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"For teaching to be enjoyable, you must be able to simply relax and teach. Classroom management must be built from the ground up so that most problems do not occur." – Dr. Fred Jones1
An effective classroom discipline plan is one of the most powerful tools an educator has at his or her disposal. Fred Jones, researcher and author of the popular book Tools for Teaching, found that 50 % of class time is lost due to student misbehavior, and that approximately 99% of those typical classroom disruptions result from pupils talking without permission, daydreaming, making noise or wandering around the room. (Allen, Thomas H. (PhD.). (1996). Developing a discipline plan for you. Retrieved July 17, 2009, http://www.humbolt.edu/_that1/canter.html)
This lost teaching and learning time can be avoided by having a systematic approach to discipline and classroom management in place right from the beginning. The trick is finding a plan that is not only consistent and effective, but is also easy to use.
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The Card System
For years, teachers have been successfully using a card system of discipline that encourages students to take an active part in classroom management. This article describes one variation of the card system which I have used successfully for the last 15 years. Here is what you will need to get started:
- 5 note cards per student (1 each in green, yellow, red, purple and orange)
- Pocket chart with a pocket designated for each student (charts can be found online)
- List of classroom rules (see suggested rules below)
- Behavior Reminder Chart (to be displayed in the classroom)
Students will have a pack of 5 cards which will be displayed in the pocket chart that has been placed in a prominent position within the classroom. The cards should be labeled in the following manner and placed in the pockets of the chart (5 cards per student) so that the writing can still be read:
Green – Draw a large, smiling face at the top with the words “You are doing great!” written underneath.
Yellow – The word “Caution” should be written at the top, with the words “You have my warning” written below.
Red – The word “Stop” should be written at the top, with the words “Your parent(s) will be notified” written below.
Purple – The words “Lose Privileges” should be written at the top, with a list of potential privileges to be lost written below. These privileges may include a loss of recess time or an inability to participate in special classroom activities like a good behavior reward party.
Orange – The words “Severe Clause” should be written at the top, with the words “Go to Principal” and “Parent(s) will be phoned immediately” written below.
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Students begin each day with their green card at the front of the pack. Since the cards are prominently displayed, your students will be well-aware of the fact that they are "doing great." The first time a disruption occurs, the child should be given a verbal reminder of whatever negative behavior they are exhibiting, the classroom rule that corresponds, and the positive behavior you would like him/her to exhibit instead. The student should also be told what the next step will be should they choose to continue the negative behavior. In this case, the next step would be "flipping" their behavior card to the next one in the pack. The exchange might look something like this:
Teacher: "Tommy, I see that you are poking Jimmy with your finger in line. One of our classroom rule is to "Keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself." I would like you to stop poking Jimmy and instead keep your finger to yourself. If you choose to continue this behavior, the next step is that you will be asked to flip your card."
Let's imagine that Tommy continues the behavior, or engages in another negative behavior that is disruptive or an infraction of the classroom rule. The teacher should calmly inform the child that he now has a "verbal warning" and instruct him to walk to wherever the classroom discipline plan is displayed and move the card in front to the back of the pack so that the next card is displayed. In our example above, this next card would be the yellow card with the word "Caution" written at the top, and the words "You have my warning" written below.
This procedure will continue, with each infraction or disruption causing more significant punishments as laid out by what has already been written on the cards. The one exception would be the orange card - or the "Severe Clause". The Severe Clause is available when the disruption or infraction is significant or dangerous - either to the student or to others in the classroom. Examples might include throwing a pair of scissors, fighting, or foul language. In this case, the student does not receive a warning or loss of privilege. Instead, they are sent directly to the principal's office and the parents are phoned immediately.
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A Visual Cue
The card system serves as a visual cue for students to monitor their own behavior and progress through out the day. For this reason, you will want to display the list of consequences should a student choose to break a rule as a reminder of what they can expect:
1st time Teacher gives verbal reminder
2nd time Teacher gives a verbal warning - student flips to the yellow card (This is a reminder to the student that he or she must make a change in their behavior.)
3rd time Note sent home to parent - student flips to the red card
4th time Student loses a privilege - student flips to the purple card
5th time Student is sent to Principal; parents are phoned immediately - student flips to orange card
Severe Clause Student is sent immediately to Principal; parents are contacted - student flips to orange card
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Here is a sample list of rules that you may wish to incorporate into your classroom discipline plan to use along with the card system:
- Listen carefully and follow directions the first time they are given
- Keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself
- Raise your hand and wait to be called on before you speak
- Be courteous to others
- Do not leave the classroom without permission
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Reward the Positive
To encourage students to follow the rules you have set forth for your classroom discipline plan, reinforce appropriate behavior with verbal recognition and praise, positive notes or phone calls home, individual certificates or classroom rewards.
Life-long success depends on self-discipline. Using the card system as a part of your classroom discipline plan gives each student the opportunity to manage his or her own behavior, and encourages the most positive educational climate possible for academic growth. After all, isn't that what every child deserves?
1 http://www.fredjones.com/index.html (Retrieved July 17, 2009)