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Behavior Charts

Question: I am a preschool teacher of 18 three and four year olds.  My question concerns the use of behavior charts. Our Curriculum Specialist wants us to implement them to control behavior, which is sometimes an issue; but I am hesitant.

At the start of each week, the behavior chart has 5 smiley faces next to each child’s name. When a child breaks a rule or misbehaves, a teacher or assistant teacher takes one away. Likewise, if they show good behavior, they can earn back a smiley face. Depending on how many smiley faces a child has earned at the end of the month (teacher keeps track), he/she can choose a “prize”.

I already have a couple of issues with the chart. I don’t think any teacher in the room being able to remove a smiley face for whatever reason they see fit is wise. Also, I don’t like how children seem to become preoccupied with losing or gaining smiley faces - this seems to negate the whole purpose of the chart. I prefer to teach my children that we have “rules” for a reason and that everyone is expected to follow them because they are part of being members of our class. What are the pros/cons of the recommended chart?

Adele Brodkin: There are times when reward charts are very useful. The problem with them in this instance is that kids this young are mistakenly using them as punishment as well as reward – the punishment being the removal of the smiley face. We know, as a result of extensive research, that reward is much more effective than punishment or the threat of punishment is in teaching kids. And the interpersonal, rather than purely mechanical, touch is more likely to be effective.  So your conveying that there are certain rules (not too many) that all members of your class share as a community, makes following those rules inherently rewarding.  Virtually every child wants to feel (s)he fits in, belongs, is safe and secure in this home away from home. If that is not inherently rewarding for a rare rebellious child, expert intervention is indicated. For most children, "catching them being 'good'" is the sure-fire method. So, your readiness to offer verbal reward and recognition whenever a child is clearly following a rule reinforces that desirable behavior. With your method, there are no useless punishments or embarrassments, just positive consequences for playing according to the community rules.  Early in the term, you can relate the rules and explain their purpose very simply and concretely. (eg. If everyone shouts out at once at circle time, I can't hear any one of your very fine ideas. If we take turns, everyone will be heard and all your ideas shared.)

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

Encouraging the Use of Inside Voices While Inside

Question:  I am stuck on how to keep my kids quiet (or using inside voices) during work time.  I teach young 5’s, and they seem to get louder as the day goes on.  I have many boys in my class, and it is hard for them to use an inside voice.

Myrna Shure:  If noise during times needed for quiet is the issue, you can ask, “Does it bother you if someone else is talking while you’re working on your (e.g., shapes)?” “Can you tell me why?” Then ask, “Do you think it bothers other people if you are talking while they’re trying to do their work?”  Now ask, “What can you do so they can think about their work?”  Children will be surprised by these kinds of questions, and will likely quiet down because they thought of the idea themselves.

If voices are getting louder as the day wears on, regardless of the activity at the moment, wait until the children are gathered for story time or other group activity and ask “Who can say something (lower your voice) in an inside voice?” Next, ask “Who can say something (raise your voice) in a not-inside voice?”  Let the children have fun making up silly things to say in soft and loud voices.  Now ask, “Why do you think we need an inside voice when we’re inside?”  If needed, give a hint such as, “Can you hear me when I’m talking to you if you’re talking too loud at the same time?”  “How do the other kids feel when a lot of noise is near them?” 

When children are talking too loud, you can remind them of the questions you asked about this, and then say, “I know you can think of a way to use your inside voice now.”  Associating that question with the fun they had saying things in different levels of softness and loudness will usually result in softer voices inside.

A postscript: during free play, if no one is disturbed, it might be ok to let the children talk a little louder if they’re laughing and having fun.  They will be able to learn when quiet and not-so-quiet voices are acceptable.

Encouraging the Use of Inside Voices While Inside

Question:  I am stuck on how to keep my kids quiet (or using inside voices) during work time.  I teach young 5’s, and they seem to get louder as the day goes on.  I have many boys in my class, and it is hard for them to use an inside voice.

Myrna Shure:  If noise during times needed for quiet is the issue, you can ask, “Does it bother you if someone else is talking while you’re working on your (e.g., shapes)?” “Can you tell me why?” Then ask, “Do you think it bothers other people if you are talking while they’re trying to do their work?”  Now ask, “What can you do so they can think about their work?”  Children will be surprised by these kinds of questions, and will likely quiet down because they thought of the idea themselves.

If voices are getting louder as the day wears on, regardless of the activity at the moment, wait until the children are gathered for story time or other group activity and ask “Who can say something (lower your voice) in an inside voice?” Next, ask “Who can say something (raise your voice) in a not-inside voice?”  Let the children have fun making up silly things to say in soft and loud voices.  Now ask, “Why do you think we need an inside voice when we’re inside?”  If needed, give a hint such as, “Can you hear me when I’m talking to you if you’re talking too loud at the same time?”  “How do the other kids feel when a lot of noise is near them?” 

When children are talking too loud, you can remind them of the questions you asked about this, and then say, “I know you can think of a way to use your inside voice now.”  Associating that question with the fun they had saying things in different levels of softness and loudness will usually result in softer voices inside.

A postscript: during free play, if no one is disturbed, it might be ok to let the children talk a little louder if they’re laughing and having fun.  They will be able to learn when quiet and not-so-quiet voices are acceptable.

My Class Won't Settle Down for a Lesson

Question:  Even though I have 30 years experience teaching nursery and pre/k children, this year’s class presents a major challenge:  It takes almost l0-15 minutes for me and my co-teacher to settle the class down to do a l5-minute lesson.  They chatter amongst themselves and continue to speak even though one of the teachers is waiting to begin.

We have used all sorts of gimmicks, such as hands to raise instead of yelling out answers, bells to get their attention, limiting free time, etc.  Using stickers or snack treats works for the short run, but it does not sustain the behavior.

Myrna Shure:  Waiting for children to settle down, as you have learned, is ineffective.    By limiting free time or giving positive rewards, the children may comply – but for the wrong reasons.  These techniques are external, have no connection to what you’re teaching, and do not create a genuine interest in the lesson itself. 

I have found two ways that work:

l) Simply start the lesson, even while the children are talking to each other.  Start with a statement that would surprise them.  For example, if the lesson is about shapes, show a big circle and say, “This IS a square.”  Someone will notice that it is not a square, and you can smile and say, “Oh, I tried to trick you.  You were paying attention.”  A surprise opening, used with any topic, is usually enough to peak their interest.

2) Play a game called the TWO-THINGS-AT-THE-SAME-TIME game.  I created this game to help children enjoy listening.  Say, “I can tap my knee and roll my arms AT THE SAME TIME.”  Then ask, “What can you do AT THE SAME TIME?”  One child said, “I can rub my tummy and sing.”
Then say, “I can NOT roll my arms and tap my head AT THE SAME TIME.  What can you NOT do AT THE SAME TIME?”  One boy said, “I can not laugh and cry,” and another, “I can’t hold my nose and breathe.”  When the class is chattering before a lesson, ask, “Can you talk and listen to me AT THE SAME TIME?”  The association of this question with the fun game they played with these words calms them down.

These two techniques will help to inspire children to listen and pay attention without external, unconnected rewards.  They will participate because they want to, not because they have to.

My Class Won't Settle Down for a Lesson

Question:  Even though I have 30 years experience teaching nursery and pre/k children, this year’s class presents a major challenge:  It takes almost l0-15 minutes for me and my co-teacher to settle the class down to do a l5-minute lesson.  They chatter amongst themselves and continue to speak even though one of the teachers is waiting to begin.

We have used all sorts of gimmicks, such as hands to raise instead of yelling out answers, bells to get their attention, limiting free time, etc.  Using stickers or snack treats works for the short run, but it does not sustain the behavior.

Myrna Shure:  Waiting for children to settle down, as you have learned, is ineffective.    By limiting free time or giving positive rewards, the children may comply – but for the wrong reasons.  These techniques are external, have no connection to what you’re teaching, and do not create a genuine interest in the lesson itself. 

I have found two ways that work:

l) Simply start the lesson, even while the children are talking to each other.  Start with a statement that would surprise them.  For example, if the lesson is about shapes, show a big circle and say, “This IS a square.”  Someone will notice that it is not a square, and you can smile and say, “Oh, I tried to trick you.  You were paying attention.”  A surprise opening, used with any topic, is usually enough to peak their interest.

2) Play a game called the TWO-THINGS-AT-THE-SAME-TIME game.  I created this game to help children enjoy listening.  Say, “I can tap my knee and roll my arms AT THE SAME TIME.”  Then ask, “What can you do AT THE SAME TIME?”  One child said, “I can rub my tummy and sing.”
Then say, “I can NOT roll my arms and tap my head AT THE SAME TIME.  What can you NOT do AT THE SAME TIME?”  One boy said, “I can not laugh and cry,” and another, “I can’t hold my nose and breathe.”  When the class is chattering before a lesson, ask, “Can you talk and listen to me AT THE SAME TIME?”  The association of this question with the fun game they played with these words calms them down.

These two techniques will help to inspire children to listen and pay attention without external, unconnected rewards.  They will participate because they want to, not because they have to.

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