The class was at the end of the day, they were tired from being at school for eight hours and just wanted out. Students consisted of mostly boys who were best of friends and loved to goof around, with no regard for me or the other students in the room.
All of my usual classroom management methods and relationship building was just not working and I could clearly see this class was slipping out of control.
**Note** This is Part One of a three part series – a link to Part 2 will be at the bottom of the post!
I went to my favorite sources of help and inspiration: my colleagues.
There was one teacher in the school who had several of the same students I was working with so I asked her advice first.
She used a participation point system for classroom management. Students would earn points for things like listening, contributing, and being a good audience . It was a Theater class, and daily participation was a large part of their grade.
Some students come to her class who are shy, and the point system helps motivate them to come out of their shell a bit.
While other students are way too talkative, and need the reminder that listening is just as important as talking. The points motivated them to control themselves – exactly what I needed for my own super talkative and rambunctious students!
Points for Classroom Management
Earning points for participation seems totally natural in a Theater Arts class, but I was not sure how I could justify using points in a core class like mine – Biology.
The real trick was letting the points count for something big – like their grade.
If points for classroom management were just another way to bribe with candy, stickers, or the like, I felt like my difficult students would not take them seriously. The immediate payoff of doing what they pleased (talking, goofing off, milling around the room at inappropriate times) was a greater reward than the distant promise of stickers and candy.
So I decided the best way to motivate was to make the points part of their grade – 20% of their grade.
But can a core class do that? Can I give a grade for how well a student listens during a lesson, focuses on classwork, stays in his seat and remains respectful to his neighbor?
I bounced the idea off of the other teachers in my building and they were not so sure either. They had a few concerns! Like…
- Grades should reflect student learning, not behavior.
- It seems rather subjective: what is ‘good’ behavior vs ‘bad’ when you try to put a number to it?
- What if I was challenged by a parent?
- How would the score be documented so it means something and is not an arbitrary number?
These were tough questions. I had to think about it – but I knew I need something!
That class was NOT going to get better on its own.
I had made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would not yell at, put down, or embarrass any student for any reason – but I was feeling my patience slip away more each day, and I was close to breaking.
It got me thinking about what grading is for.
A grade should indeed reflect what a student knows about a topic, but we are supposed to be teaching them more than just our subject matter, right?
For example, if you are part of an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, your students are learning how to be…
And all teachers everywhere are responsible for helping students gain 21st Century Skills –
- Problem solving
- Analytic thinking
- Conduct: ethics, action, and accountability
Lee Watanabe-Crockett writer of Wasabi Blog does a great job laying out each of these skills and explaining why each of them are important for students.
It is typical of classrooms to attach a grade to problem solving and analytical thinking with classwork and tests. Even creativity is often assessed through the use of projects and STEM activities.
But how do we assess for student growth in the other skills, like collaboration, communication, ethics and accountability?
Points for the 21st Century Skills
So here I am, with my proposed point system, and a reason to use it in my room! Let me explain,
I propose that the daily points can fill in the gap by accessing for those missing 21st Century skills.
I broke the skills down into a list of nine goals, I call Classroom Community Standards, to make them more concrete for me and my students:
- Focus on the task at hand – in groups or as an individual
- Add to your group, do your part
- Only speak when called on during lessons and class discussion
- Respect others with your words
- Listen to and follow instructions
- Be in class on time and prepared
- Put away cell phones unless instructed
- Remain seated unless instructed
- Take care of classroom resources
This is just the foundation. But there are still concerns to answer. How to document progress? How to prevent scores from being arbitrary, objective rather than subjective?
And how do I get the support of parents?
But just so you are not left wondering – the system worked! A classroom management miracle. And you wont believe the response I got from the students!
Click HERE to read Part 2 , ‘Classroom Management and the 21st Century Skills’! Part 2 includes a link to the rubric used to track student growth and record data!