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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.