Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Carrot vs Stick For Classroom Management

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When it comes to classroom management, I try to use a combination of "the carrot" (positive reinforcement) and "the stick" (consequences for negative behavior). One of the carrots I use to motivate and enthuse children is Class Dojo. My stick of choice in fifth grade, believe it or not, is a "timeout" using the method described in 1-2-3 Magic and managed with an iPhone app by the same name <available on iTunes>. Here, I'm specifically talking about the iPhone apps I use to help manage my fifth grade class. It should be said, however, that Dojo isn't inherently positive while 123 is negative. They both take a very positive approach to classroom management. Class Dojo, by its very nature, keeps me positive and focused on the positive things children say and do all day long. The way I use 123 Magic, I'm tracking any misbehaviors and responding with a simple "take 5". That means the child spends 5 minutes in timeout. Surprisingly, 10 year olds don't want to be in timeout and most avoid this experience by responding to the first or second warning. The third warning (hence, 1-2-3) results in the consequence.

Class Dojo
This app, available on an iPhone, iPad or any computer via a web interface, offers teachers an opportunity to "catch them doing something right". When I do, I give the student a "point" which is recorded on whatever device is closest to me -- iPhone, iPad or laptop. Usually, it's the iPhone in my pocket. The nice thing about this is that you can choose a list of things to watch for ahead of time. Then, when you give those points, an open browser on any classroom computer emits (if you choose) an audible sound to indicate that someone just got caught in the act of a positive behavior. When I award a point on my iPhone it's automatically synced to the laptop connected to my projector and speakers, so everyone knows that someone just earned a point. Plus, the running points are tallied throughout the day. We brainstormed and created a class list of rewards that can be earned after a certain number of points are accumulated. We did this for individual and class points. What a motivator!

In my pilot year using this system and software, my most recalcitrant student responded the most to this positive approach. Needless to say, he's used to having much more negative attention. My emphasis on the positive side of his behavior fostered more positive behavior almost immediately.

1-2-3 Magic
When students choose negative behaviors and need to be brought back to the positive side, they get a "count". I only have to say, "Johnny, that's a ONE." Everyone knows that means Johnny has received his first warning about misbehavior. Usually, Johnny says, "Sorry, Mr. Schwan", I respond with "thank you", and we leave it at that. 

What I added this past year is a record-keeping system so I wouldn't need to remember who had what "count" in my system. I open the 1-2-3 app on my iPhone and click a "1" next to Johnny's name. Again, an audible beep is emitted (if I choose) and Johnny knows I've recorded this infraction. Class Dojo has room for undesirable behaviors, too, and it would be just as easy to keep track of them within the Class Dojo app. A "count" (negative behavior) subtracts from the "points" (positive behavior) already accumulated. If your philosophy includes this sort of thinking (adding and subtracting points for positive and negative behavior), then just use the one (Class Dojo) app. I've done it both ways. 

When a student gets to a "count" of THREE, I say, "That's THREE, take five" -- which means a five minute timeout in a chair designated for the purpose. The student must take with him whatever work materials he needs to continue participating in class, and the timeout chair has a table next to it for that purpose. The difference is that I don't call on a student who is in that chair, he isn't allowed to make any noises or distracting movements, and we basically ignore him for 5 minutes. The 1-2-3 app has a 5 minute timer to help me remember to say, "Your 5 minutes is up, Johnny. You may return to your seat." Surprisingly, fifth graders (and certainly younger kids) don't like to be in timeout. For most, it's a BIG DEAL, even though I rarely contact parents about the timeout unless it becomes a chronic situation and happens often. The 5 minutes are served, and we move on with our day. We emphasize repentance and forgiveness in our classroom.

I mention this here in the context of writing about our 1:1 netbook program because Class Dojo offers the option of sharing the class points with either students, parents, or both. Students can keep track of their own points on their personal netbooks if I share the link with them. Parents, too, can follow along and a daily or weekly report can be sent home either electronically or via paper. This report was met with very positive comments the first time I sent one home. Even students with negative behaviors during the week received praise from their parents for how they received a majority of positive praise reports at school (Johnny had 95% positive behavior this week!). Mom and Dad tend to emphasize the positive, too, when Johnny brings home his report.

In conclusion, it turns out that carrots work better than sticks to shape positive behavior and to encourage more of it in the classroom! I use a combination of both, and use Class Dojo primarily because it keeps ME honest, looking for the many positive behaviors exhibited by students throughout the day. We now do a lot of celebrating because we have a lot to celebrate in our class!

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