Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Never underestimate the power of...

a tally mark!!!!!

Last week, I decided that a little behaviour modification was in order with the whole class. They were loud, chatty, off task, you get the picture. There may have even been some rolling around on the floor at one point. Back to school in January has been a crazy, crazy time.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge proponent of rewards based systems. They tend not to work for long and they don't always work with all kids. But, that said, I have seen them be very successful in changing specific behaviours and I know that they have their time and place.

I mean, let's face it, employers use reward based systems when they offer bonuses. Insurance companies do it when they offer money off for good driving records or healthy test results or whatever.
Adults use reward based systems on themselves all the time. How many times have you told yourself that if you work hard you will get yourself ______? (a coffee, workout clothes, a glass of wine, whatever floats your boat!) And, I think that we use these systems the most in January when we are all fired up to make changes in our lives and make resolutions come true!

The trick with any behaviour system is to reward the positive behaviour choices and then, slowly, wean off the need for rewards. The idea is that eventually the behaviours become internalized and the rewards will be less necessary or unnecessary.

Now, with the overall chattiness and inattention that arrived with the new year, I knew that we needed something that would pull us together as a unit. Create reasons to work together. To cheer each other on. To want to be listening, working etc. To be working together and to be invested in having friends do well and make good choices.

So, I created table groups. We have five colours - red, orange, yellow, green and blue. Each table works together to earn Smiley points for working quietly, cleaning their tables, pushing in their chairs, being ready for work, remembering their planners etc. etc. etc.

On the white board I have pieces of construction paper to match their table groups. I try to catch them being good as often as possible. So far, it is working! Last week was the first week that there was actually quiet from pretty much everyone during writing time. It was like a miracle!

I put the tables together based on names that students put down as students they would like to get to know better. They will stay in this table group until the end of the month and then we will mix it up again. That way, everyone has to learn to work with everyone else.

Students who generally make poor behaviour choices are learning valuable life lessons. They are learning that their choices impact others and that by making good choices they can help out their team. The smile on the face of one student when I leaned over and told him that he had earned a point for his WHOLE table by working quietly was wonderful!

Students who generally make good behaviour choices are learning to be more patient with those other, more energetic students. They are learning that they can influence behaviour choices by being good role models. Catch them being good is the motto here!!!!

On Monday of the next week, we look to see which group had the most points. And, last week, we ended up with a tie! Two tables managed to get 20 points. (I must add that one of the added benefits of this system is that the students really, really want to learn to read tally marks so we are quickly improving on counting by 5's, 10's and adding on to 10 to figure out numbers quickly.)

This week it looks like it is going to be pretty darn close again, too! The weekly winners get to pull a ball from the Smiley Bucket.

In each ball is a different reward. I didn't want the rewards to all be object related (i.e. I don't want them to just get a toy for doing well) so many of the rewards involve time. Extra choosing time. Lunch with me in the classroom. Quiet Time Centres for 20 minutes. You get the idea.

Other rewards involve getting school type supplies. A new pencil. A fancy eraser. (Oh, my kingdom, for a full pencil hospital! I put out 24 new pencils last week and they are all gone this week. Yep! All. Gone. I swear they eat them when I am not looking!)

And one is for a trip to the Treasure Box (filled with notebooks, necklaces, little finger flashlights, stickers etc.) I made a special trip to Dollarama on the weekend. Love that place! They actually sell some items at dollar store prices that are not typical dollar store quality. Meaning...they aren't all junk!

So, that is how things have been going lately. Each day is a little bit better. The class has shown marked improvement in working as a large group and in smaller groups. I am spending less (wish it was none!) time having to redirect poor behaviour choices. Students are proud of themselves for remembering to clean up their tables, push in their chairs etc. They are being far more helpful with each other. I am hearing a lot less of "I didn't do it!" and "Not me!" and seeing more of students picking up things or helping others to do it.

Between the students all getting more mature and this system, each day is more pleasant than the last. It is one of my favourite times with grade 1's. They are showing much more maturity but are still as curious and filled with imagination as before. I can do more with them in class, get better quality out of them and, really, just enjoy them in a way that isn't always possible in first term. I am falling a little more in love with Division 15 each and every day. It doesn't really get better than that!

Ms. Hughes

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