Helping Your Class Stay on Task

Here are the Xs on the board, ready for the class

One of the biggest concerns every year for teachers is classroom management.  When you stop to think about it, we are grossly outnumbered by the students.  My fear right before school starts is always, “what if they don’t do what I ask them to do?”  Even though I’ve been teaching 25 years, it’s still something that comes into my mind at this time of year (admit it, you worry about it, too!)

To the rescue is a points system that is simple, quick and effective.  My teammate years ago introduced me to it and I’ve used it ever since.  Without the points, I’m not sure my class would be as easily focused as it has been.  A system, in order to work well, has to be simple, and not take a lot of time.  This system does just that.

First, you start each day with marks on the board for your class.  I use Xs, because it’s quick and easy, but students occasionally like to change them to smiley faces or some other little drawing.  We start each day with 10 Xs for each class.  Throughout the day, as the class is doing something they shouldn’t, you erase an X.  It’s amazing how quickly the class quiets down when they see you headed for the points!

At the end of the day, the points go into a bank and when the total reaches a set amount, the class wins a prize.  When I work with a team, the entire team’s points add up, when I’m self contained, it’s just the single class’s points that are considered.  We try to base the number of points needed on time.  For instance, this year, my class will be earning points for just one class, not a team, so they need to earn 350 points (the amount they could reach in 7 weeks if they didn’t lose any).  If we’re working as a team, we use 1000 points, since classes can earn a total of 40 points a day, each.

The amount of points is just enough to make it a big deal, but still feels attainable to the students.  They love it when they’re getting close – the amount of spontaneous addition going on at that time would make any math teacher proud.  J  By setting the points to be reached about every 6-7 weeks, you don’t lose much class time when the reward happens.

What kind of prizes might be offered?  I’m glad you asked!  We use several standards: pizza party (we have them make their own), movie and popcorn (the teachers love this one, since it’s easy), ice cream social, going to the park, karaoke party, board games.  The choices go into numbered envelopes.  When the class/team reaches their points, one of the students rolls a die and the number on the die is the number envelope that is opened.  The students understand that we will then set the day for the reward, since we need time to prepare.

These envelopes would be loaded with the appropriate reward.

One thing that helps in the management of this is what is put into the envelopes.  Each time they reach their points, we decide, in advance, what the reward will be.  We then put that item in each envelope.  This is a closely guarded secret, so don’t tell anyone!  By doing this, we keep the suspense for the kids, but allow ourselves the ability to plan ahead.  Since middle school students love mystery and suspense, this meets that need.

We’ve used this system for about 15 years.  It has worked with all but the most difficult students (there is always one in a class, isn’t there?).  If you have a student who delights in making the class lose points, simply don’t take points away when that student acts out.  The class understands and it takes away his/her power.

We always explain to the students that because they worked so hard and stayed on task all this time, we’re able to take a little time out for our reward.  In these days of trying to fit 10 pounds of curriculum into a 9 pound box, stopping for a celebration can seem frivolous.  However, it’s those little things that keep all of us on track.