Back in the day, when I was going to be the Perfect Teacher, I used a “stoplight” system for behavior. Every student started out the day on green. “Keep up the good work! You’re doing great!”
If a student needed a reminder to follow a rule (or two), their card would change to yellow. “Uh-oh! Slow down, mister! You might want to rethink that choice.”
And, you guessed it, if a student was having a lot of difficulty maintaining expected behaviors, her card would be changed to red. “Stop! Turn that attitude around, Little Miss!”
It all sounded so good back then. Back when I was planning on being the Perfect Teacher.
The reality? If you’ve ever used a method like this (and I’ve seen many variations of it), you might notice something: there’s a glitch in the system.
“Who is changing the cards?” you might ask. Well, I suppose the Perfect Teacher would require each student to be responsible for this. But when you’re not the Perfect Teacher, and when you teach a classroom full of students with a range of special needs, you quickly realize this just isn’t the approach for you.
Back and forth, back and forth to the stoplight board I go, changing each card every time I see a behavior that either needs to be reinforced or redirected. And every time I walk to the board, I take my lesson off-track. Even if I change the card silently, all students’ eyes are on me, wondering whose card I will change and why.
And then there are Ricky, Max and Brendan*.
Ricky’s card is on yellow, but he’s just had an infraction. I firmly tell Ricky to change his card to red until he can make better choices. First he tries to convince me he’ll do a better job. When that doesn’t work, Ricky gets bold and flat-out refuses. Now I’m in a verbal tug-of-war, with my other students as spectators, and no one will win.
Max is NOT happy his card is now on red. Now Max won’t focus on his class work, only on his card. Even though the Perfect Teacher has reminded Max that he can choose to do the right thing and his card will go back to green (eventually), Max is stuck.
Brendan, on the other hand, knows his card is on red, but thinks “What’s the point? I always get in trouble, and today is no different. Why should I even try?”
Day after day, Max and Brendan’s cards would inevitably turn to red. Celine, Jeffrey, Allison, and Scott’s cards were consistently on green. Things never seemed to change.
That got me wondering, “What’s the point?”
Then I discovered hole punch cards.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that they have turned my approach to behavior management completely upside down (in a good way!).
I no longer need to walk back and forth to the behavior board to reinforce or redirect. I simply have the student walk to the board to give himself a hole-punch in his card. He can do this while I continue with my lesson. The students quickly get accustomed to this routine.
The best part? It completely reinforces the POSITIVE! Students only get hole-punches for their expected behavior, which in turn encourages other students to do the same. Students can never have their hole-punches taken away (it’s rather difficult to return a hole to its card once it’s been punched). As far as I’m concerned, they’ve earned it. Negative behaviors get addressed, of course, but not in the same way that positive behaviors do.
Once their cards are filled with holes (generally around 18-20 holes per card), students earn a prize. In the beginning of the year, my students are usually excited just to have completed a hole-punch card! The excitement continues through the cold winter months because of the variations in prizes they are awarded (more on that in another post). I love that the hole-punch card is a part of the process!
Students earn hole-punches for almost anything, such as remembering to put their name on their homework before they hand it in, transitioning to the rug quietly, keeping their desks neat, taking a chance on a particularly difficult math problem and volunteering to demonstrate how they got their answer, helping a classmate with directions, or offering an extra pencil to a neighbor.
By giving students the chance to use the hole-puncher on their own card, they take ownership of their card. They count how many holes they have, figure out how many they need to fill it, and think about what they can do to earn more. I can practically see their brains working it out.
And to top it off, they enjoy it! Who doesn’t love punching holes, right?
*Names are for reference only; they were taken from the photo.