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Reward or Punishment? Reward!

More times than not when talking about instruction and the classroom, the topic of behavior comes up.  There have been volumes and volumes written about managing behavior. If you are a teacher, it’s most likely you have read about many strategies and tried them. Like with so many other issues, keeping it simple is a good idea. Keeping it simple is one way of ensuring you will be able to maintain the system you put in place.  As these simple strategies become ingrained in your daily classroom, you can adjust or add based on data you collect.  First, we want to achieve mastery, and then we want to expand our repertoire.

Setting the Rules and Organization

Before sharing two simple, but effective ideas, let’s look at two important concepts. 

Setting the Rules: In the article, "Classroom Routines and Procedures" by Denise Young, the author states, “Establishing clear classroom routines and procedures is necessary for ensuring that your classroom runs smoothly. Students need to know what is expected of them in your classroom. To ensure that you have smooth transitions throughout the day, think carefully about the routines for which you must plan. Clarify them in your mind. It may be helpful to make a list of transitional times throughout the day.”

Routines include going to lunch or recess, putting books away from reading and going to math, coming back to the class after lunch or music, stopping collaborative groups to join in whole class activities. Make sure children know each routine and can recite them back to you step by step.

Organization: Specific lists of situations, as well as lists of routines and procedures to be considered, are provided in the book “Explicit Instruction” by Anita Archer and Charles Hughes.  If things don’t run as smoothly as you would like in your classroom, this book can serve as a life- saving tool.

“The everyday classroom is more than just a place where teachers come to teach and students come to learn.  It is a major tool of instruction for teachers, and it is a home away from home for students.  The classroom is ultimately a place where students can learn, but it is also where they can come to understand responsibility, become social, and learn to work together.  The classroom environment is very important to a student’s development, and therefore needs to be not only comfortable and non-threatening, but also a place suitable for learning.  Through preparation and organization, an effective classroom environment can be shaped.” (Hay-Cook)

Organization includes strategically placing furniture, learning centers, and materials in order to optimize student learning and reduce distractions.

In his article, “The Key to Classroom Organization”, Michael Linsin states that, “A sharp, well-maintained classroom sends so many wonderful and powerful messages to students—from an expectation of excellence to personal pride in their work habits. It’s a slam-dunk, surefire, easy way to improve behavior in your classroom.”

Two Strategies Any Teacher Can Use

Let’s look at two strategies, and I urge you to implement either one or both of these strategies.  Both are simple and easy to use.

Go out and get yourself a jar (a medium size mason jar works well.  You don’t want it too big, so it never gets filled or too small that it gets filled too easily) and several rolls of pennies. Explain to students that they will be earning a penny in the jar whenever they are caught doing something good. Explain that when the jar is full, the class will earn a special reward such as eating lunch in the room or extra recess.

Each time you notice a student doing something that promotes learning, put a penny in the jar.   In addition to reinforcing your classroom rules (they are posted in the classroom, right?), there are about a buzillion possibilities-

  • coming in quietly
  • getting materials out and ready
  • completing an assignment
  • putting materials away
  • working quietly
  • Paying attention
  • Raising your hand and waiting to be called on

Praise should be specific.  Couple a specific compliment with plunking a penny in the jar. For example;

  • “Jacquelyn, I appreciate the way I saw you helping your group clean up! You just earned a penny in our jar.”
  • “Mary, you came into the room quietly, thank you.”
  • “John, very good getting your materials out and getting ready for class.”
  • “Gloria, great keeping your eyes on me.”

The praise is much more powerful if only one student is praised at a time. Sometimes teachers think that is not fair if multiple students display the same good behavior. I suggest that you make a mental note and praise the others (individually) at another time.

If you have one student who is characterized by disruptive behavior, be sure to catch that student being good when you can. The chronically disruptive student(s) rarely get praise and need it WHEN they have earned it.

Students can also be reinforced for NOT participating in a disruptive or inappropriate behavior like:

  • running
  • bumping into someone
  • leaving a mess
  • speaking rudely

In this case you simply choose someone who is NOT doing it and praise them, as you put a penny in the jar. For example:

  • “Nella, I really appreciated the way you waited for your turn. You did not push or grab.”
  • “Roberto, what a great job you are doing not making a mess and keeping your area neat.”

Do NOT take pennies away once they have been earned. If you do, student motivation will wane and discouragement will ensue. Why work to earn something that will be taken away if the teacher gets mad?

It’s important for the class to win. Students that feel like winners will act like winners. It is important that you are on the lookout for good behavior, so you can recognize it and the students can win. You will also be surprised, that as you focus on the good, the climate of your classroom becomes more and more positive.

A Note or Phone Call Home

If you heard a teacher say, I’m going to call home (or send a note) what would you think? Most of us would probably think the child was in trouble and, out of frustration, the teacher was calling home. The problem is calling home or sending a note about misbehavior will rarely, if ever, help! Parents send us the best kids they have. It’s not like they keep the goods one at home and send the “naughty ones” to school.

If parents knew how to manage their kids, it would already be happening. I can just hear the frustrated parent thinking, “Well, what does that teacher expect me to do about it?” In addition to angering and alienating parents with communication about how “bad” their child is, we’re sending the child a very negative message- “You are bad”. And parents who get that message from the teacher will probably reinforce it by lecturing or punishing the child for being bad at school. If it’s true that children live up to what adults think of them, then we are actually adding to the problem rather than correcting it. Kids who think they are bad kids act bad!

So, let’s be smarter than that.  Instead of assaulting parents with the details of what their child has done wrong, let’s turn it around and make it a habit to contact at least one parent each week with a note or call about something their child has done right! Parents will come to appreciate and support you as never before! They will believe that you care about their child. And they will proudly reinforce their child for whatever you shared that they did right!

 Conclusion:

Without a doubt, the most effective behavior management tool is effective instruction. Students that are engaged and learning are less likely to act out.  So, the emphasis should always be on improving instruction.  Effective behavior management strategies are a great way to support your instruction and effectively manage behavior. The goal is to create a positive classroom environment where both teacher and student are successful and celebrate that success!

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