I’m super excited about this new series. I’m incredibly passionate about my job as a preschool teacher, so it only makes to share a little bit of that with you here on Angie Americana. This is my 4th year teaching, and I’ve learned a lot since my first year. One of the things I’ve started to incorporate in my classroom is positive discipline. I’ve always tried to use negative behavior as an opportunity to teach children to make appropiate decisions and find positive solutions independently.
However, this can be somewhat difficult when your students are 4 and 5 years old. The right thing is quite an abstract concept for them. I found myself talking and talking about making good choices and being a nice friend without it making any real impact. My students would follow the classroom rules and solve conflicts when prompted and prodded, but I could see there was no real motivation for them (other than my praise and high fives). I tried to find another way to motivate them. In my first year of teaching, I designated Fridays as Prize Days. Students who had behaved would receive a small prize (such as a pencil, eraser, whistle, or other party favor) to take home. Needless to say, my students were always the most well-behaved on Fridays!
Fast forward a few years to my new classroom here in Denmark.
I started my usual Prize Day Fridays, but I kept seeing certain students acting out on every other day of the week. They would only begin to behave themselves right before I took the prize box out on Friday afternoon. I struggled to motivate them to make appropriate choices Monday-Thursday. I kept reminding them that they had to remember their gentle hands and positive words in order to ‘win their prizes’. It was exhausting, and it wasn’t really working that well.
And then I created the Prize Wall!
This is more visual version of what I had been fumbling with all year. I loved the wonderful behavior on Fridays and wanted to find a way to carry that throughout the whole week. I decided that I would use the prizes to give my students a tangible weekly goal.
What did I need for the Prize Wall?
- A bulletin board
- Green, yellow, and red construction paper to create the ‘zones’.
- Ziploc bags labeled with each student’s name.
- Push pins
- Assorted prizes in the Prize Box (it only costs me a few bucks)
So how does the Prize Wall Work?
On Monday after morning circle time, I bring the Prize Box out. One by one children are invited to pick a prize from the box. They are asked to identify the ziploc bag with their name (to encourage literacy). The child then places the prize in the bag, and they close it without my assistance (to encourage fine motor skills). Then, each child brings their bag to the Prize Wall, and I place it on the green portion. Green is the overall goal. The students know that prizes only go home if it is on green. When a child misbehaves or causes a conflict with another student, their prize is moved to yellow. They are given the option to solve the problem or redirect their behavior. If they respond appropriately, their prize is returned to green. If they continue to disrupt the class or create new conflicts, they are moved to red. Students whose prizes are on red must first earn yellow before they are able to earn green. Only prizes on green are allowed to be taken home at the end of the day on Friday.
The Prize Wall has turned the behavior in my classroom around completely. Before, I had students who would throw tantrums for half and hour, lash out at others physically, or pick and choose the rules they wanted to follow because they couldn’t physically see the consequences to their actions. Now, every student has a concrete goal to work towards throughout the week. They see their prize all week and want to do everything they can to make sure it stays on green. This is helping them develop a real sense of accountability.
Prizes are moved to yellow/red if a student:
- does not follow directions given by a teacher.
- breaks a classroom rule.
- refuses to participate in a required activity.
- behaves inappropriately.
How are conflicts solved?
They are allowed to explain why they were angry/ frustrated/defiant/etc. We talk about the fact their feelings are valid and that their feelings are natural reactions. We then talk about whether or not they responded appropriately to their feelings. The student is asked to think of ways they can solve the problem (I do not tell them ‘you need to do this’ or ‘say sorry now’). It is incredibly important that the child is able to find solutions themselves. We agree on what has to done for their prize to be moved to yellow/green. When the child solves the problem or redirects their behavior, I move their prize to the appropriate color.
Since I started using the Prize Wall, no student has ever been unable to take their prize home on a Friday. I have seen a drastic drop in defiant and disruptive behavior in my classroom, and I couldn’t be more please with the results. My students are noticeably more willing to solve conflicts on their own now, and tantrums are basically non-existent. When they do happen, they are brief and contained. On any given day, only a few of my 15 students have their prizes on yellow, and red is increasingly rare. That makes Ms. Angie very happy!
What techniques have you tried in your own classroom to promote positive discipline? Do you have your own reward system in place?
I hoped you enjoyed my first Teacher Tuesday. Tune in next week for another education-themed post!