Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Chuck the Chart, part 2: Behaviour is like reading…

on 16 July, 2014

This is part 2 of a multi-part series about about how and why to consider removing a chart-based behavior management “system” from your classroom.

To read the introduction to the entire series, click here.

To read part 1, about why behaviour charts are no good for kids, click here.

I know. I promised in the last post that I would lay out a way to talk to you administrators about chucking your chart, but here’s the thing: to talk to anyone (admin, parents, even students) about how to manage a classroom without a chart, I feel like we need to have a shared understanding conceptualization of what, exactly, behaviour is and is not.

For me, running a relationship-based classroom comes down to this: I believe that behaviour is a skill, rather than an innate expression of character. As a skill, behaviour is something that can be learned, and  if behaviour can be learned, it is therefore something that can be taught, and, well… I am a teacher, right? TEACHING IS MY JOB.

If we think about behaviour as a teaachable skill, just like reading, it becomes pretty obvious that we can’t expect every child to go about learning to behave in the same way, at the same rate. Just as children start kindergarten (or first grade, or second, or eighth…) with a wide range of reading abilities, so, too, do they start with a wide range of “behaving” abilities.


Let’s look at 3 different examples, to illustrate this:

Hypothetical kiddo #1: Edouardo. Edouardo is a  very, VERY, good reader. Reading comes  easily and naturally to him. He is intrinsically motivated to read, and makes good progress without  a lot of intervention from his teachers or parents. With Edouardo, the best gift you can give him is to get out of his way, provide him with lots of good books, and be there to provide gentle hints if he gets stuck.

Hypothetical kiddo #2: Eloise. Eloise finds reading challenging at times, but she works hard at it. She sometimes needs more than one reminder of the strategies she can use, and  occasional one-on-one intervention, but generally, she is on track. She finds some parts of reading really difficult, but others quite manageable. She needs to learn progressively, mastering one skill or strategy at a time. You have moments when you worry about her, but overall, she is on track. Her progress is slow, but steady, and she builds literacy skills at a rate that is perfectly normal for her age group.

Hypothetical kiddo #3: Georgia. Georgia finds reading extraordinarily difficult, and struggles with it every single day.  Her progress is much slower than that of her peers, and she has frequent setbacks, suddenly seeming to “forget” a skill that she appeared to have mastered yesterday.  She needs lots of individual coaching and intervention. You consult your school’s literacy specialist about her, and you do research on your own time to find strategies that may help.  You worry that there may be  an underlying issue causing her struggles: a learning disability, a developmental delay,  a vision  or fine motor issue, or maybe there is something going on at home that is affecting her academic progress. Georgia may also just be a little less mature than her peers, in the areas that are really important for reading.

I’m sure that you all recognize Edouardo, Eloise and Georgia. I’m sure you have all TAUGHT Edouardo, Eloise, and Georgia. Obviously, you would not expect Georgia to read the same books as Edouardo, or even as Eloise, but you hope that she might get there eventually. Nor would you praise Edouardo for whipping through an emergent reader when he is more than capable of tackling chapter books. At least, I HOPE you would not allow Edouardo to stagnate in the world of emergent readers… I hope you would push him to read at his very best, every day. And you would make sure that he feels supported and encouraged, and that he knows you SEE what a gifted reader he is. But I also hope that you wouldn’t repeatedly, publicly, compare your other students’ reading skills to his — how demoralizing for them, and how alienating for him, right?

Now, take a minute and , go back through the descriptions of each of thee three kiddos, and replace “reading” with “behaviour.”

You still recognize them, don’t you?

THINK of the similarities:

A child who struggles to read will figure out compensatory strategies, some of which are adaptive, and some of which are disruptive.

A child who struggles to read is already aware that others can do so.

A child who struggles to read probably doesn’t know WHY he or she is struggling.

A child who is an excellent reader will probably not be motivated by the strategies that are helpful for more typical, or struggling readers.

A child who is an excellent reader may be embarrassed if attention is constantly drawn to his or her strengths.

If behaviour is a skill, like reading, every child arrives with a different level of ability.

If behaviour is a skill, like reading, we cannot blame or shame a child who struggles with it.

If behaviour is a skill, like reading, children’s individual abilities and progress (or lack thereof) have REASONS behind them.

If behaviour is a skill, like reading, it is OUR JOB to figure out the reasons.

(We could go on and on here, can’t we? In fact, let’s do it! In the comments, feel free to add your own examples to the “If behaviour is a skill, like reading…..” or “A child who struggles to read….” lists!)

If we don’t use a “one sized fits all” approach to supporting children’s reading skills, WHY ON EARTH would we do it for their behaviour?

(P.S.: I know. I know many of you following this series ALREADY KNOW THIS STUFF, ALREADY BELIEVE IT. One of my goals for this series is to give you words and examples to share with others, and I think this way of understanding behaviour is crucial as we advocate for classrooms that better meet the needs of ALL our students.)

So: go forth and share. Next up, we will talk to your admins. I PROMISE!!

To find links to all the posts in this series, in one place, please visit my Chuck the Chart page. 

14 Responses to “Chuck the Chart, part 2: Behaviour is like reading…”

  1. Jane says:

    I. LOVE. YOU.

    You write so eloquently what I’m thinking and I wish I could bottle it up and scream it from the rooftops. I’m a high school teacher with my own elementary aged kids (who go to a school with the dreaded chart).

    My question for you is how do I best approach the principal and teachers about not wanting my own children to be part of this nonsense anymore? What are your thoughts?

    Sadly, a lot of my friends and neighbors LOVE the chart and look at me like I have three eyes when I try to bring up my thoughts on why it is not good for learning.

    Thank you for all you do.

  2. I was just having this conversation the other day as my Son who is 4 yrs old has grasped letters and numbers but can still find behaviour challenging and is due to go to school in September. I was commenting on how unfair it seemed that you can go to school at 4 and not know your letters and numbers and that’s accepted as fine, you don’t get told off or sat out if you don’t quite get it, it’s expected that you’ll learn them when you are developmentally ready, but behaviour – well that’s a different matter – yet is still developmental!! Thank you for a lovely article.

  3. Olivia Henry says:

    Hi everyone, thank you Miss Night for your website/ posts. You articulate these important topics so clearly and succinctly. I would like to add that in my experience behaviour really is just communication, it’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (as you point out, different behaviours may be perceived or received differently in different circumstances, and dependant on our mood, as well as cultural context). I absolutely believe we all (adults too) make the best choices we can in any given moment, with the resources available to us in that moment. A child who has learnt the world is a place that is volatile and dangerous, will be on guard constantly and may respond to something in the classroom as if it is a threat- becoming aggressive, or running away and hiding. This is their brain making the best choice it can in that moment to keep them safe/ safer. Our emotional brain is much more in charge of our actions than our cognitive part, though we pretend this isn’t the case! And if someone, anyone, is acting in a way that seems angry, sad, or in any way distressed, there is a reason, and they need compassion. Oops got into a bit of a rant there, sorry. I really respect you as a teacher Miss Night and wish all teachers were as thoughtful as you are in how to best help children learn.

  4. KSMTank says:

    Thanks for sharing this series. I’m not fully sold yet, but at least it’s got me thinking. Thank you.

    Here’s my add-on to the list: If behaviour is a skill, like reading, parents should be reinforcing/practicing/modeling it at home (on breaks, holidays, weekends etc.) WITH their child. Just like playing a sport or instrument. If the child only plays while at lessons and doesn’t practice at home he/she will never get better.

    Lastly, I want to know your take on a whole class reward system. I have a magnet that moves up and down the board based on the behaviour/progress/ teamwork of the whole class. Would you place this system in the same category?

    Thanks again!

  5. jarhartz says:

    Beautiful analogy. So glad I stumbled on this post. I’m thinking of Chuck the Chart as a character that should be animated for teachers and administrators to view.

    Here’s an example I’m thinking of: “Juanita” who doesn’t have the same behavior expectations at home as we do at school. The modeling for behavior is not present, in fact the values are to the contrary of the middle class values of school . She stole from our book fair. When asked if she didn’t know stealing was wrong, she responded by saying her mom had done this. Hmm. Now her mom is wrong. We must be careful of the words we use to teach behavior expectations.

    • Sue says:

      Wow. Your example is so true so often. I’m thinking about kid’s language. Just today I heard a young dad drop the f-bomb to his son. Inappropriate language seems to be such a big problem in our school these days. Sometimes kids are stuck in the middle between school and the rest of their world.

    • Olivia Henry says:

      Yes! And why is it assumed that the middle class values of school are ‘right’. Stealing is likely the absolute best choice that mum is making in her circumstances, you just don’t know what other people are facing in their daily lives. It’s so important to question our own values/ assumptions and in fact privileges.

  6. Kim Sapp says:

    I love your ideas!!! I plan to get rid of my behavior chart this year. My biggest concern is how you address this with parents. So many of them want to know on a daily basis about their child’s behavior. In the past I have put a calendar in their take home folder and I marked what color they were on each day. Every year I have had parents ask me about my behavior system and I am pretty nervous about explaining this new mindset of mine to the parents of my students. Any suggestions???

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi K
      Thanks so much for your comment. I actually have some pretty big reservations about Whole Brain Teaching (the name is misleading, to start…), but that may be another blog post. I’m glad to hear that you do not use charts in your classroom.

  7. […] Chuck the Chart Part 2: Behaviour is Like Reading… […]

  8. sweetfeet63 says:

    This is the third comment I have left for you this morning :). I am so glad I have found you and your blog. I do not use a chart and don’t want to, but am feeling pressure to do so. You are giving me words and reasons and support so that I can run my classroom the way I want to. Thank you so much for being clear, precise and succinct. I am a fan!

  9. Devora says:

    Fantastic as always. I am going to email you a study by Yeager, Trzesniewski & Dweck that looks at what happens when you teach children that behavior is changeable. It is related to the mindset work around intelligence. My goal is for teachers(and in my magical world in my head- all adults) to understand in their minds, hearts, and souls, that both behavior and intelligence are skills that can grow and get stronger with practice, coaching, and support in every child and teen.

  10. beth korda says:

    Love it. Keep it coming. Having you put this into words will definitely help me do the same this school year. Thanks!

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