There is much to consider when deciding on a behavior management system. Developmental psychology, behaviorism, the personalities of your students, and your own personality and teaching style can all influence what will be effective in your classroom. Due to the limited and/or infrequent time specialist teachers have with students, creating a clear, consistent, and engaging system is essential.
• Reinforcement: What kind of reinforcement or reward system will you use? We would all love for students to be intrinsically motivated to stay on task, but that might not be possible in every situation, especially initially. If you choose an extrinsic reward system, will you reward students individually or as a group? Will rewards be given immediately, or will students be working toward a longer-term goal? Will the rewards be something tangible (e.g. toys, pencils, etc.), something experiential (e.g. playing music games, being allowed to sit by a friend, etc.), or something more abstract?
• Timing: It’s important to determine when student behaviors will be assessed. It’s easy to notice behaviors when they’re negative. It’s also easy to notice when a student who is typically off-task is finally on-task. If you choose a positive reinforcement system, note the positive behaviors of all students, including the ones who are always on-task.
• Competition: When choosing whether or not to use friendly competition as a part of your system, you must consider the level of social development of students, and their personalities. For some students, competition can be a great motivator, but not for all. Although higher-level music participation often involves competition between individuals, at the elementary level, I use only group competition, if I use competition at all. Working in groups is more developmentally appropriate for younger children, and teaches skills that are important for ensemble musicians, such as cooperation and collaboration.
• Engagement: Keeping students engaged in whatever behavior management system you use is important. If they aren’t interested, they won’t take it seriously, and the risk of negative behaviors will increase. Will you keep students engaged with immediate rewards or consequences? Or will you choose a framework that is especially intriguing or relevant to students?
• Learning: Implementing your behavior management plan can take time away from teaching curriculum, especially at the start. To make the most of all of your time with students, find ways to insert music content into your system.
This year, I am using a system that we call “Composer Houses.” Students were “sorted” into four Harry Potter-style houses named after important composers by drawing a card from a sorting drum. Fourth and fifth graders are sorted individually into houses, so each house is represented within each class. Younger grades are sorted by class. The houses collect points and work toward a group reward. I use this system across all of my grade levels, but use it differently with different grades, depending on their level of development.
• Reinforcement: I have chosen a group point system in my classroom. Students earn points for on-task behavior. The points go into a group total, and the students are working toward a group, experiential reward, which the students will choose. I use my system in this way because music is usually a group endeavor in which every person’s behavior affects the entire ensemble, and making music is experiential, rather than tangible. For most grades, the reward will be a day on which students can choose a fun music activity (e.g. games, dance party, watching music videos, etc.).
• Timing: I currently use an app on my tablet to randomly select a number of students throughout each class period. If the chosen student is showing positive behavior, he/she earns a point for his/her house. If not, no point is awarded. Points are never taken away for negative behavior.
• Competition: This year, I decided to add a competitive element to my behavior management system. The house with the most points at the end of each quarter earns a reward that will be determined by the winners in each class, and the classroom will be decorated with the winning house’s flag. Because upper elementary students tend to be more motivated by and have the social skills to handle competition, my fourth and fifth graders are sorted individually into houses, creating friendly competition within classes. Second and third graders work together as classes, with the understanding that they are competing together against classes and older students in different houses. My youngest students are rewarded when a class earns a specified number of points, removing the competitive element.
• Engagement: I chose a system that engages students by connecting to something they are familiar with outside of school (Harry Potter movies), and connecting them to each other. Not only are the students working with others in their classes, but the membership of each house spans most of the grade levels. Students are always curious to know which older and younger students are in their houses.
• Learning: I use our behavior management system to teach about rhythm, composers, genres, and eras. Our point system uses a variety of rhythm demominations, with a quarter note being worth one point. Each time a student earns a point, he/she places a quarter note card in a pocket chart on the classroom bulletin board. Older students are encouraged to “clean up” their houses’ pockets by exchanging shorter notes for a longer note. Students are highly motivated to learn to identify notes when their houses’ points depend on it! Each week, we focus on the composer whose namesake house earned the most points the week before. I play music (from an Audio Backpack playlist) by that composer when students enter the room, and we usually begin class with a few quick facts about the composer, the genre, or the era of the music. Students especially enjoy learning about “their” composer. This year, I chose Hildegard von Bingen, Rossini, Chopin, and Stravinsky as our house composeres to give a broad overview of different types and eras of western classical music. I might choose different genres, a more specific era, or composers from different parts of the world in future years.
There are as many behavior management systems as there are teachers. Finding one that supports your own teaching style and that suits your students can make a huge difference in how much you content you teach and how much you and your students enjoy the school year.