Stop Classroom Behavior Charts

I already dislike behavior charts that rank or rate children based on a color wheel and was planning to write this post all week.  Then Friday evening I hear my (typical) daughter playing with her toys in the bathtub.   She is playing and then I hear her say,

“You have to be nice or you are going to have to move your color.

No, I don’t want to change my color.

Okay, then you have to be good or you’ll have to go to yellow.

No, I don’t like yellow.”

We started the school three weeks ago, I knew when I went to orientation that the behavior chart was not for me and I didn’t support it.  According to their policy, all the children are on green at the top, if they do something “bad” then they have to move their name to yellow.  So, they have to get moved down on the board.  Once the child goes down, they cannot go back up that day.  However, they could go down more.  So, if they have a bad morning but eat a good lunch, take a nap and have the best afternoon; they still don’t get to move back up.   behavior chart

This type of behavior chart has been studied and shows to have many negative consequences on children; articles where children hate school and themselves.   It doesn’t suit the needs of individual children. For children with special needs, general global delays or sometimes just very young boys  these types of behavior charts can increase the problem behaviors.  Now, I see how my typical developed child puts so much value into a color coded chart of good and bad.  If they moved her color, she would probably go to hysterical. Not to mention the daily ranking, rating and judging of the kids by other kids and the teachers.  By the way, it’s out in the open so as a parent you also know which kids in the class also get yellow or red.

My son’s favorite color was red, putting him in the red circle isn’t upsetting to him and in fact it really is reinforcing the negative behavior.  It’s gotten to the point that bad behavior practices in education are like nails on a chalkboard to me. Why doesn’t it make sense to them?

My suggestions are to use individual behavior plans where students earn throughout each day.  Each student can have the same general behaviors or students can have more specific target behaviors.  Then, when a negative behavior occurs we redirect and keep going.  When positives happen then we as a group are talking about preferred behavior and we are reinforcing the behaviors we want repeated.   For our special needs children, many different accommodations can be made so that they too are earning and rewarded the same as others.  However, going back to your colored class behavior chart it is not very easy to make accommodations for special needs children without further emphasizing their difference.

train behavior chart

Something that was helpful to my son with autism in preschool was a paper with choo choo trains pictured(like example). When Max would complete teacher directed non preferred activities for a minimum of three minutes with fewer than one redirection he would get a stamp in one of the train cars.  His goal was to fill up his train each day!  Here is an image to help visually see how a student could complete a train with four train cars.  I first saw this strategy successful with my son in our social skills class with trained ABA therapists.  Max was highly motivated to earn his five stars each night so that he could have treasure box and free time to play at the gym after class.  The  key to success of individual behavior plans is the the individual has to be motivated to work for a preferred activity or reward.  If the student does not receive positive reinforcement for their positive actions then this plan will not work.

I regularly have to fight the urge to ripe down that behavior chart when I go in the preschool.  I can’t be in control of everything but I am allowed to say that I don’t believe, practice or support the use of that classroom management tool.  And what I can do is:

  • keep talking about how to treat others with my children
  • start talking about how to respect others different actions/behaviors/tendencies/etc…
  • encouraging the children to talk openly about school and what happened that day
  • listen to how  and what my children talk about all the time, even when they think I’m not listening
  • share what is and is not okay with our family rules and values regarding their behavior


Be educated, advocate, demand equal access

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