Ways To Catch Kids Being Good

    The most effective behavior management technique is the easiest to implement..."catching 'em being good".  Research shows us that the quickest and most effective way to promote the display of appropriate behaviors is to reward them (e.g., touch, a smile, a "thank you", praise, points, food,...whatever would be reinforcing to those youngsters).  We all like to have our efforts acknowledged, and will show more of that behavior if it brings us rewards.  It's human nature to show behaviors that bring benefits to us.  It is also human nature to like and want to please people who recognize our efforts.   

    Oh...If only I could convince more teachers to include this approach into their teaching style.  Many just don't believe that such a simply implemented strategy can actually work.  They insist upon continuing their negative approaches that aren't working (and often make things worse...creating the behavior they complain about and continue to be nasty toward...a vicious cycle maintained by them).  If only they could hear themselves saying "How many times do I have to keep punishing you before you learn to do the right thing?"  They use more of what already isn't working.  If their ways worked, they wouldn't have to keep addressing the behavior over and over. (See the home page link on "What is ABA?" to understand why punishment does not teach kids how to show new behaviors)

    Willing to give niceness a try?  Here's how: If the youngster isn't presently demonstrating the desired behavior, set him/her up for success.  Prompt the behavior, or request/demand it.  When its displayed, recognize it positively (Don't hold a grudge or say "It's about time.").  Be glad that you're finally seeing that elusive behavior.  Recognize effort first, then focus on accuracy.  Just be glad to see any rough approximation to the final desired behavior (To eventually focus on accuracy, see the home page link on "shaping").  Recognize the student's effort and progress. 
   When first building a behavior, reward it each time as quickly as possible. (See the page titled "Schedules of Reinforcement" for more information) As the youngster begins to incorporate the behavior into his/her repertoire, reinforce less often and less quickly
(See the page titled "Schedules of reinforcement").  Be sure to check out the other link on this web site (www.BehaviorAdvisor.com) regarding "Problems with catchin' 'em being good and how to do it right".

    Below, you will find summaries of, and excerpts from some homework assignments of the graduate students in my behavior management class at Hunter College.  They used various ways of positively recognizing appropriate behavior.  Most are practicing teachers who thought that they already used plenty of positive reinforcement in their classes.  When required to "Go overboard" in recognizing behavior, they were amazed at the positive results (About 98 % of my students report positive results.  Of the 2% who report no change in behavior or creation of worse behavior, most failed to implement praise correctly (Click on the boxes below to read the correct ways to give praise, and see the page titled "Nice ways to create self discipline in kids).  Others had not yet built a positive relationship with their students and the youngsters were suspicious of the new way of treating them.

Click here to read a report on one teacher's use of praise to improve the behavior of one of her students
Click here to read a report on one teacher's use of specific praise to change the behavior of an active and distractible student.

Secret Student (Summary of a report)
    This technique is a great way to motivate kids to do their best (behaviorally and academically).  Before a class, an activity, a walk back to the room, whatever... Draw a name from a pile of paper scraps containing all the student's names.  Keep this name a secret.  The students know (from you having told them) that this selected person will be watched to determine if they have behaved well and are deserving of the reward.  All student in your line or class hope that they have been selected, and then try their best to behave well.  Upon completion of the task, the name of the student is revealed and a prize given if deserved.  Be sure to compliment others who did really well (in comparison with their typical behavior).  A variation: If one of your "more difficult" kids does really well, you might pretend that the drawn name was his/her's (even though you drew another name).  It will help to promote more of this positive behavior in the future.

Melissa Bandes, a former student of mine, outlines how one would implement the "Secret Student" procedure: 

Clearly state a behavior that one would want to see or change.  For example, "I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for on-task behavior...working hard on the assignments that I give." Or, “I’m looking for quiet behavior...keeping our lips closed unless we have permission to talk.”

  1. State a time frame.  For example, “From now until the end of Morning Meeting”.
  2. Choose a popsicle stick at random from a jar.  Each student has his or her name written on a popsicle stick in that jar.  Place the stick in your pocket.
  3. Share the name of the “secret student” with the class after that given period of time.
  4. Ask the student if s/he displayed the behavior for the whole time period. 
  5. If that student demonstrated the targeted behavior the whole time period, say "Thank you" and everyone in the class receives a reward.  If the student did not follow through with the targeted behavior, give an encouraging statement like, “I know next time you’ll try a little harder!” and then ask him/her to apologize to the class. (Dr. Mac's note: This form of the strategy could bring great shame and perhaps the wrath of the fellow students.  You might want to consider rewarding or failing to reward only the secret student.  You might also select three secret students, and award a point for each of the students who displayed the behavior consistently.  This variation takes the spotlight off any one particular pupil.  Each point contributes to the number of points needed for a whole-class reward, priviledge, or trip.  Melissa also notes this point...)
  6. The one thing that a teacher must be sensitive to is analyzing whether or not all the students are able to handle the peer pressure put upon them as the “Secret Student”.  If the name of a particularly sensitive student is in one's pocket, and that student does not meet the targeted behavior, I would recommend changing the name called to prevent damaging his/her self esteem or causing an avoidable disruption.  Select the name of a student who was on task.  Call the sensitive student's name when s/he has been successful.
  7. Finally, in order for this experiment to work well, the teacher must have a positive rapport with the students and needs to have at least the beginnings of a strong classroom community.  I feel that a major factor in the success is that the students and families at my school know me to be consistent, fair, and very caring.

    Ideas for rewards- group games, table stars for each table, smelly stamps, stickers, “high-fives”, hugs, extra time at the park.


The Sticker Chart (Summary of a report)

    Make a large chart table consisting of anywhere from 20 to 100 boxes/spaces.  In one or two places, draw pictures or write something that indicates that a prize has been won (a fast-food restaurant coupon, extra time on the computer, extra minutes of recess,...depending on whether this chart will be used for the whole class or one student).  In some of the other spaces, write compliments like "Super job" and "Nice work".  In some others, next to the prize space, you might write "You're only one space away from the prize!"  Last, cover all the spaces with easily removed stickers.

    Whenever your students have been good for 5 minutes, one period, or whatever interval is an improvement for them, have a student come up to remove one of the stickers to reveal the space underneath.  If you are using the chart with one student (or multiple charts with multiple students), have the student remove a sticker after having shown effort (NOT accuracy) for a designated period of time.

    Be sure to guard the chart diligently.  Kids will conspire to distract you while others look under the stickers to determine where the prizes are located.

Catch  em being good
Scene:  The Wedding

The problem:

     This past Saturday, October 6th, I was a bridesmaid in the wedding of my best friends, Janine and Rick.  Janine's six-year old goddaughter, Karly, was the flower girl and Rick's five-year nephew, Dillon, was the ring bearer.  The hour before the wedding, the wedding party had gathered in a back room of the church.  Karly brimmed with confidence - she'd been a flower girl twice before and was already booked for two more weddings in the next year.  Dillon wanted no part of the whole thing - one hour before the ceremony, he was refusing to take part.

     The wedding occurred at the tail end of his family's trip to Florida; while he had a wonderful time at Disney World, now he was ready to go home.  He knew his mom wasn't happy - she felt uncomfortable being part of the ceremony herself, though no one wanted to leave her out.  Plus, one week of the forced togetherness of a semi-dysfunctional family had exposed Dillon to lots of tension and fights.  And now to top it all off, everyone wanted him to put on this ridiculous, uncomfortable penguin suit with a flower pinned to his jacket and a purple vest with palm trees on it!  The vest and the flower took the cake.  Everyone in Kindergarten knows that boys do not like and would never wear flowers or the color purple.  Everyone said that he had to wear the flower and that all the big boys were wearing flowers and that he had to match his Uncle Ricky.  His younger brother didn't have to wear any flowers - everyone tried to convince him that this was because he was a baby and only big boys wore flowers.  What, did everyone think he was stupid?

      Dillon broke his downcast, constant, silent, sullen pout only to scream out that his brother  was not a baby  - he was already three years old!  And Dillon didn't really feel like matching Ricky these days anyhow.  Ricky hardly ever came over anymore and now he was moving to Florida.  Plus, Dillon didn't really understand why Ricky was marrying Janine - he knew they lived together and therefore were brother and sister - and brother and sisters can't get married.  He wanted to marry Janine and didn't know why she always had to go home with Ricky.   I want Janine to sleep in my bed with me,  Dillon would always command when Janine and Ricky came to visit.   So do lots of guys, said Dillon's daddy, but Janine always went home with Ricky.  "I hate Ricky and Ricky hates me.",  Dillon would yell.  Janine told him that wasn't true, but Dillon wasn't always sure.  So now, here Dillon was at this wedding - his first wedding for his mom and dad didn't invite him to theirs,  he informed Janine.

     Janine looked like a princess - but she wasn't paying much attention to Dillon - except to tell him sternly that he needed to wear the flower and the vest.  Janine's dad made the vest himself to match Karly's dress.  Janine said the vest wasn't really purple - but Dillon had eyes!  Janine didn't seem very happy with him.  No one did.  He overheard someone say that he was ruining the whole day!  He told his grandmother that he wanted to sleep over his Aunt Melissa s house tonight - she had a new puppy and two cats, but he knew he wouldn't get to stay there.  And now everyone kept coming over him - including lots of people that he didn't know - but all they wanted to talk about was the stupid vest and the flower.

The goal:
    Convince Dillon to wear his appointed outfit and drum up some enthusiasm, or at least some willingness to participate in the events.

The intervention:
     Nothing was working, the ceremony was minutes away, and Dillon wasn't budging, let alone walking down the aisle.  At this point, I decided to try the  catch  em being good  technique with some Faber and Mazlish thrown in.  First we needed some Faber and Mazlish (From the book "How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk"), for Dillon needed to have his feelings accepted and respected.  Dillon was past the stage of talking about his feelings and therefore I skipped step 1 of listening quietly and attentively, and step 2 of acknowledging his feelings with a word, so I went straight to step 3 of giving his feelings a name.   It can be really frustrating when people want you to do something that you really don t want to do,  I said.  Dillon continued to look down and pout.   Then I feel sad when people get upset about it...I wish this whole thing would be over for you - and it will be over in twenty minutes and then we can throw that flower in the garbage.  (By this point, we had already given up on him wearing the vest.)  Dillon still sat silently.  Now I threw in some,  catch  em being good:    "You did such a great job at the rehearsal yesterday.  I loved how you pretended to hold the pillow.  And how you watched the pretend pillow so carefully the whole time to keep a close eye on the rings.  You could tell that you really knew how important your job is today.  Janine and Rick are so lucky that they have you as the ring bearer."   Dillon sat up straighter.  I noticed Karly had suddenly started paying rapt attention to us and walked over.   "And Karly, you did a fantastic job yesterday, too - you held the basket so straight and did a great job putting the flowers down the aisle."   Karly beamed.   The wedding is starting so soon - everyone s rushing around.  "Dillon, you're doing such a great job of sitting patiently and waiting.  And Karly, you're all ready - with your gorgeous dress on, and your shoes, and your hair done so beautifully, and you have your basket of flowers all set to go."   Then I noticed a bucket of tubes of colorful glitter glue on the window ledge.   "Hey, did you guys see what's in the bucket?"   I took the bucket off the ledge and started examining the contents.   "Do you guys know what these are?"   Karly picked one up and explained,  "It's glitter glue".   Dillon slowly slid off his chair and walked over to us and picked up a green tube and uttered his first clear, bright statement of the day:   "We need paper to use these."   At that point, we were notified that the wedding was about to start.  Dillon looked up and said,  "It's time to go."   He walked steadily down the aisle, with Karly leading him by the hand, never taking his eyes off the fake rings of which he was put in charge.  Afterwards when we all told him what a great job he did, he shyly looked up and smiled.

 Positive reinforcement definitely works.  In this case, the ultimate goal was having an excited ring bearer, though we were willing to accept compliance and participation.  It is unfortunate that Dillon had to experience the feeling of disappointing people when his only crime was refusing to wear a vest and a flower that he felt was inappropriate for boys.  Ideally, the positive reinforcement would have started much earlier and Dillon would have be congratulated every step of the way for all parts of his compliance - instead of focusing on what he was doing  wrong.

This report was submitted by Katherine Phipps while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Katherine!


The Sandwich Technique

     Ken is a very shy and quiet fifth grade student who has enclosed himself in an emotional shell as if to hide from the world.  We have been told by his parents and teachers that he has given up in school and does not attempt anything for fear of failing.  He has been coming to our center for several months, has made some progress socially, and puts forth some effort.  It is Ken who clicked into my head while discussing and demonstrating the "Sandwich" technique in class.

     Usually when I work with Ken, I am fearful of saying the wrong thing.  If he gets the least bit frustrated, he turns you off and shuts you out.  I decided to try out the MBO technique in which the instructor points out something positive, offers constructive criticism and suggestions, and then follows up with a positive response ending.

     Ken was writing a final draft of a paragraph.  When he was finished, I noticed he began writing with normal size letters and continued to make them smaller and smaller.  At the end of the page, the letters were almost microscopic.  I said "Great Ken! You made the corrections, indented, capitalized the beginning of your sentences, and punctuated correctly."  Ken just gave me a quick nod of the head.  Although he does not physically show it, I believe Ken appreciates and needs this recognition of his efforts.  I then said, "Ken, let's take a look at the size of your letters."  "I know, I know," said Ken.  I continued by suggesting that when he starts his spelling sentences to concentrate really hard on the size of his letters.  Ken gave me a quick, "OK."  Another teacher was going to continue working with Ken while I packed up to go to another classroom.  I ended with a little boost of encouragement by saying, "Ken, I see a lot of improvement in your writing. Keep up the good work."

     It wasn't until I was getting ready to exit the room that I realized maybe this technique did  impact on Ken.  He came up to me, which is very unlike him.  He had his spelling sentences in his hand and wanted to show them to me.  His letters were pretty much the same size throughout.  I made mention of that point and encouraged him, saying "Now I know what you're capable of doing.  In fact, I knew you could do it all along.  I know I'll see more of this great penmanship in the future.  He looked down, but I could tell that he was beaming with pride.

     This technique worked well in this situation. I believe this is a great strategy to use when trying to correct difficulties in behavior and academics.  It sets goals while recognizing the success that is already evident.

This report was submitted by Jody M while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. 
Thanks Jody!

The Raffle Ticket System
(Award cut-up pieces of paper to kids who are on task, answer questions, etc.  Don't be stingy.  There will only be one drawing at the end of the period or day...thus only one prize given away.)

    My students were very excited when I told them about the raffle we were going to hold in class.  I explained that they would earn tickets for participation, cooperation, concentration, following class rules, and completed assignments.  Throughout the day the children displayed interest, enthusiasm and motivation in all the activities that we did.  They had a lot of  fun. The raffle technique (as we discussed in class) was a huge success in class 2-202.

    I was very generous with my tickets.  During our morning routine I gave them out for following rules.  The children were very motivated.  They all wanted to earn tickets, and stayed on task without any problems.  As I checked their homework, I gave out tickets for assignments that were neatly done with sentences properly punctuated.  I also gave out tickets for following capitalization rules.

    Immediately after I was done checking homework I gave a writing assignment.  I was very surprised to see how aware the children had become of their punctuation and capitalization rules.  They were working very hard to earn more tickets, and it also seemed that the more tickets I gave out, the harder they worked.

    During reading, I gave tickets for participation.  I couldn't believe how many hands went up to read out loud and answer comprehension questions. We were having a great time.  The pile of tickets in each student's large cup was growing rapidly.

    Another observation that I made was that the children were helping each other earn tickets.  They praised their peers as the tickets were given to their classmates.  In  math, we engaged in a  cooperative  learning activity.  The children earned tickets for everything from working nicely together to completing the assignment.  I was amazed at how efficiently they worked, how helpful they were to each other, and how well the cooperative project was done in each group.

    By combining the raffle technique along with encouragement and descriptive praise I had created an enjoyable and productive day for everyone (including myself).  My students were focused on task and completely engaged in all activities throughout the day.  I gave out a lot of tickets and got back wonderful results.  I will definitely do this exciting and productive activity with my class again.

This report was submitted by Keisha T. while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission.  Thanks Keisha! 

Another Example of the Raffle Ticket System

    I currently work with a child who has difficulty concentrating during our one hour tutoring session.  She sits at her desk and gazes out of the window while I ask her questions concerning her previous week of classes.  We typically take about five minutes and catch up on her goals achieved from the week prior.  I also allow her five minutes for a gossip session about her new boyfriends and girlfriends.  I realize she is going through a hormonal juggling act at the moment and feel this only helps her to concentrate once the session begins.  Unfortunately, this isn’t always the correct assumption.  One out of every three sessions, Susan becomes withdrawn and unfocused once I begin class work discussions.  I decided to reward Susan with lottery tickets during any significant reaction or comments made regarding class work.  My goal was to create an enthusiasm towards her curriculum material while incorporating rewards and fun.

    Susan is a twelve-year-old girl who would enjoy having fashion and shopping as her only subjects in school.  I tried to use this to my benefit by using a trip to the mall as the reward for accumulating a total of fifty points worth of lottery tickets.  In our past sessions we focused on getting her assignments written in her notebook for each subject.  This week we began by reviewing each of her subjects. I asked her to discuss each of her homework assignments.  I was mostly concerned with her Math class.  Math had caused her a great deal of difficulty in the past few weeks.  “Susan, how was your Math class last week?” I asked. “O.K.” she replied. “Did you have any homework?” I asked. “Not that I know of.” She said quietly. I knew from the tone in her voice that Math was a bad subject as choice for discussion.  I persisted, “Were there any homework assignments given out this week?”  She stared down at her shoes. “Susan, can you show me your assignment book, please?”  She handed me her assignment book hesitantly while staring at the ground. I knew she had written her assignments down for over three weeks.  Four assignments were written in her book for Math. “Congratulations, Susan, you receive four lottery tickets! Each of the assignments is written so neatly in your book. How fantastic!”  I exclaimed.  She looked at me funny and wasn’t sure how to approach the situation. I was so excited because she stopped staring at her shoes.  “You receive lottery tickets for each of your assignments written down.  Once you receive fifty points worth of lottery tickets, you can go to the Stamford mall with one girlfriend and myself.”  Each of the tickets had points given ranged from five to fifteen points and included a drawing of the mall on the opposite side.  Susan was so excited with the lottery ticket idea.  She showed me her assignments and apologized because some of the assignments were missing.  “I think I forgot to write down some of the assignments. I’m really sorry.”  She stated. “Susan, I see so much effort out into this assignment book and I like the way you are asking questions and discussing your class work with me. I enjoy spending this time with you.” I replied.  Susan finally asked questions about her Math homework which of course earned her more lottery tickets.  As the hour progressed Susan opened up to me about school, difficulties with her homework and her grades.  She told me she felt like everyone was against her and wanted her to fail.  The lottery ticket technique also gave her a sense of accomplishment and success.  After the hour session I had a talk with her parents who were very receptive to Susan’s feelings.  They also realized she was at a very difficult age of maturation.  I suggested the book
      How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Faber & Maslich).

    Susan reacted to the lottery ticket concept very well.  I believe I used this technique during a time when positive reinforcement was needed desperately.  I realize this technique doesn’t usually provoke such reactions typically.  However, once I teach in the classroom I will use this technique again with my students and hope for positive reaction.

 This report was submitted by Melody Trava while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Melody! 

A variation on the Raffle ticket system
( in which a ticket is awarded for accomplishment of a particular task)

This variation on the random and frequent raffle ticket system provides one ticket for each accomplished task listed below.  This way just provides a little recognition to those who put in the effort in my class.

1.   Submitting homework on time.
2.   Being ready for class (i.e., bringing in paper and pencil, having text book, being in seat within 15 second of bell).
3.   Participating well in cooperative groups.
4.   Scoring well on assignments (70% receives one ticket, 80% earns two tickets, 90% results in three tickets).
5.   Turning in assignments on time.

Tickets are awarded at the the end of class.  Students write their names on their tickets and drop them into the lottery container. On Friday, two winners are drawn.  Being a winner entitles the student to draw a card to determine which prize s/he won.  Each card has a number between 1 and 7 (inclusive), representing the numbers of the 7 prizes.  However, one card has all 7 numbers, which allows a pupil to win all 7 prizes.  Additionally, the person with the highest number of tickets earned in a week automatically gets to pick a card.  The prizes for this week include homework passes, NFL pencils, a selection of CD's on loan during free time, fast food restaurant coupons, early dismissal for lunch, and options that are negotiated.

This report was submitted by Tamara K. while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Tamara!

Using non-verbal praise

    I have made an extra effort to give non-verbal praise to the students in my class.  The results have been wonderful for both myself and the children.  Students who once avoided looking at me have begun to smile back.  I winked at one student and he squinted with a very puzzled expression.  Later he came up to me and asked if  I'd teach him to "do that thing with my eye".  He couldn't master winking so he just blinks back at me.  The "thumbs up", mouthing the word "good", and the "OK sign" have encouraged the students and I find them staying on task until they finish their work.

    I've also done some mime with them.  I pretended to put a smile on my face by taking it out of my pocket.  If the child wasn't smiling I would then take another one out and give it to him/her or pretend to put it on him/her.  The miming can cause a disturbance in the class, so I only do it when the student comes to my desk to have work checked.

    I've discovered, by accident, another non-verbal technique that works really well with my kids.  I ran out of stickers, so I started to put quick drawings of faces on their papers.  They were characterizations of myself with a smile or a "WOW" expression.  If I couldn't understand their handwriting I would draw a face with a squiggly mouth.  They loved it!  When I did get stickers they still wanted a doodle on their paper too.

    What surprised me the most in doing this non-verbal experiment was that I began to feel better about my job.  It  felt good when a disappointed student came to me and asked why I had only put a check mark on his paper and no "Schulze face" as they call it.  I turned his paper over and he was delighted to see it on the other side.  He gave me a quick hug and ran back to his desk.  The hug was a major breakthrough for this student who usually doesn't like any physical contact.  This same student went back to his desk and made me a smiley face sticker for my notebook.  It seems that  little bit of non-verbal praise has gone a long way.

This report was submitted by Patricia Schultze while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Patricia!

Using A "Secret Message" To Promote Appropriate Group Behavior


            I began implementing the “Secret Message” technique at the beginning of the week.  I gathered all my students on the rug and voiced my concern about how much I would love to see a change in their hallway behavior.  I acted enthusiastically about having a secret message in mind and how I could not wait to share it with them.  The room was in complete silence.  My students were so eager to find out about the secret message, we could hear a pin drop on the rug.  I further said that the only way they could figure out the secret message is to display appropriate behavior while walking down the hallway.  One of my students raised her hand and asked to clarify the behavior I wished to see from the class.  Another student jumped in and replied that the class would have to be quiet while walking in two straight lines.  For every trip we successfully attempted, the class would be rewarded a letter.  If the students did a great job, they could be rewarded up to four letters a day.  The students all agreed to play the “game” and they worked together cooperatively while walking down the hallway quietly as a class. 


            The result was great.  I do not think I can come up with another strategy that worked as effectively as the secret message.  They were so excited that almost all of them started guessing what the whole message was every time when I added a new letter up on the board.  By the end of the week, the students had earned my secret message that said, “Let’s watch a movie together.”  We had a great time watching the movie about the ocean.  They enjoyed the movie and they were ready to start a new secret message for the next reward. 

This report was submitted by Catherine Teh while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Catherine!

Recognizing kids who behave appropriately

    In addition to teaching math each day, I am the team advisor for approximately 110 students in our public school.  This means that I am responsible for any discipline problems in any of the classes of the teachers whom I supervise (I am given one period of release time to handle this monumental task).  I have to respond to referrals sent by other teachers regarding my students' behaviors and schedule conferences to address them.  Needless to say, it occupies more than the 42 minutes of time allotted to me each day.  Our health teacher was having a difficult time with one particular class of kids (populated primarily with "my kids").   I have spoken to her more than once on the personality of different students and things that I felt could be done for each.  However, she never seemed to implement any of the ideas offered.

    After the first couple of weeks she asked me to come to the class and speak to the students because she did not know what else to do.  When I walked into the class I was surprised to see the number of students who behave appropriately  in my class, misbehaving in this class.  I quickly put the  names on the board of those students who were behaving properly.  Before I was done I heard one of the students, thinking that he was being warned or punished, say, "Hey, Miss T., I am doing my work."  I responded by saying, "I agree. That is why I put your name on the board. I am proud of you."

    As the students quieted down I said, "I have the same expectations of you in each class, not just in math.  I am proud that I could put the names on the board that I did, and expect that there will be more names on the board when  I return."  The health teacher agreed to put more names on the board as the class period went on.  I returned the last five minutes of class and thanked the students whose names had been added.  Each of the students were given a sticker that said, "I'm proud of you."  I shared with the teacher many of the techniques discussed in the class and in the text.  I still stop by the class so that the students know I am aware of their behavior, but I have found the number of referrals given to me by that teacher decreasing over time.  It proves to me that the teacher does in fact set the tone of the classroom and that many students will rise or fall to the environment in which they are placed.  It is our responsibility as educators to set high expectations and encourage our students to meet those expectations.

This report was submitted by Lori Ann T. while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Lori Ann!

Building positive peer pressure to behave well

1st way:
 Use a kitchen timer (the type on which you twist the dial to a certain time interval and a bell sounds when it finishes the timing).  Tell the students that you will be evaluating their behavior at the very moment that the bell sounds.  Set the timer for any time between one minute and twenty minutes (shorter times for classes that misbehave more often).  Do not let the students see the timer.  You want the sounding of the bell to be a surprise.  In this way, they are never sure when the "ding" will occur, and must stay on task and behave well at all times for fear that they might be off task or misbehaving when the bell sounds.

Upon hearing the bell, assess the behavior of the youngsters at that very moment.  You can give each well behaved, on-task student (when the bell sounded) a point toward some prize, or give the whole group zero to 3 points depending on the percentage of students who were attentive, compliant, hardworking, and otherwise well behaved.

2nd way:
  When the bell sounds, evaluate the group's behavior during the interval between bells.  Award 0-3 points depending on their performance during that time period.

3rd way:
Use two kitchen timers set randomly.  Have two different types so that the sounds of the bells are different.  Use one to assess group behavior at the very instant that the bell rings.  Use the other timer to assess behavior between bells.  This double bell procedure provides double the incentive to behave well.

Catching kids being good when they're "never good"

 Because I am teaching in what New York City defines as a shortage area, there are many students within the walls of my school who are without a teacher.  Before taking the position in the resource room, I promised the principal that I would be available for coverage’s during my planning periods.  This meant that for 1-3 class periods during the day, I would be responsible for substituting a class in which a vacancy exists.  My naivety kept me from seeing the difficulty in what I was about to encounter.  Without hesitation, I agreed to the principal’s offer and confidently took my first coverage that afternoon.

 My skepticism grew when I was given warning all morning about that particular group of adolescents.  Experienced, burnt-out teachers filled me with angst over this responsibility, assuring me the only place for this group of students was the jail house.  Upon entering the room, a teacher from across the hall greeted me.  Pointing to one of the students, she whispered loudly, “If he misbehaves, just turn him upside down and mop the floor with him.”  Disgusted with the attitudes of my colleagues, I politely shut the door behind me.

 I greeted the children and stood quietly in front of the room, giving them a few seconds to stop fidgeting.  Erika was making spit balls.  Jermal was listening to headphones while singing along with the obscenities that were blaring from his cassette player.  I couldn’t have thought of a better time to employ Lee Canter’s notion of  “Catch ‘em being good.”  I introduced myself and quietly pointed to the aim and “do now” I had written on the board. Throughout the chaotic first few minutes I remained calm and commented on the actions of those who were exhibiting appropriate classroom behavior.     The students shuffled for their notebooks while I subtly continued to point out exemplary behaviors in the group.  Rather than telling the class what I didn’t want to see, I showered them with reminders of the kinds of behaviors I did want.  Eihab raised his hand and politely stated, “Ms. Jenkins, you do know that we are the worst kids in the school, don’t you?  Ms. Helen tells us everyday we’s probably won’t even make it through ‘da eighth grade…”

A loud roar filled the room.  I thanked Eihab for sharing and assured him that I was confident that they would be well behaved because I knew they were quite capable of it.  I took the next minute or so going over what I considered to be exemplary behavior, asking the students to add their own opinions and definitions on the matter.  At the heart of their responses was the sheer truth that other teachers appeared to have given up on them, expecting negative behavior.  I listened.  And wanted so badly to disagree and overlook what they were saying. Only their perceptions were accurate.  I said nothing and listened attentively for the next few minutes.

My lesson plan would allow the students to write an autobiography.  I asked the students to suggest what might make theirs an interesting account and continuously acknowledged those students who raised their hands.  As I walked up and down each aisle, I showered the students with positive non-verbal signs of approval.  The students worked diligently.  Erica decided to join the group and I gave a significant amount of praise for this effort.  Jermal had turned off his cassette player and was involved in his writing.  Accompanied with a nod, Eihab let out a sigh that I took to mean one of relief.    “You’re cool, man.  Nobodies ever ‘dis cool  to us.”

Room 220 was quiet during the writing activity.  The only noise came from the turning of loose-leaf paper.  The students were engaged.  I approached each student and gave positive feedback on one specific element of his or her story.  During the last ten minutes I gave the students the opportunity to share.  Interestingly, those students who initially appeared to be disengaged were the first to share.  I offered my sincere thanks to each student and commented on the wonderfully unique writing style of each volunteer.  At the close of the period, I acknowledged each of them for listening so attentively while their classmates were sharing.  The bell rang.  Jermal looked up at  me. “Miss J, this is the shortest forty-one minutes I’ve ever spent.”  Smiling, I exited.

 It was clear that other teachers had either given up on any attempt to instill a behavior management plan for this particular group or have never tried.  My initial fear was that the students would catch on to my excessive recognition of effort.  Keeping this in mind, I constantly reminded myself to remain subtle in my delivery.  It was apparent that this technique was effective with the students.  The students didn’t expect it, nor did they realize how quickly they were capable of exhibiting appropriate behavior.  Much to my dismay, it was also obvious that they had rarely received such treatment and praise for their actions.  I encouraged, recognized effort, praised, and listened.

My only plan for the future is to encourage my colleagues to do the same.

This report was submitted by Jessica J. while she was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with her permission. Thanks Jessica! 

Catch ‘em Being Good (with Kids with Autism and PDD)

 Currently I work as an assistant teacher at a small elementary school program serving students with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).  Pervasive Development Disorder is a Disorder much like ADD but more severe.  In my class I have nine students with varying social and academic capabilities.  My class is made up of all boys varying in ages from ten to twelve.

Before joining the class I was told of the numerous violent tendencies that the students may display such as hitting, kicking and biting.   In preparation for these events, I had to take a special class designed to teach various technique in restraining children who may become violent in order to protect myself and the people around me.  My immediate reaction to having to take a class like this was I would have to be some kind of drill sergeant who runs a tight ship instead of someone who was there to teach.
With my head full of thoughts of dangerous kids I convinced myself that my first day with the students would be one where I would have to show them who’s boss so they wouldn’t walk all over me.  I explained the rules and what the consequences would be for not following them.  I had to implement the system immediately.  For the first few days a couple of kids had no recess at all for not following the rules.   After a week of being very consistent with enforcing the rule system the students were starting to listen to me, I thought.  I realized they were just listening to me out of fear and not out of respect or consideration for others around them.  Rather than paying attention to the daily lessons I noticed that many of the students were fixated on the marker that I kept in my hand.  This was all because I used the marker to punish them by putting a check next to the student’s name on the board.  After attending a couple of SPED 702 classes and realizing that being a feared teacher was not the type of teacher I wanted to be kind of teacher that.   I decided that the “catch ‘ em being good” homework assignment was the perfect chance to change.

 As the students came into class the next morning I began my onslaught of compliments, “Great job signing in on the morning board, Derick.”  “I really love the way you unpacked Henry.”  “Wonderful job sitting at your desk Kyshua.”  Rather than pointing out the negative I would find a student acting appropriately and compliment them on doing the right thing. Rather then putting a check by Derick’s name when he was out of his seat, I told all of the other students what a wonderful job they were doing sitting and following directions.  Once Derick saw all of the positive attention the other kids were getting for following directions he sat down at his desk.  When he did so I  complimented him on a wonderful job finding his seat and becoming part of the group. He responded very well to this approach.  Throughout the rest of the day I kept on “catching ‘em being good” and made sure that no one was left out.

 The kids reacted so well to the “catch ‘em being good” approach that myself and the other teachers amended our classroom management system.  We realized that we had three of the four components of a good behavior management system (rules, consequences, and consistency).   We were missing the most important one, to positively  reinforce  good behavior.   We had been focusing on the punishment component too strongly. Now instead of getting punishing marks by the students name we decided on a positive points system.  The student would earn positive checks by their names and after they had earned enough points they could trade them in for special activities like extra computer time, first choice at snack, and so on.  We also decided that after the students had earned 1,000 points as a class we would have a pizza party.  It only took them two and a half weeks to accomplish this goal of a thousand points.  I was giving most students up to ten points a day for their great work.  My favorite thing about the “catch ‘em being good” approach is that it really motivates the students to try there best. It also provides a good model on how to interact and treat others.

In conclusion, I still have to use punishment in my classroom when kids are violent and being unsafe but it is a lot less than before.   The whole vibe of the classroom is so much more positive than before and the students and myself are really creating strong bonds that make teaching and learning whole lot easier and more rewarding.

This report was submitted by Josh G. while he was a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  It is used with his permission. Thanks Josh!

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