Miss Night's Marbles

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

Chuck the Chart, Part 3.5: How one teacher changed the “mandatory” chart

This post is part of my Chuck the Chart series, about managing your classroom without the use of a publicly posted behaviour chart. You can find links to the entire series on my Chuck the Chart page

In response to the previous post about talking to your administrator regarding a chart-free classroom, my friend Kimberley, over at Books First in Maine wrote the post below, detailing how she managed to work around a mandatory chart situation. I LOVE this solution, and if you find yourself in a situation where your principal or district will absolutely not wiggle on any part of the chart, I think her approach is brilliant. With her permission, I am reposting her piece in its entirety, but you can see the original here.  Please take a minute to check out her blog!

When I first arrived at the K-2 school where I now teach, I learned it was a school wide rule that everyone use one of those clothespin behavior charts. Several teachers and administrators asked me if I wanted them to make me one since it was obvious that I hadn’t put one up yet. At our school the rooms line up like a train car. The only way to get through the school is to walk through everyone’s room, so people noticed classroom ‘decor’.

 I politely declined.

 Apparently many people thought I was going to make one later, so it was brought up again when I still didn’t have one after Open House. In fact, several children attending open house were also quick to point out that they couldn’t find my behavior chart. “You know Mrs Moran? Like we had in Kindergarten?” I told them that we would be talking about something called self-control. “Just wait,” I said, “you’ll love it!” The kids looked worried. This was the system they had all learned. This was the system that kept everyone in line.

When I arrived at school the first day students were to attend, this was on my desk.
There was also a sticky note from my principal explaining that it needed to be up and used.

I introduced it to the kids by explaining that this was not a reward/punishment chart. It was a reminder chart. I showed them how I kept notes on how they read, what they loved, mini-lessons I wanted to teach. I explained that this behavior chart was a way for them to keep notes on how they were exhibiting self-control. We did lots of activities on what self-control means and how when we catch ourselves and get control over our behaviors, we can be proud.

 I also told them that I wanted this class to be the one that did the right thing even when no one was watching.

 In this way, I couldn’t be the one who moved clips because then you might forget to monitor yourself. You also couldn’t rely on other people to tell on you because they aren’t in control of you either. The kids began to use the clips after each activity. We would complete a lesson, gather on the rug and talk about what kind of self-control we might have needed to use during the past lesson. Kids were invited to put their clips where they felt they should go…no judgment, just a simple reminder to work harder at self-control or keep doing what you are doing.

 They LOVED it. They were so surprised that the grownup wasn’t going to be moving the clips.

 They HATED it. They couldn’t believe that the grownup wasn’t going to keep the ‘bad’ boys and girls in check.

 I smiled and kept insisting that my goal for everyone was a class who did the right thing even when no one was watching.

 As the clip system became less of a focus because it wasn’t about me in control, it started to run in the background. Some kids loved their clips and some kids forgot about them. When the principal came in, she saw the clip chart and smiled. The kids were in order and peaceful, “that chart system must be working!” I invited her to ask the kids how they use the chart. Their conversations astounded her. Here were kids who discussed how they self-monitored, how the kids not the teacher were in charge of their own clips, and how they loved to show their self-control. She shared her experience with the guidance counselor.

 By then we had moved to quick thumb check ins. At the end of each mini-lesson kids showed thumbs up, to the side, or down to share how well they exhibited self-control. The behavior chart began to gather dust.

 Then one day, the guidance counselor came to see me to ask if she could share a story about my class. She talked about one of my students who had a great deal of impulse control issues. He had been arguing with another student at recess and eventually slugged the other kid. When the recess monitors were figuring out the situation, the boy said somewhat hysterically “I didn’t do a self-check. I wish I’d just checked in with myself before I hit him. It’s my fault. I am responsible for what I do and say.” She wanted me to know that she had never witnessed a child so aware of what had occurred and ready to take responsibility. She felt my self-control method was working.

 Other teachers began to ask me about what I was doing. I invited them to come in and talk to the kids about how it worked. They invited some of my kids to come in and share the process with some of their kids. The behavior chart went in the recycling bin.

Thank you so much to Kimberley for sharing her story, and allowing me to post it here as part of this series.

Stay tuned – next up, we talk to parents!


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Chuck the Chart, Part 3: Talking to your Administrator(s)

This post is part of a multi-part series about running a classroom without using a publicly-posted behaviour chart system. All of the other posts in the series can be found here.

At least two thirds of the questions I get when I talk about getting rid of behaviour charts involve a variation of the following:

But Amy, my administrator/board requires us to have a behaviour management system…. WHAT DO I DO?!?

principal desk

My friends, I have answers for this, but first, a confession: I have never been in that situation, have never had an administrator who required such a thing (and I am grateful for this good fortune EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.). HOWEVER: My friend Kimberley over at Books First in Maine has successfully nagivated a school setting where a publicly posted chart was mandatory in every classroom, and she generously allowed me to share her story here. Please check it out.

My other recommendations:

1. Share the reasons why you want to get rid of your chart. You are more than welcome to share my original post, the first post in this series, or any of these other great posts on the same subject:

2. Share what you plan to do instead. Show that you have a plan, a toolkit, a bank of strategies to manage your classroom consistently, calmly, and thoroughly. Share what your expectations will be, how you plan to communicate those expectations to your students, and how you will respond when students do not fulfill these expectations.

3. Ask for approval to do a trial (call it a pilot project, sometimes that expression helps get admins on board with new stuff). Have a plan in place to document how NOT having a chart is affecting your students and your classroom community. Be ready to take lots of anecdotal notes if necessary, and to provide your admins with frequent reports about your “experiment.”

4. If this will not fly, ask for a compromise: can you have a chart or a system, but not post it publicly? Can you keep it in a binder or in a drawer, or somewhere out of sight where each student knows where he or she stands, but it is not posted for all to see, and the elements of shame and humiliation are lessened? (This also allows you to gradually phase out chart use for the students who don’t need it, and to really individualize your expectations for the kiddos who struggle.)

5. Finally, if all of this does not work, and the verdict is that you absolutely, positively, MUST have a publicly posted “system” to “manage behaviour” consider a model like the one Sally Haughey, over at Fairy Dust Teaching, suggests: No More Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light Behavior Management Plan! I love Sally’s emphasis on safety and care, rather than compliance and shame, and that the teacher’s role is to help and protect the students rather than judge or punish them.

I apologize for the delay on this installment, my friends – I’m on vacation in a teeny tiny town that holds my whole heart, and loving every minute of it.

Up next: how to handle parent communication without the chart. Stay tuned, and if you are finding this series helpful, please share it far and wide!


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

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. 


Chuck the Chart, Part 1: But why?

This is part 1 of a multi-part series 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.

Oh my goodness, I am so excited to be posting this! My first post about why I don’t use behaviour charts set up a hypothetical situation where a publicly posted chart was used in an employment setting, and, while I still think that post drives home the emotional impact of these sorts of systems, I thought it may be helpful to do a point-by-point breakdown of the biggest reasons why, to me, these systems are problematic. Before we start, though, let’s lay some vocabulary groundwork, to make sure we are all speaking the same language. When I refer to a behaviour chart, I specifically mean a system that is publicly posted, where each individual child has a clip or a card or a jar or a row to indicate how he or she is doing that day. This includes stoplight-style charts, clip charts, sticker charts, individual marble jars, etc. Charts record the daily progress of individual children, in a way that invites direct comparison. If you have no clue what I am talking about, do a google image search for “behavior chart”, and you will see a bajillion examples. So, with that understood, here are my four big objections to these charts:

1. They are public. If you have used these systems, you know. It is the same kids who lose cards/clip down, every day. The rest of the class knows it, too. The kids go home and tell their parents “Mariah lost all her cards/was on red AGAIN today. She is ALWAYS on red.” When parents come into your room, for pickup or drop off, or to volunteer, or for parent-teacher conferences, they see the chart, too. How is poor Mariah EVER going to get a fresh start or see herself as capable of progress, if every single person who comes into the room can see that she is on red. AGAIN???  To me, displaying these charts publicly is a way to use public shaming and humiliation as a way to control children’s behaviour, and that seems completely incompatible with creating a safe and nurturing environment. We can manage our classrooms without using shame to do it.

2. They do not allow for individual development, needs, situations, or progress. For some kids, constant interrupting is a behaviour we are trying to diminish. For others, the problem is that they NEVER EVER speak up during class discussions. If you have a publicly posted behaviour system, and one of the “clip downable” offenses is interrupting, what do you do on the day that your meekest, shyest, never-says-boo little mouse FINALLY shares an idea during circle time, but HAPPENS to interrupt when he does it? Does he clip down for interrupting? Do you think he will EVER speak up again if he does?

3. They create comparison and competition instead of building community. I know. “The world is competitive and they are going to have to learn to compete.” But is that any more true than “They need to learn to be kind, to collaborate, to support one another, to be tolerant of others who are different from them, to never take pleasure in someone else’s pain, that their successes should never come at someone else’s expense…?” Yes,our students will have to compete: for jobs, for college placements, and for some, on a sports field… someday. That is not an argument that they need to start now. They will also watch R-rated movies, stay up until 11pm, drive cars, use matches, SOMEDAY. It doesn’t make it safe or appropriate for them do to any of those things NOW. I don’t want my students to see their classmates as competition. I want them to see our classroom as a family full of people who help one another, and where different people work on different skills in different ways, at different rates, at different times, using different tools.

Kids already know who is ahead and who is lagging. They don't need a chart to reinforce this.

Kids already know who is ahead and who is lagging. They don’t need a chart to reinforce this.

4. They are reward-based. The research on rewards is pretty clear. As my friend Alfie Kohn says (ok, it is a stretch to call him my friend, but bear with me): “This is one of the most thoroughly replicated findings in the field of social psychology: the more you reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward… More specifically, researchers have found that people’s interest in a task ordinarily plummets when they are acutely aware of being evaluated on their performance — even if the evaluation is positive.” (The Schools Our Children Deserve) All of the following count as rewards:

  • actual trinkets from a treasure chest or class “store”
  • a sticker on a chart
  • special play time/extra recess/a class party
  • the simple act of moving  a clip or card “up” a chart

Yes, in the short-term, rewards work, if by “work” you mean that they produce compliance in the form of desired behaviours. They do not, however, build kids’ self-regulatory capacities, decision-making skills, or intrinsic motivation. I want my students to do the right thing BECAUSE it is the right thing, not because it will earn them a treat. As my good friend Matt B Gomez has been known to say: behaviour systems are about the teacher controlling the kids, not about the kids learning to control themselves.

There you have it. Those are the 4 big reasons why I think we can do so much better than charts for our students. I have a million examples and clarifications for each of these, so if any of them are not clear, hit me in the comments. Often, when I have this conversation, people raise the following points:

But Amy, my chart is ONLY for recognizing good behaviour. Kids never lose points/stickers/marbles. They never have to “clip down.”

If it is publicly posted and creates direct comparisons between children, it is still a chart, and there are still kids who NEVER clip-up, and other who clip all the way to the top within an hour of arriving at school. 

But Amy, I don’t use the kids’ names. I assign them numbers so that it is anonymous.

Kids can count. Within a few weeks, they will know exactly who belongs to which number.

I use a collective system where small groups of children earn points/marbles/pompoms/stickers for their team. This, to me, is BETTER than a publicly posted individual system, but it is still a reward-based system, and it creates comparison/competition. The team who has THAT KID (you all know THAT KID. You have all taught THAT KID every year.) will feel like they are at a disadvantage.

I know. I am kind of being hard-nosed about what a chart is, and why I don’t believe in them, but to me, this is something we need to be very clear about. For those of you looking to Chuck the Chart, YOU need to be very clear about what charts are and why they are problematic, because next up: we’re going to talk to your administrators… Stay tuned!

And, hey, if you have questions, please post them in the comments. I will answer there, and will probably add them to this post. Remember: if YOU have a question, someone else probably has it, too!