Classroom behavior charts can hurt more than help
Certain common practices in schools might not benefit children with learning differences.
One of those practices is the behavior chart. Many elementary classrooms have a chart where clips or other markers indicate publically to the classroom where each child stands in terms of their behavior for the day.
Teachers who use such a system in connection with positive rewards for “good” behavior and consequences for “bad” behavior might argue these charts allow children to see where they stand in the classroom and encourage them to make better choices. But one visitor to Fundamental Learning Center, Gabe, age 6, demonstrated why this chart does not always have the desired effect.
Gabe came to the center to meet with Connie, our director of dyslexia screening. As his mother, Ashley, visited with Connie, Gabe began to draw and put together a behavior chart.
“See you start by putting your clip on green,” Gabe said. “Then you get moved up and down.”
He described how his younger sister usually ends her day on the pink or purple because “she’s so good.”
Then he said he dreads the days he ends up on red.
“Red is teacher’s choice,” Gabe said. “It’s usually time after school or in the principal’s office.”
Ashley said watching Gabe’s self esteem plummet as he continually tries to behave in school with a learning difference has been heartbreaking.
“I wish they didn’t do it,” she said. “I know some kids like this system, but it’s easier for those kids. He tries his best and he still can’t do it because he needs more…”
Kids like Gabe — and there are many kids like Gabe in schools — need more attention, different instruction and different rules to succeed. For Gabe, struggles with paying attention in class, reading and other areas make the traditional school environment difficult.
“He doesn’t know how to get past all the difficulties he is having,” Ashley said. “He says, ‘I’m dumb; I’m stupid; I can’t do this.’ He is brilliant; he just can’t get it out.”
For Gabe, a bright child who is truly trying his best to behave and make positive choices, the behavior chart serves as a form of public shaming. As he described his typical day with the behavior chart, visible fear and sadness showed on his face.
At Fundamental Learning Center’s Rolph Literacy Academy (RLA), discipline revolves around positive reinforcement, and children are often redirected vs. being told “no” or that they are wrong.
“Our philosophy is that some kids have to move to learn,” RLA Director Ann Welborn said.
RLA offers alternative seating choices, and children are allowed to sit on cushions, exercise balls or even stand to do work if it helps keep them engaged.
RLA’s small class sizes help instructors know their students so they can anticipate possible behavioral issues. In addition, children tend to be less frustrated at RLA, where their learning differences are understood and instruction caters to their learning styles.
Children like Gabe who learn differently need reinforcement of positive behavior and freedom to learn in ways that are best for them.
Behavior charts, while they might work to promote positive behavior in a typical student, promote only fear and shame for some kids with learning differences.