By Nicole Sasso January 18, 2011 6:41 pm
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.