Managing Behavior in First Grade


     I am a firm believer in balance. When it comes to behavior management, I also want balance. This means that there are not just negative consequences to behavior, but good consequences that reflect good behavior as well. There are teachers who strongly feel that rewards should not be used, and that students should just behave and do the correct thing because it is the right thing, but I don't agree with this. How many of us work for a paycheck? As much as I love teaching, I would be doing something else if a paycheck were not coming in. That's like a reward. Fortunately, I do get to do what I love, and get paid for it. Similarly, if I speed down the highway, I am likely going to get a speeding ticket. In life (and I believe our classrooms should really simulate "the real world"), we have negative and positive consequences, depending on the nature of our actions. This too is true in my classroom.

     Last year (closer to the end of the year) I tried a new behavior management system that I felt better reflected my philosophy. I truly wish I had been using that method all year long. What I did was create a wave from blue poster paper. I stapled it to my wall, and then created a fish for each student in which they decorated and personalize their fish. Each day students would start in the neutral water. They are neither warm, no cold, and their behavior throughout the day determines which direction they swim. Good behavior allows them to swim to the right in the safe water. The safe water was divided into 5 sections. Each section earned students a reward. Here are the rewards, listen by the safe-water section. Rewards accumulate, so the further into the safe water they swim, the more rewards they have. 1) color and draw (only when all work is done) 2) Sit anywhere 3) play with play-doh (when all work is done) 4) Certificate home. The students loved the privileges their good-behavior afforded them. My class was a really good class (extraordinarily good), but in April we got a new student who was a bit challenging. This behavior system saved my life! He responded so well to it, and always wanted to know what he could do to have his fish swim towards the safe water.

     Like I stated, I believe in a balance, so misbehavior has negative consequences as well. Just because a student might be in a free-choice activity (or the sectional rewards) for good behavior, does not mean he or she cannot move back, closer to the deep water, and lose those rewards. Each time a student's fish must swim a section closer to the deep water, he or she loses whatever rewards are indicated in that section, until slowly, if in neutral water once again, he or she has no privileges. Now, the deep water is only divided into 3 sections, because the idea is that students move toward the safe water, not the deep water. Ideally, a student would have already swam into the safe water before having moved into the deep water. This doesn't always happen, of course. A student might start the day out badly and go straight into the deep water from neutral water. If a student hits the middle of the deep water, he or she loses 5 minutes of recess. The bottom of the deep water (section three) requires a discipline form, and loses the entirety of his or her recess. This is typically where tears come into the equation, but it is of course what we want to avoid.

     It is important for students to realize that their behavior and actions effect the consequences. When my students thank me for allowing them to do the free-choice activity, I remind them they only have themselves to thank. They made good choices and therefore there are good consequences for those choices. The same is true for negative choices and the negative consequences that follow.

    Of course, as every teacher knows, it is so important to define the expected behavior from your students beginning on day one. I only have three rules: Be responsible, Be respectful, and Be safe. I like to keep it simple, but we have to discuss what each of these things mean. This is what the first week of school is great for, because once your class knows the expectations and procedures, you can begin practicing those things while building a positive classroom climate.