshop.
Other students in the workshop must be willing to exchange 10 points each to add to your points.
Whoever has the gym day gets to decide which activity we will do (within reason).

There is an aspect of compromise here as the other students have to be willing to give up 10 points to do an activity someone chooses, but they are also getting a Gym Day for only 10 points.

One reward they wanted to add was Social Time where they would invite one friend and get to socialize for the period. I have tentatively agreed to this but it will cost each student in the workshop 20 points and have the same rule as the Gym Day in that they have to ask a day ahead of time so I can make sure everyone has enough points and I can prepare for them.

I started this with the kiddos today and they were pretty positive about the new system. I was a little afraid they might be too overwhelmed by it (I also add a Noise Level chart, a Where Am I chart and the use of sticky notes for communicating with me).

I was initially going to just do this with one of my reading groups but I decided to do it will all my sixth graders since I recently started new sixth graders and want to set the precedent right away. There is also some overlap with some students being in more than one group, so this makes implementation easier across the board.

There will definitely be an adjustment period (or an acquisition phase as Dr. Borgmeier puts it) but hopefully over time the student (and myself!) will become more familiar with it and start to see its merits when they begin to earn rewards.

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