6 Reasons To Question Using Classroom Behavior Charts

By Tony Kline, Ph.D. 

simple truth:

Often, doing what's best for children is not doing what's easiest for adults.

The classroom behavior chart. They adorn elementary classroom walls across the country.  They are bright, colorful, and hung with great intent.  These are the charts that have students' names displayed for all to see.  Everyone also gets to see when the children are told by teachers to go up and change their status when they don't meet our expectations.

It's these classroom behavior charts that may be one of most overlooked problems in developing risk-taking and intrinsically motivated students in our schools today.

And what are the perceived benefits of these charts?  Teachers may suggest that this classroom management system helps students know where they stand in the classroom.  I would respectfully counter that classroom behavior charts are not classroom management systems.  Instead, they simply monitor where a teacher deems a child's behavior to be.  In addition, there are no solutions or strategies provided for students to learn better behavior when using a chart. Instead, there is only the embarrassment of walking in front of peers who willingly (or unwillingly) acknowledge that their teacher doesn't approve of their action.  

research tells us:

It's important to note the physiological cost of embarrassing students.  Research indicates that even as early as 4 years old, when children feel shame for their actions, they produce more cortisol.  Cortisol is a stress hormone, which when elevated can "interfere with learning and memory and lower immune function."  So as teachers, when we say that classroom behavior charts work for us, do we know at what cost this is "working?"  And more importantly, are there more effective alternatives to create a safe and effective learning environment.  

Below are 6 questions that examine the use of classroom management charts in today's classrooms: 

What if this happened to us as adults?  Imagine that during faculty meetings, your principal called you out for talking.  In addition, your principal made you walk up to the front of the room and in front of your peers had you move a marker next to your name down so that all can see where the principal thinks you stand.  Sounds crazy doesn't it?  Yet, why do we choose to do this to our students?  Because we're in a position of power?  Because we're older than them?

Why promote public shaming?  Have you ever been publicly embarrassed in front of your peers by a superior?  How did that incident impact your respect for that superior and your desire to go above and beyond their expectations in the future for intrinsic reasons?  These are all costs to public shaming, which may be unintentionally overlooked by educators.

If the same kids always move down, how effective is it?  It's common for the same students (and gender) to constantly move down their chart due to undesired behavior.  What does this tell us?  When student behavior doesn't change, a teacher's approach to positively impact their behavior should.  Being constantly embarrassed publicly in front of peers can lead students to care less in meeting teacher expectations, which further results in worse behavior.

Does moving down a chart address the issue or solution?  Having students change their behavior chart in front of peers does not address the problem nor equip students with strategies to reach solutions.  Instead, these charts simply monitor behavior.

Could a chart cause unneeded stress even for well-behaved students?  Students who typically have minimal behavior problems and/or are perfectionists can still find the possibility of moving up or down the chart to be stressful and all-consuming.  Teachers may be unaware of how this stress impacts even the most well-behaved students.

Are teachers consistent in using the charts every moment of the school day?  In short, the answer is no. If the system is not consistent, it's unfair to students who may move up/down the chart for the same behavior, just because it occurs during different subjects, on different days, or by different teachers.

try this:

  • If it's your school's policy to use classroom management charts, you still have options. First, you can talk to your principal to raise an awareness to all of the unintentional side effects of this system. Second, while still having a chart in your classroom, you can choose to use more effective alternatives to build and maintain a safe and positive learning environment.

  • Responsive Classroom provides a variety of research-based classroom management strategies and resources that reinforce intrinsic motivation, respect, and a safe learning environment.

  • We know through research of specific ways to increase how we intrinsically motivate students.  Click here for a variety of practical strategies. 

  • Use logical consequences.  Instead of taking away student recess, which is often a step on classroom management charts, consider the use of consequences that relate to the misbehavior.  Click here for practical resources.

  • If you want to use behavior charts, make them private.  Many students are asked to keep track of their academic progress in a private folder, we can do the same to monitor student behavior.  

review & share this:

What's your thoughts and experiences regarding classroom management charts?  Leave your comments below.

For additional reading and referenced research, click here.