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In my substitute work this school year I have been in early childhood and elementary classrooms.  With a recent day in kindergarten, I realized that at the start of elementary comes a major change in management style–behavior charts.  In many kindergarten, first, second, and third grade classrooms children’s good and mistaken behavior is monitored on a behavior chart.  If their name appears at the bottom of the chart or on a red card, then they have not had good behavior and if their name is at the top or on a green card, their behavior has been great.  After a joyful day in early childhood without behavior charts, I began to wonder if behavior charts in the elementary grades support teachers, children, and the classroom learning environment.

With this question in the forefront of my thought, I started noticing how some children begin their work and then ask if they can move up on the behavior chart.  Others, after I mention that I will be using the behavior chart, start working diligently with one eye on me to see if I notice and reward their good behavior by asking them to change their card to green.  As a substitute, I try to use the regular teacher’s behavior system so there is consistency for the children.  However, one day I discovered that children were raising their hand to participate because they thought the act of raising their hand would allow them to move their clip up.  The day was a constant up and down on the behavior chart for many children.

On the flip side, I also notice that children not interested in the behavior chart often move their clip down or change their card to red frequently.  They do not seem to care where their card is and their behavior is difficult to handle.  In a recent class, one child was at the lowest part of the behavior chart by 10am.  While he had the rest of the day to change his behavior and move his clip up, he did not seem inspired to do this.  In a short and very straight-forward article titled Why Behavior Charts Don’t Work, Ray Levy explains how some children become satiated with the reward or punishment of a behavior chart and become immune to the consequence.

After reading Ray Levy’s article, I did some more searching to find what others have to say about behavior charts.  While many write about the organization and ease of behavior charts, others are starting to question the effectiveness of the chart.  I found one teacher’s blog post about Why I Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again and the discussion she ignited very informative.  She writes about how behavior charts can create anxiety for both children with good behavior and those with difficult behaviors.  I have seen this first hand in the classroom often.  Children with generally good behavior sometimes melt down when asked to move their clip or card down.  And, children with poor behavior watch longingly as others move their clip or card up throughout the day.

So, as I consider the effectiveness of behavior charts, it seems to me that supportive relationships and positive learning environments may be difficult to build when the behavior chart takes center-stage for teachers and children during the day.  In Gartrell’s (2011) A Guidance Approach for the Encouraging Classroom, he provides this quote from Dewey which inspires me to consider why and how I manage a classroom:

“If you have the end in view of forty or fifty children learning certain set lessons, to be recited to the teacher, your discipline must be devoted to securing that result.  But if the end in view is the development of a spirit of co-operation and community life, discipline must grow out of and be relative to such an aim…There is a certain disorder in any busy workshop; there is not silence; persons are not engaged in maintaining certain fixed physical postures; their arms are not folded; they are not holding their books thus and so.  They are doing a variety of things, and there is the confusion, the bustle that results from activity.  Out of the occupation, out of doing things that are to produce results, and out of doing these in a social and cooperative way, there is born a discipline of its own kind and type.  Our whole conception of discipline changes when we get this point of view” (p. 10).

The next logical question for me:  What does management look like if it is not focused on a behavior chart?  Here are some beginning ideas I have come across:

The Responsive Classroom Approach.  This is a management approach that includes 1) Morning Meetings, 2) Proactive Discipline, 3) Positive Teacher Language, and 4) Choices in Learning.

-creating a “Take a Break” space for children to go to for a moment of peace as they or the teacher chooses (see Why I Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again blog post)

A Guidance Approach for the Encouraging Classroom, by Dan Gartrell

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