My Classroom Management Must-Haves: Color Charts
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
At the beginning of each school year, I revisit the question that is central to my beliefs about classroom management. How do I structure a classroom environment where my students actively nurture the community because they believe in the importance of co-creating the world in which they want to work and play? Over the years I have experimented with several systems, and I continue to grow and refine my management style. However, I’ve stumbled upon some keepers that I use from year to year. This week I am going to share one of my go-to management strategies, The Color Chart.
The Prequel: Establishing Classroom Rules
During the first week of school, my students choose the classroom values that they agree to uphold for the entire year. This is a collaborative process. My students brainstorm every possible rule they can think up, and I chart their ideas. They really get into this activity, with ideas ranging from “Don’t spill juice on your homework,” to “Compliment others.”
As I record their ideas, I keep a running list in my head of a couple of core values that can serve as an umbrella for all of their ideas. Last year, I realized that I could condense my students’ list to five core values. I congratulate my students on their exhaustive list, and then I share my guiding observation: “As you were sharing all of your rules, I noticed that many of your ideas fit into certain categories. For example, I noticed that a lot of your rules fall under the value 'work hard.' How many of you can find a rule that goes along with this value?”
I check off the rules that my students feel fall under that heading, and then we go through the process again, color coding for another core value. By the end, the students realize that all of their rules are covered in our core community values – and I emphasize that these are values that they created. This comes from the students, not from me!
I copy our community values onto a new chart, and the students copy the five values onto a contract. (See the PDF below.) The contract not only includes the five values, it also explains our classroom consequences and how we use a "color chart" to keep track of student behavior. The students sign their contract, and then bring it home to have it signed by their families.
The Color Chart
Now that we have established our community values, I need to provide a structure to reinforce those expectations throughout the year. After struggling with several other management systems, my friend Lindsay introduced me to the color chart, and I have never looked back. Yes, you can buy premade behavior management pocket charts, but since I had an unused pocket chart in my closet, I decided to make my own.
I bought a pack of colored index cards, and trimmed the cards into squares. For each of my students, I wrote their names onto four cards, one of each color. I slipped the cards into the pocket chart, wrote up a chart explaining the consequences, and I was set!
When I introduce the color chart rules, I have students practice changing their colors independently without disrupting the class. This is essential – if I ask a student to change her color, I expect the student to do so quietly without a verbal response. In turn, I make sure to keep my voice level and dispassionate when asking a student to change her color. This is not a punishment, simply a reminder to adhere to our classroom values.
If a student changes to "orange" on our class color chart (after two poor decisions,) they need to fill out a "think sheet" to reflect upon their decisions and how they can improve their behavior. I review the think sheet afterwards, and the student takes the form home to be signed by a parent or guardian. I keep a supply of think sheets in a manila envelope attached to the wall under the color chart, so that a student can take a think sheet and work on it without disrupting a lesson or getting any extra attention from me.
Students who earn four or five stars throughout the week get to participate in the “Friday Reward." "Friday Reward" is intentionally vague. At the beginning of the year, it is usually a teacher-directed game that we play as a class at the end of the day on Friday. Later during the year, I sometimes give them a half hour of "free choice," with several options of activities, (e.g. art projects, chess, Legos, computer games, etc.) Other weeks, we spend extra time on the playground. I've even led short yoga classes for my students when we all needed a calm yet physical way to end the week. I like how "Friday Reward" is open-ended, so that I can adjust for the time at hand and the mood of my students.