Student-Scored Behavior Rubrics

In a perfect world, classroom behavior would not be such a challenge. We would establish rules and consequences for our students, and we would enforce them consistently. And there have been years where that system worked well for me.

But one year, when I worked as an interventionist for lower-achieving students and students with behavioral challenges, I knew I needed a better plan. That’s when I started using student-scored behavioral rubrics. I was hopeful that I’d see a marginal improvement in student behavior — and, really, I would have been happy with that.

Instead, I experienced a real transformation in how my students behaved and treated each other.

The process is simple enough. Like most elementary school teachers, I start every year with a few simple rules for my class. Those rules may include:

  • Raise your hand when you wish to speak
  • Keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself
  • Listen respectfully when an adult or fellow student is speaking

At the end of each day, I hand my students a small slip of paper that asks them to analyze their behavior. The questions are all aligned with the class rules, such as:

  • Did I raise my hand when I wished to speak?
  • Did I keep my hands, feet and objects to myself?
  • Did I listen respectfully when an adult or fellow student was speaking?

Keep the answering process simple. Students can check “yes” or “no” for some of my questions, or “always,” “usually,”  ”sometimes,” “not usually” or “never” for others. Students can also write their goals or things they would like to improve on for the next day.

Teachers don’t need another procedure added to their days. I get that. But, done correctly, the behavioral rubrics should take less than a couple minutes each day.

I also know that some schools have limits on how much printing teachers can do each marking period or year. I can get six behavioral rubrics on one sheet of paper. So if you have even 30 students in your class, you’re talking about using five sheets of paper a day. If you have to buy your own paper, two reams of paper will square you away for a year.

So, even if you have to buy your own paper and are using your own ink, here’s my question: Would you spend $40 or $50 a year to dramatically improve student achievement?

For me, it’s a no-brainer. Once I started using student-scored behavioral rubrics, I noticed a change almost immediately. First, students understood that they would have to answer for their behavior each day. Second, the rubrics were informative. I had the opportunity to see where my perception of a student’s behavior differed from a student’s perception. Third, the rubrics were useful discussion starters when I would meet with parents during regularly-scheduled conferences or during conferences called specifically to discuss a student’s academic or behavioral problems.

Students would also use the comment field on the rubrics to reach out to me about issues that were affecting them in class. The rubrics created another feedback loop between me and my students.

Here’s the question I know you’re dying to ask — won’t students try to game the system? Won’t they inflate their self assessments? Yep. For the first couple days they will. But these assessments are a learning tool and you have the opportunity to discuss with students when you have a different assessment of how they behaved. In my experience, the assessments get honest and accurate pretty quickly, and students benefit from having to take a critical look at their own performance.

These assessments, as simple as they sound, have been a real winner for me. I saw dramatic improvements among students who had reputations as terrors among my colleagues. I saw students begin policing themselves and each other as the classroom rules and behavioral expectations became seared into their minds. They’d even compliment each other if they had particularly good days following the rules.

I find myself using less time on behavioral issues and classroom discipline, and that means more time for instruction. I’ll take that trade any day.

Nicole Sasso is a veteran elementary school teacher from Central Maryland.

Comments (16)

  1. Do they get rewarded for good behavior? I know my students would ask, “What do we get or Why are we doing this?”

    • I laminate the student behavior chart and wipe off and reuse. :}

  2. Hi Jane,

    Great question. Ideally, we would want to see our kids be intrinsically motivated and behave because it’s the right thing to do. And as of now, I have about 4 students in a class of 25 who are. But I understand that we live in a world where instant gratification is the expectation. Many kids need to see their progress, need to buy into it. And I have also found that it is so easy to get stuck focusing on the negitive behaviors of children who require constant discipline, that the appropriate behaviors get overlooked or unacknowledged. So, here’s what you can do.
    At the end of the day, you can have students fill out their rubric and hand it into you. Call them all together on the carpet. Have a bulletin board that is posted with a sticker chart for each kid. As you quickly look at the rubrics, compliment those children who accurately assessed themselves as having an awesome day, slap a sticker on their chart. When that chart is filled, they can have a reward. My current second graders loved the prize box, but they also love 5 minutes of drawing or computer time at the end of the day, or 5 minutes where they can listen to Kidz Bop at the listening center. They especially love lunch dates with me. Keep the rewards simple and manageable (especially for your budget. If there is a child who asks why they weren’t acknowledged, ask them to reflect on what may have happened during the day that would have kept them from having an awesome day. Gently remind them if they are not sure. Having very specific criteria on the rubric will help them (and you) identify areas for improvement. Then you can have the conversation where the student can goal set for tomorrow and tell how they can make better choices.

  3. This sounds like a great strategy. I have been having issues with some students’ choosing inappropriate behavior instead of making good choices, and have been racking my brain trying to figure out what I can do to change this. I am going to try this out in my classroom. Thanks for the information.
    One question: When and how often do you meet with each student to discuss/review their rubrics after they have scored them?


  4. There is a similar system outlined in The New Dare to Discipline, a book for parents and teachers, by Dr. James Dobson.He is a well-known evangelical author and spokesman. Politics aside, some valuable advice in this book. I also liked his love Must Be Tough for married partners having big problems: alocolholism, infidelity, etc.

  5. I am going to try this! Some school years, I have had each child post a goal sheet on their desk and they
    quickly check off if they had a good day and felt they had met their goal. If they felt they had met their goal, they would get a sticker and then choose a new goal. The difficult thing was that first graders did not know what kind of goal they should have. I can see using my class rules as beginning goals. I assume you keep and file the rubrics if you use them to conference with parents. Do you have a quick, consistent file method at the end of the day? Thank you for your great idea, sometimes I feel like I am drowning with negative behaviors this year!

  6. This is interesting to me…I am a 5th grade teacher and we recently began using a behavior rubric at the end of the month. I think the component we are missing here is the frequency and having the KIDS complete the survey. I may try this and your chart strategy and see how it sits with my kiddos. Thanks for sharing! :)

  7. would you be able to post a sample rubric you have used…or email me a copy?

  8. What age group were these students?

  9. I find this useless for my high school classroom where a big portion of the students do not buy into anything. Great idea though!

    • High school kids would buy into it if it was set up electronically and if they could (diplomatically) rate a peer. Or so I think. I am an elementary school teacher, but have a son who is a freshman in high school.

  10. I tried this for the first time today, and while many of my students just circled all smiley faces, about 7-8 of them really thought about their days and answered very honestly. It took just 3-4 minutes (including my introduction!), so I expect it will take even less time in the future. I think it’s going to be a very good, efficient way of helping my students think about their choices.

  11. I teach a high school behavior classroom, and use a rubric that ties directly to employability for a formal weekly check – but at the end of each period, my check-out is not only a content-appropriate item but a behavior self-assessment conference. I only need to spend about 30 seconds per kid per period (once we got it smoothed out), and it’s their participation/employability grade.

    • Great idea and what a wonderful way to prepare them behaviorally for the real world! I think I may adapt your strategy to “Are you Middle-School Ready?” for my fifth graders, some of whom have more than a mild dose of Spring Fever! :)

    • Would you mind sharing a template of what you use? It sounds like a great idea!

  12. Great information thanks for sharing with us!

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