Wednesday, August 12, 2015

7 Reasons why I use a Behavior Notebook in my Classroom



A behavior notebook is a whole-class management technique for recording classroom misbehavior that integrates student reflection & ownership. It can quickly be implemented with any existing rules and discipline plan, and is used as an alternative to other methods such as a clip chart, card system, or writing names on the board. Each student has their own page, and they are all stored in a binder in a given location in the classroom. When a student does not follow a classroom rule or procedure, they record the infraction in the notebook on their individual page. This allows behaviors that disrupt the learning environment to be addressed in an efficient and non-punitive manner, without having to interrupt instruction.

Can be used by the teacher in a calm, respectful manner without stopping instruction. Once students know the rules and procedures, it’s usually a matter of eye contact with the student and then a glance to the back of the room where the notebook is and they get the hint. Sometimes this means walking over to a desk during instruction and during the pause of my sentence, whispering to the student to sign in the notebook. Other times I would begin writing on a designated clipboard in the front of the room, which was a warning to students that someone would be signing in the notebook. To ensure that the behavior is logged correctly, I have a student that sits in the back of the room, assigned as a classroom job, to oversee. 


Fair does not always mean equal in the classroom. Most teachers will attest the Pareto Principle being on clear display in their classroom, with 80% of the disruptions happening from 20% of the students. Higher-need students may need an individual improvement plan with a modified hierarchy of positive and negative consequences. But all students, even those with a personal behavior contract, can sign in the notebook for record-keeping.

The most important way to reduce classroom disruptions is by prevention. Expectations are clearly known by the students. They are explained by the teacher, rehearsed, and reinforced until they become a part of the classroom routine. Part of the expectation in my class, is that students sign in the notebook without any comment or arguing. If they disagree with my decision, then they are to talk to me privately at recess. These private conversations can provide great insight to the source of a problem without wasting valuable instructional time. I still leave the documentation in the notebook, but add a note that the student conferenced with me. Quickly we decide on a strategy for prevention, and I almost always give the student the benefit of the doubt and grace from any negative consequence.

The first time a student signs into the notebook that day is a warning without a negative consequence. I stress to students that signing in the notebook does not automatically mean they are in trouble. It provides an opportunity for them to reflect on what they need to do differently. Sometimes students will disagree with signing in the notebook and try to blame another student or myself as making an error. Now, I am very careful to only record infractions in the notebook that I see with my own eyes. I give a lot of grace the first couple times a student disagrees with my decision. A behavior notebook is a way to document that grace you give to students in a concrete, visual way. It also allows you to “connect before you correct”. I am human; I am going to make mistakes. Even students with an external-locus-of-control, have difficulty finding excuses after recording a similar incident multiple times on the same sheet of paper. When the time comes when you need to use a negative consequence, the student is more likely to understand that you are “on their side”, helping them learn to accept responsibility.

A Growth Mindset is a way of thinking in which one understands that personal qualities can change with effort and attitude. This is opposed to a fixed mindset where one believes qualities, such as intelligence, are based solely on ability. When the teacher is able to respond to non-compliance with patience and without emotion it helps create a classroom culture where mistakes and failures are viewed as learning opportunities. We have confidence that student behaviors can change and we know if they take ownership for their mistakes, they will learn from them. As teachers, we need to look for opportunities to accept responsibility for our own failures and intentionally model how to respond to mistakes. Signing in the notebook allows an opportunity for students to take a step towards growth mindset- taking ownership for their mistakes so that they can learn from them.
Meta-cognition is thinking about thinking and is a skill needed for Executive Functioning. There is a quick self-reflective component to signing in the notebook that allows students to think about why they are doing what they do. It is forced reflection when a student is brought face-to-face with all infractions for an entire quarter/trimester. Self-monitoring may not come automatically, but it is amazing when you see the light bulb begin to click! Students begin to notice patterns of their behaviors and the culminated effect of “occasional” disruptions on instructional time that would otherwise be overlooked with only a daily behavior system. 

A student’s page from the behavior notebook has proven to be very helpful when discussing overall classroom behavior during parent conferences. Documentation doesn’t get any better than a concrete list of infractions written by the child himself/herself. It can give parents a glimpse of the “big picture” and can be the first step to clearing up miscommunication. 



Closing:  Implementing a behavior notebook is only one strategy and is a very small component of an effective classroom management plan. As teachers we need to put 99% of our focus on positive behaviors, and using proactive management strategies to prevent disruptions. The behavior notebook is just one practical method for record-keeping in the classroom.

You can download the behavior notebook record-sheet and printable cover for FREE, here.




What do you use for whole-class management and documentation?  Please leave your comments below.







41 comments:

  1. I love this! I'm thinking about how much this would help me stay calm with the group I have this year, and how it would keep everyone accountable and reflective. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Love it. Very respectful while maintaining records :) Thank you

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  3. What do you do if they refuse to sign it?

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    1. When I introduce the notebook, expectations are discussed. One expectation is that students sign in the notebook without comment or arguing. I remind students that if they disagree with my decision, then they are to talk to me privately at recess. I don't make a big deal about isolated classroom misbehavior because my ultimate goal is for students to see mistakes as learning opportunities. However, I do make a big deal about defiance because that means a student is refusing to allow me to help them. My policy is that if a student is defiant they automatically progress to step three of my discipline plan which is an immediate 15 minute time-out in another classroom and a phone call home. I have actually never had a student refuse to sign, but if that situation arose I would first give the student an opportunity to back out of the defiance. For my classroom policies I would say, "Remember, signing in the notebook does not mean you are in trouble. Would you like help signing in the notebook (I have a classroom job for this) and then you can talk to me about it at recess? Or are you refusing to cooperate which means a time-out and a phone call home?" If the student chose defiance, I would make a note of it on their notebook page for documentation.

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  4. Could you give an example of how you tell a student to sign the notebook without stopping class? Do you tell them which rule they broke?

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    1. Once classroom rules and routines have been established and practiced, I generally don’t find it necessary to tell students which rule was broken. My fifth graders know what their misbehavior was, and the student assigned to oversee the notebook entries also helps complete the notebook entry and align the infraction with the rule that was broken.

      To minimize classroom disruption, these are the main two methods I use:
      1) Continue oral instruction as I walk towards a student’s desk. Once I am next to the student I will pause for 1-2 seconds and whisper “Please sign in the notebook.”
      2) Assign the class a ten- to thirty-second task such as copying a sentence of notes or “think time” to formulate possible answers. During that time walk to the student’s desk and tell them to sign in the notebook.

      If it is not practical time to walk across the room, then I will address the student from across the classroom in front of the other students. This is my least favorite method and I use it sparingly because public correction adds an additional disruption to the class and is counter-productive for building student repore.

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  5. Hi there! This is a great idea! I plan to start using this next school year--but I too am interested in learning a little more about how you use this without class interruption? If you have the exact time are you jotting down and then go back and fill in? It would still cause a brief stop in your teaching? Thank you so much for all of this!

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  6. The structure of my lessons frequently switch between student input and output, which means there are frequent, natural “breaks” in instruction where I can ask a student to sign in the notebook while the rest of the class is completing a short task related to the lesson.
    These are factors that I find to make this seamless without interrupting instruction:
    1) I don’t write the entries in the behavior notebook; the individual student records the information themselves. Not only is having students complete entries themselves a teacher-time-saver, but is effective for student reflection. (I personally still like to keep my own overall records, but to keep it simple I use preprinted class lists on a clipboard on my desk and just mark a tally by their name. I will then refer to students’ notebook entries for further detailed information. )
    2) I avoid drawing any additional attention to the student misbehavior by making the correction as private as possible. I use strategic moments in the lesson where the rest of the class is doing a quick task to walk to the student’s desk or pause my instruction for 1-2 seconds and whisper, “Please sign in the notebook”. I also think storing the notebook in the back of the room helps to make the process more discrete and less disruptive to the rest of the class.

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  7. I am in love with this idea! I am concerned that my 2nd graders are not ready for this type of self monitoring. Are there any changes or recommendations you would make to this plan to modify it for younger students?

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    1. Good question. I would make modifications to use with younger students by having them circle select choices instead of fill-in. Instead of having them write the time, they could choose between time blocks in the day (ie: before recess, after recess, after lunch). The exact time isn't important; the time block will give you enough information when looking at patterns of behavior. I would also have students circle the rule/skill for each entry instead of using a fill-in response. We want filling out the notebook to be as efficient as possible. Please let me know if you try it with your 2nd graders!

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  8. I am a learning support teacher in an urban middle school where one class from He!! is assigned to a teacher in her first year in the district, although not a first year teacher. She does try to get them to behave, but ultimately is limited by the lack of parental support. Our principal does give suspensions for fighting, but the typical defiance and disrespect somehow becomes a classroom consequence. Not surprisingly, the students are so out of control. We, veteran teachers, have tried to help and suggest a multitude of corrective ideas, but the newer teacher often does not want to hear them. The kids curse at staff, ignore staff, and generally do what they want. Please offer some help!

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    1. That sounds a lot like my own first year of teaching! The feeling of overwhelm and lack of support can be paralyzing. In my experience there seems to be three reasons why teachers may not be receptive to feedback/suggestions:
      1) Inappropriate Boundaries: This is probably true for many new teachers the first semester of teaching. They want to be liked by students and haven't quite figured out their role in the classroom.
      2) External Locus of Control: Sometimes the external factors are overwhelming and it's easier to deflect the blame. Instead of taking ownership of classroom management it can be easy to say the problems are a result of the the group being defiant, lazy, lack manners, etc.
      3) Non-reflective: A teacher may not recognize that there is a problem that needs to be changed, minimizing the impact the disruptions are having on instruction.

      Some effective ways to encourage a struggling teacher:
      1) Encourage by letting them know it's okay to focus on classroom management. We don't have to immediately be an amazing teacher of all things; we have an entire career to develop and refine our skills. One of the best teaching advice I received from my mentor teacher was to pick one thing to focus on each year and be intentional about growing in that area. Developing strong classroom management skills is the foundation of working in challenging educational settings.
      2) Offer Help. Advice phrased as "you should ___ " or "have you tried ___?" can feel like one more thing being added to a never-ending list. Instead asking, "what can I do to help?" will address a teacher's immediate overwhelm and position you as someone that they later will feel more comfortable coming to for advice.
      3) Create grade-level/department systems that support each other. Identify common problems and create a solution where you can support each other. At the most basic level it would involve opening your classroom for "time-outs" from other teachers or scheduling grade-level student incentives.
      4) If you have exhausted your own methods of helping a struggling teacher talk to a support teacher on campus or an administrator. Sometimes the problem is bigger than we can solve on our own and we we need help/advice from other resources. Since student behavior tends to escalate in the spring, this may be your best option as you approach the end of the school year.
      You are in a challenging situation. I hope this helps!

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  9. "...the student assigned to oversee the notebook entries also helps complete the notebook entry and align the infraction with the rule that was broken."
    Why do you have a student job for this? It seems like you're trying to keep the interaction between you and the student misbehaving, so why would you have another student get involved instead of keeping it private between you and student (and parents as needed)? Also, do you have a divider for each student so they all have their own section? Or do they just have their own sheet?

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    1. I try to keep the interactions as private as possible, but also without the expense of losing class time. For this classroom job I choose a student that sits near the back of the room that has the maturity to oversee and help without making unsolicited comments. Sometimes it can take a student a minute or two to walk to the back of the room to sign in the notebook. I've found that time to be well used reflection for the student, but not well used for the entire class if I have to stop instruction. As the year progressed, students didn't need much assistance filling in the notebook so the classroom job was only used as a support when needed (ie: telling time or finding a missing pencil). My only experience with using a behavior notebook is with 5th grade and generally this age responds well to being helped by their classmates. If I taught middle school, it would probably be easier to not involve a student helper and just check the entries at the end of the period/day. Teaching is a balancing act and in the end you have to make decisions about what is best for your classroom.

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    2. To address your other question: Each student each has one page in the notebook. I copy the page double-sided but rarely does a student need to write on the back.

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  10. I have a very challenging class this year. Could you help me with your different levels of discipline?

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    1. The negative consequences used in a classroom will be dependent on the structures/supports that you have in place at your school site. For continuity, I use very typical negative consequences that are generally shared by other teachers on campus and align to what parents and students expect. The reality of teaching is that it requires a large amount of teacher effort for classroom discipline: I find it much more fruitful to use 95% of my time and energy on prevention. Negative consequences are by definition reactive, and are not very effective at preventing future disruptions.

      I am hesitant to post my progressive classroom discipline because I don't really think what you choose as your specific consequences are as important as consistency in how you handle disruptions and the focus on preventative measures to minimize the frequency in the future. In my classroom, students sign in the notebook every time (even warnings) and here are the progressive discipline steps I use:
      1. Warning.
      2. Recess Detention
      3. 15 minute time out, phone call home, recess detention
      4. Half-day time out, lunch detention, phone call home, recess detention
      5. Principal's office *Severe behavior will be sent directly to principal's office

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  11. Can you give more information about the skills you focus on? Do you have a list and how do you teach them?

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    1. The executive functions are based on the research of Peg Dawson. There are 10 brain-based skills that required to execute (complete) tasks. In my classroom, I divide the executive functions into two categories: thinking and behavior.

      Thinking: Organization, Time Management & Planning, Working Memory, Meta-cognition, and Sustained Attention.
      Behavior: Response Inhibition, Manage Emotions, Task Initiation, Flexibility, and Task-Completion.

      I used a poster in my classroom that we would refer to throughout the year. I need to do some updating for copyright law, but I plan on having the poster available in August.

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  12. Any suggestions for adapting this to elementary art classes? I see 6 different art classes (k-5) each day of the week. I love the way your system avoids disruption from teaching/learning. Thanks for any ideas you may have!

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    1. I would keep 6 separate binders and have that class' specific binder open before they arrive. Separate binders (as opposed to a large binder with dividers) makes signing in the notebook more time efficient because there are less pages to flip through and it also helps maintain privacy of students in different classes.

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    2. I had the same question - I teach music and see 18 classes each week (3 of each grade, K-5) How would you suggest I handle such a large volume of different classes/notebooks?

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    3. If you see each class once a week on the same day of the week, then you could have a notebook for each day of the week. I would just be sure to use a divider between each class so that students have less pages to flip through when finding their name. I would love to hear what modification you make and how it works out for your class.

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  13. I love this idea! This is my 30th year teaching Kindergarten and I like what I have in place for behavior issues already, but this will truly enhance it. I like the ownership and growth that a child will see when becoming accountable to see what is on their page and to be able to discuss this with them and their parents at conferences. Great idea!!

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I would love to hear how the implementation works out and any suggestions you have for modifying it for the lower grade levels.

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  14. What is your other classroom management plan? I'd love to see it. Also, what do you send home to keep the parent communication open daily?

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    1. I really don't think what is chosen as rules and consequences are as important is just trying to focus 95% of energy on prevention and the continually reviewing behavior expectations. (I outlined my progressive discipline plan in an earlier comment.) Parent communication has always been an area of struggle: important notes don't make it home, phone numbers are being disconnected or changed often, and generally 1/2 of students' parents speak Spanish only. I would highly recommend using a class app for daily parent communication if you haven't already: my favorite is Bloomz because of the social media interface, language translation integration, and scheduling for conferences and volunteers. There are so many options though, so here is a blog post and spreadsheet outlining the features of some apps for parent communication. http://jessicameacham.com/parent-communication-app-review/.

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  15. I love this idea and will be instituting it into my classroom this year. Thank you very much for sharing!
    Do you have a parent letter (wording) that you use to introduce to parents?
    Thanks,
    Sally

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    1. Sorry, no, I don't. I actually never changed my parent letter after implementing the behavior notebook, since the classroom rules and consequences were the same. The behavior notebook was a documentation method that was seamlessly added into my existing classroom management plan.

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  16. Michelle, I downloaded the behavior notebook freebie but it says page not found. Is it still available? Terri

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    1. Yes, it is still available. Occasionally, the server can be overwhelmed so please try again.

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  17. I really like this plan but i am curious how I could modify it to fit for the art room- I suppose it's unrealistic for me to have a page for every student in the school- unless i made a page for everyone and had it in binders for the days I see them? I really like this concept- may have to figure something out that works for specials/groups teachers.

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    1. I think having a notebook for each day of the week seems like an efficient way to manage documentation if each class is only seen once a week. I would just be sure to use a divider between each class so that students have less pages to flip through when finding their name. Also, you probably won't need to give students a new page each term; since it is likely that at the end of the quarter most student pages would still be blank. I would love to hear what modifications you end up using and how it works out for your classroom.

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  18. Hi Michelle. I appreciated this post and wanted to let you know that I linked to it in a post that I have written: http://jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com/2016/09/ditch-clips-why-you-need-to-stop-using-behviors-charts.html

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  19. Michelle,
    I actually heard about your book yesterday at my school's first PD of the year. It is my first year teaching, and I'm pretty overwhelmed (though still having a blast!) I'm working with a combined 7th/8th grade class, teaching all subjects. I have two questions:

    1. Since I'm so new, my classroom rules aren't as solidified as I'm sure they will be in years to come. Definitely trial by error. Because of my students' ages I wanted their input in making class rules. As a result, I don't have as clear a set of rules as I would if I were teaching 5th grade. I'd like to change this, but could use some suggestions on rules to incorporate (especially with this notebook idea. They need to know what the rules are to record when they abuse them.)

    2. What ideas do you have of modifying this idea for middle school? I read that you take away the student monitor, resting more responsibility on the student signing the book.

    My second question would probably sort itself out by answering the first one. Having rules more in line with expectations at this age level would help.

    I appreciate this post and all the wonderful information I'm gathering from your blog.

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  20. Having clear expectations and focusing your energy on explicitly teaching and reinforcing those expectations is going to have a high impact on students' behavior. The actual classroom rules you choose are not as important as having clear expectations. Whether you have students give input to creating the rules or use a school-adopted set of rules, your expectations for student behavior will align with each. For example, common basic rules in classrooms are 1) Be safe 2) Be respectful 3) Be responsible. In the context of direct instruction, expectations could be that eyes are on the teacher, students are seated, voices are silent, water bottles are on the floor, and hands are still or writing notes. All of these expectations would fall under the category of one or more of those rules. Rules apply all the time, but expectations are contextual; the expectations during direct instruction, think-pair-share, group work, presentations, and transitions are all different. I made a list of all of my expectations in different context and created charts with looks like/sounds like or examples/non-examples and reviewed them regularly with students. Those expectations may look different with each age group and teacher but if you solidify your expectations for various classroom contexts, you can always direct students to which rule is applicable to record in the notebook.

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  21. Do you ever have problems with students reading someone else's page? I'm sure that you discuss that with your students prior to starting the notebook but how do I make sure they don't read each other's entries? That's my only concern before I try this for the remaining part of this year. Thank you so much for your advice.

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  22. I absolutely love this idea. I teach 3rd grade special ed and my kids are on the lower end so I plan to modify your idea so I am able to use this with them next year. We use the color system for behavior as well so I thought of incorporating that into the behavior notebook as well by giving them a choice to circle with whether it was a warning or a color change and what rule they broke.

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  23. How do you manage this when more than 1 student needs to log in at the same time?

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  24. In one of the comments, you mentioned that step 3 of your discipline plan is a 15 minute time out and phone call home. I am just curious what the steps are before that. This is something I struggle to stay consistent with as a new-ish teacher. I had even considered that as a consequence.

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