Classroom rules and procedures are important for classroom management for any classroom. Rules and procedures help organize the class, keep students on-task, and motivate students to learn and try their best. However, how do we apply these rules and procedures? Having a good set of rules before starting the year is a great start, but when students are in the classroom, how do you maintain these rules and make sure students follow them? Any intervention can reduce behavioral issues, data has shown that using positive and negative reinforcement has the best results (Marzano, 2007). I will walk through how I apply positive and negative reinforcements in my class.
When I first started teaching in Seoul, I had never taught a classroom before. I had tutored and volunteered in an immigrant English class in Seattle, but never dealt with classroom management before. I was walking in blind to a kindergarten class and was not sure what to do. One of the most pressing concerns I had was not whether I could teach the material, remember my lesson plan, or even remember names that I had never heard before and might struggle to even pronounce, but what if they do not listen? What do I do if they reject my words and start playing around? What if they start an insurrection against me? My school had given me exactly one punishment to fall back on and that was to put the child in the hall if they were trouble. With that, I entered the class. I realized right away that that was not good enough. I was making up rules on the fly because I did not lay out my own rules for the class, just followed the previously set rules from the last teacher. I was realizing that most of the stuff that was distracting in class the students were doing was not bad enough to warrant being put out in the hall. I was not getting any help on the nuance of managing children in a class from my management. I had no back-up. If I was going to organize my class, I had to figure it out on my own. Over the next several years I developed a system that had become more and more complicated, but worked. I started studying classroom management and made changes. I think my system will always be a work in progress, but it has been getting more and more effective as time wears on. Last year my system was converted to a gamification system. The system I am currently using is Super Mario Class 2.0. Click the button below for more information on my classroom.
I learned long ago that the one thing that children respond to for rules and procedures is consistency and fairness. My coin system is laid out before classes start and my students are aware of the rules and procedures, this allows me to offer rewards and punishments that are fair and consistent. The behaviors I want to encourage are rewarded with an addition of coins. Positive coins always come with a positive comment by myself as well. I remind the student of why they received the coin(s) and that they did a good job. For example, when a student offers an insightful response to a question I will add the coin and say something along the lines of, “that’s a really good point, you received a coin for engaging with the material, nice work!” Not only does that bring a smile to their face, but I notice the other students perk up and engage more with the material as well. This offers tangible recognition, in the form of a coin that can be turned into a prize later, and a positive teacher reaction (Marzano, 2007). The other students know that they can also get a coin for engaging with the material because I am consistent with my rewards. It is not a surprise who gets coins and for what. To keep it fair, I have each of their names printed with their team colors and character that I keep on my desk to make sure I am choosing students based on whether they have had a chance yet or not. I want all of my students to have a chance to participate and earn the positive reinforcement. One negative side-effect of this system is that if it is not fair and/or consistent the students will lose interest and not buy-in to the system rendering it mostly useless.
When I first started this system I used digital coins and prizes. I realized that buying prizes, even small ones, was not good for me and not that motivating for the students, so I wanted to switch to special benefits instead of pencils and erasers, for example. However, my students were not responding well to the new prizes, though they seemed interested in the benefits. I finally figured out that it was because they did not have something to hold onto. I made printable prizes that they could hold, collect, or trade and it really changed the motivating effect of the system. The kids bought in and that gave them a strong carrot motivation to follow the rules and procedures we had developed for the classroom.
This system did not stop there. If you have read about gamification before you will know that there is another layer to this system, and that is teams. My students earn coins for themselves, but they also combine those coins into their team coins with team prizes as well. This takes advantage of a group contingency technique (Marzano, 2007). “Group contingency techniques that require every student in the group to meet the behavioral criterion appear to be particularly useful (Litow & Pumroy, 1975)” (Marzano, 2007). This technique is particularly effective in a Confucian influenced culture like Korea where working together is seen as a more important asset than it is in the West. Teamwork is important as part of the teaching and learning techniques, but also in reinforcement techniques. So, when one student does well, the team is rewarded together. I have noticed that this technique has encouraged better teamwork within each group. The concern of this technique is that competition would create a negative environment for learning within the group or negative feelings or actions toward another group. I have not experienced either of those issues in my class, but it would be something to pay attention to if implemented in another classroom.
In figure 1.1, you can see the flowchart explaining the positive reinforcement techniques that I use in my class.
My system responds to students not following the rules as well. Losing coins is the obvious first step inside the system. This is also done in a consistent and fair manner. I make sure that I am not emotional when I remove a coin and that they understand why they are losing the coin. Also, I make sure that any student would lose a coin for the same behavior. This is based on behavior, not their personality. Several years ago, before my current system, I had a student who had never received a negative punishment (at that time is was a sad face). One day he broke one of the rules in class (I think he ran in class), and I stopped him and asked him what he did. He knew what he did and his face started to turn sad. I told him, “you know what has to happen, right?” He nodded. The whole class knew that he had to get a sad face, even though he was a great student. The students were at first a little surprised that I would give him a sad face, but I heard them talking and saying that he ran. It was great to hear them respond by saying that that is what happens when any student breaks the rules very matter of factly. I knew I was onto something and that I was being consistent and fair. Ever since then, I saw how effective it is to make sure I am following my own rules and setting that example. Just like the positive behaviors, we established the punishments for not following the rules in the first class. The students will know which offenses I will warn them first about and which I will take a coin away for right away. If they lose too many coins in a day, they get a yellow card, which is the school-wide punishment system I must follow. A yellow card is a detention. Yellow cards can also be handed out for school-wide offenses that happen in my class, like bullying, fighting, vandalism, and others. They would also lose all their coins for the day in my system.
Losing coins do not apply for the team, but it does mean that the team is not gaining those points. However, when we do have group work I will use interdependent group contingency techniques to make sure the whole team is on-task (Marzano, 2007). Just like groups can motivate for good behavior they can also motivate away from bad behavior. Having the team responsible for their learning together is not only a learning experience about how life will be outside of school, but it creates a more engaging group dynamic. However, if they fail to succeed together, they will face the consequences together as well. I will take away group privileges or hold that team back from leaving until the rest of the teams leave, depending on the severity of the offense.
Ok, so I have the gamified coin system, is that all? Not everything that happens in the class requires coins to go up or down. There are several positive and negative reinforcements I employ outside of the coin system as well. In figure 1.2 you can see the flow of student interventions I use in my class for intervening in negative behavior in the class.
The first line of defence when it comes to student misbehavior is having "withitness". Having eyes in the back of your head, as we used to say, is how you can maintain the best control over the class. Not only will you be able to notice bad behavior before it gets out of control, but you can be aware of potential issues before they occur. The second part of having eyes in the back of your head is knowing your students so well that you know what they are about to do before they even do it. This does not mean you are running a Minority Report class, but it means you can be aware of potential problems in order to respond to them in a timely manner before anything gets too distracting or out of control. If you possess "withitness" then applying it to positive behavior is just as effective. Being aware of positive behavior and responding with positive reinforcement will go a long way in building a positive environment and relationship with the students and help build strong classroom management which will pay out exponentially throughout the year.
Marzano, R. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching. ASCD. Retrieved from https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/platform-user-content/prod-copy/get_help_resources/activity_resources/module4/The_Art_and_Science_of_Teaching.pdf