To reward or to punish?

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For someone who has had the pleasure of teaching a wide variety of subjects (namely: economics, business studies, statistics, humanities, English/ESL and Drama), I believe classroom management in a drama classroom is a bigger challenge than the others. Firstly, the environment is a lot more open and students are not seated on desks and chairs, which can be an intimidating factor for a lot of teachers. Secondly, drama activities and processes are often noisy and require teachers that are comfortable with noisy classrooms and know how to handle them. Thirdly, drama activities often push students to a level of self-awareness that they do not experience often and this can make a lot of them uncomfortable, which often translates in them playing up in an attempt to hide their self-consciousness.

An added challenge for me is the fact that drama is only timetabled as one double-period for every class per week, and we are expected to assess every criterion at least twice during a semester. When the teacher factors in the periods that will be lost due to excursions or public holidays or school events, or even absences, in the end you are left with approximately 16 double-periods per class per semester (each double-period is about 90 minutes long). Also, assessments should be carried out prior to writing reports which is during the sixth and seventh weeks of the term. Therefore, I often feel like I am racing to teach the content and skills, get the students to practice and apply those skills enough times, and then assess the drama process, and classroom management can often slow that down drastically and makes it more challenging.

Over my teaching experience, I have come to learn, adapt and create a number of classroom rules and procedures to make classroom- (and behavior-) management more ‘manageable’. I have learned to keep the rules simple and easy to remember. I have read that rules should be no more than five. I have come to know that rules should tell students what to do as opposed to what not to do, so instead of saying ‘don’t hit, kick or punch other classmates’, apparently it’s better to say ‘keep hands and feet to yourself’. I took every bit of advice I came across and I tried to adapt it in my classroom. I can say I am pleased with my ability to manage my classroom now, however, it still is a challenge that never ends.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management is what behaviors to reward, when and how, and what behaviors to punish, when and how. In a class of 25 students, it is hard to keep track of positive and negative behaviors and to respond to every one of them. Of course, as humans, we tend to notice negative behaviors more than we do the positive ones, so teachers must be conscious and careful of that tendency. I have come to devise a few positive consequences for good behavior, and negative consequences for bad behavior.

Positive consequences for good behavior

1- Verbal Praise: simple, kind words of recognition for a student’s work or behavior go a very long way.
2- Using the Whiteboard: I have found that writing a list of students who are ‘on-task’ or ‘appear to be working well’ on the whiteboard can accomplish a lot. Students notice when others receive this recognition and try to imitate their behavior in order to get their names written up on the whiteboard. I also occasionally review and revise this list throughout the lesson to add more students or remove students who may have started to get distracted or off-task.
3- Merit Points: since I teach middle schoolers now, this system seems to work very well. I always inform my students what sort of behaviors will warrant a merit point at the end of the lesson, and tell them that they will be assigned during the last couple of minutes before the bell.
4- Merit Certificates: I try to keep a track of the upcoming year-level assemblies and prepare some merit certificates for the best students, usually they are the ones that have gathered the most merit points in the classes. These certificates are signed by the year-level coordinator and so that adds more recognition to them.
5- Stickers: sounds cliche, but yes it still works! I had my year 10s begging me for stickers last year.

I generally do not like to give material prizes like candy or stationary because I believe in intrinsic motivation, and I aim to build that in my students. Also, there are so many food allergies now, so one has to be very careful about any food brought into the classroom.

Negative consequences to correct certain behaviors

Behavior regulation chart: I have a poster chart on the whiteboard with six columns: name, warning, time-out, behavior-reflection form, behavior-checklist sent home, detention. It looks something like this:

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This chart is printed, laminated and hung up on the whiteboard top-right corner. The students are taught early on, and constantly reminded of, what sort of behaviors are acceptable and what sort of behaviors are not. The teacher can just write the name of the student and then tick the appropriate column. It’s best to start with a warning, and quietly inform the student what behavior you are warning against (make it short and simple, and so as not to embarrass the student, do it quietly between you two only). If the student does not self-correct, you can then choose the most appropriate consequence depending on the behavior. It’s very important to practice consistency: if talking-out-of-turn warrants a warning followed by a behavior reflection survey, then stick to it with all other students. This can be quite challenging as you will have some days where you might be more anxious or tense, but always try to be consistent and fair.

It is also very important to always have a quiet one-on-one chat with the student at a time when his/her peers are not around, where you can question the student to probe the reasons behind him/her choosing to behave that way. Keep this chat friendly but firm, and do not let it turn into an interrogation. You want the student to know that you have nothing against them personally, but it’s rather their behavior that you want to change or correct.

The behavior-reflection form was an idea I got from lauracandler.com and it looks like this:

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Not all incidents will require getting a parent’s signature. When I need a parent’s signature (which is usually the next step if the behavior continues) I often send home a behavior-checklist that looks like this:

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I still haven’t decided what is the best way to use this behavior regulation chart, is it best to make it progressive, where students take a step up the punishment ladder every time the behavior continues? Or can I reserve the right to choose the consequence to my judgment (after giving the warning of-course)? Richard Curwin wrote a very nice article about how the progressive system isn’t always fair.

What other positive and negative consequences do you use with your classes to reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior? What strategies do you use to stay consistent with your classes and to manage their behaviors?

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One thought on “To reward or to punish?

  1. This looks like an idea that will work, the chart on the wall showing clearly at what stage of the discipline process the student is at and the subsequent follow up with behaviour reflection chart is great. I think teachers who have a disruptive class should definitely try this. This would best work at the start of a school year or school term when setting or redefining school class expectations.
    Thanks for this, I would love to use this too.

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