George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

When Behavior Charts Don't Work, Throw Them Out!

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Does this sound familiar? You have a student in your class who constantly has issues with something. Maybe it’s calling out, maybe it’s staying on task, or maybe it’s disturbing other students. You start each day with the hopes that today will be the day that the classroom expectations sink in, but alas, he has that same difficulty again. You give a reminder or verbal warning – maybe you even give two – but then, once again, that student repeats the behavior and heads over to turn his card/change his clip/move his button. 

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Does it work? Has your student lost the desire to play with her eraser now that she is looking at her name on the “Stop and Think” section of the behavior chart? My guess is no.

In my classroom experience, when a student had to turn a card to yellow one of three things would happen: the student would feel remorseful and change her behavior, cry hysterically, or continue the behavior with no change other than a negative attitude. I found that the same students were always turning cards and that once a student had faced several yellow cards he or she was not very phased by it. Card changes came with consequences, but unless parents were concerned about daily behavior, students with behavior challenges kept having the same challenges. 

This year I took down my behavior chart – I just ripped it off the wall and threw it out. It felt amazing! After four years of teaching second grade I knew I had developed good classroom management and felt confident that I could hold my students to high expectations for behavior without the dreaded behavior chart (okay, I was a little scared). 

I had spent the summer reading about different management strategies and rule structures. I developed five concise rules that I felt encompassed all the important aspects of our classroom and school and made a sign for each rule that is posted right at the front of the room:

  1. Respect yourself. Respect others.
  2. Raise your hand to talk.
  3. Be safe, be kind, be honest.
  4. Work hard. Try your best.
  5. Make our class a happy place.

We spent the first two weeks of school reviewing these rules and we continue to review them throughout the year.

One idea gleaned from my research was the idea of asking the whole class to recite a rule in lieu of calling out a student directly. This gives the whole class a quick reminder and also lets that student know, indirectly, that you would like him or her to adjust their behavior.

Does this mean that my class has run perfectly all year? Of course not! I try to stick with the idea of whole group reminders, but there will always be those students who need to be reminded individually. After giving reminders/warnings, I have had to resort to the big consequence in my class this year – the Think Letter. 

The Think Letter involves the student and I sitting down and together determining which rule he or she is having trouble with and forces the student to come up with the plan for what to do next time. Instead of telling the student what I think he should do next time, I guide him towards an idea instead. I really want it to be the student’s own plan, so that it has a better chance of success. This letter goes home and needs to come back signed by the parent the next day. In addition, I make sure to send a parent email as soon as I can after school to explain what happened in a little more detail. I knew that if I was not going to send students home with a yellow square on their behavior logs, I wanted to send them home with something to grow from.

This year I have a very challenging, yet extremely successful class where students are engaged and our classroom community thrives. Misbehaviors are managed and discussed in a constructive way with the goal of students becoming better individuals. It is my hope that this year without a behavior chart has taught them that there is more to life than earning a green or blue card – and that it is important to be a good person and “make our classroom a happy place” (rule #5).

If you have always disliked your behavior chart but weren’t sure if you could do without it, trust me, you can.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.