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September 7, 2010 Setting Up for a Year of Literacy By Danielle Mahoney
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    As the summer days are coming to an end, I'm looking forward to the change of season and the fresh start of a new school year. Here in New York City, teachers are officially returning to their classrooms today. Whether today's your first day back or you've been knee deep in lesson planning for weeks, you know that an effective behavior management plan, along with a few key resources, will get your students ready for a busy year filled with literacy.


    Class Rules and a Behavior Management System

    Effective behavior plans and a system for classroom management need to be in place before we can dig down deep into reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Many years ago, right before I stepped into my own classroom for the very first time, I was given the book The First Days of School to get me started on my way to becoming an effective teacher.


    What an amazing resource. It is packed with ideas on how to set up your classroom for a year of high expectations through effective classroom management. I’ve tried out many of the suggested strategies. Here are some ideas that have worked really well. 

    Make the Rules...Together!

    Start off by creating the rules together with your class. Read-alouds on the first day with books like Chrysanthemum, No, David! or Officer Buckle and Gloria are great ways to begin discussions about good behavior and the rules they need to work successfully in a classroom setting.  

    Chrys David Gloria

    After your read-aloud, start a conversation with your students about their previous experiences in the classroom, in order to come up with new rules that will work for everyone. Here are some questions to get you started:

    • What are some of the rules that worked well in your classroom last year?

    • Was there anything you would change if you could?

    • How can we make this year even better?

    In your mind, have a few major rules laid out. These rules should be stated in a positive manner and can be an umbrella for the million things you DON'T want your students to do.


    Our Classroom Rules

    Here are the three basic rules that have really worked well for my students:

    • Be a good listener.This really means "follow directions the first time; talk when it’s your turn to speak."

    • Respect the people and materials in class.This is code for "take care of books, manipulatives, classroom supplies, and each other." Oh, it can also be code for "no hitting, biting, yelling, fighting . . . "

    • Do your best! This rule brings it all together. I can refer back to it often, keeping my students on track during any task. For example, if a student isn’t focused on her independent reading or isn’t working cooperatively in a group, I can get her back on track by asking, “Are you doing your best?”

    Posting the rules up on chart paper or on sentence strips in your classroom along with your management system will keep kids working towards best behavior.


    Management System: The Classroom Heart

    I've seen traffic lights, pocket charts, tally marks, checklists, and even cups filled with marbles used as effective behavior management tools. The right system to have in place is the one you know you'll be consistent with.I've tried many methods and found one that is easy to manage, is understood by my students, and gives me the best results: The Classroom Heart. How does it work? Much like the traffic light, this system has three categories in which your students can be placed. (Sort of like "three strikes, you're out!") 



    • The heart is the place where your students should strive to be. All students begin the day inside of the heart. This is the place where students who are following the rules and displaying great behavior are "parked."

    • A square much smaller than the heart serves as the "yellow light." Here's where a student is placed after they've already received a verbal warning and have chosen to continue the inappropriate behavior. With improvements in behavior, students who have broken a rule can move back into the heart.

    • A much smaller square serves as the "red light." Point out that there isn't much room on it. No one should ever get to this square!

    I use pieces of felt for the heart and squares, as well as star-shaped calendar cut-outs to represent each student. By placing a velcro dot (hook side) to the back of each star, the names of the students can be easily moved from place to place. It's important to give your students opportunities to get back on track and remember to acknowledge students who stayed in the heart all day.

    You can change the shape of the system according to your class theme or personal taste. Regardless of the colors and shapes you decide on, having a solid system of behavior management in place from day one will set the expectations high for best behavior throughout the year


    The Discipline Plan or Contract

    Having a discipline plan in place that supports the classroom rules is KEY! Drawing up a contract that states the rules, the consequences, and the rewards will set up clear expectations for the students and their parents. Here is the contract I use with my students. Notice that a parent’s signature is required as well. We need parents to be partners in our work. Get them on board the very first day!


    Job Application (A Quick Assessment)

    Asking students to fill out a job application during the first few days of school is a great way to sneak in a quick assessment of their writing skills. Once you decide on the different jobs needed to make your classroom run smoothly, explain the roles and the responsibilities to your students and ask them to apply for the job they feel they are best suited for.

    For example, you may ask, “What are some of the things you do at home to help your family?” “Can you use those same skills here in our class?”  Once the applications are complete, look them over with the class and decide who would make the best line leader, office monitor, etc., based on their responses. They’ll be invested in the process and take the assigned job seriously. Be sure to rotate the job responsibilities each month so that everyone has a chance to work.

    Here is an example of a job application I created for my classroom. Edit it according to your grade level and job types to make it your own.Jobchart

    Using a tree to organize the jobs in your classroom is one way of displaying the chart. Leaves with the names of the students can be easily manipulated with a dab of Fun-Tak on the back. The students who are “on vacation” can place their leaves inside an envelope on the side of the chart. They will certainly look forward to working in the months ahead.Now you have your classroom helpers set up, as well as a quick assessment of their writing abilities.

    I'd love to hear how your first few days have unfolded. What systems do you have in place that work best for you?  Remember, the behavior management plan that you can use consistently is the one that's right for you. I wish you the best in setting up your classroom for a year of literacy! Check back for future posts on booklists, favorite authors, Reading and Writing Workshop, ideas to strengthen listening and speaking skills, informal and formal assessments, planning for small group instruction, scaffolding partnerships, and much, much more!


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Susan Cheyney