Keeping Them On Task

Teaching middle schoolers can be like managing a school of guppies. They go where they want to, and rarely does one go anywhere on its own. They tend to move in unison. As a teacher, it behooves one to figure that out early and to learn to have a impact on the direction in which they decide to swim.  I’m a little slow on the uptake at times, and other times I just forget what worked a while ago, so I occasionally need to remind myself.

This year, I have a group of eighth grade boys who behaved badly most of the year. Not bad enough to write referrals, but certainly enough to disrupt things and irritate me. Yet they always pulled it out at the last minute and earned As in my  class. A month or so ago I was fed up. I decided that no longer will anyone be able to behave like jerks all the time and still get an A in the class.  So I hauled out the On Task points. I’ve used this often in all these classroom years, as it’s the only behavior management tool that really works for me. Putting names on the board and all those other great ideas I read about always fall by the wayside. I’m not consistent enough I guess. But on-task points are easy enough that I can keep it up for as long as I need to.

I made a chart which lists their names down the left side, and across the top is a column for each day of the week, plus one for a weekly total.  I then wrote days of the week on little popsicle sticks and put them in a tea can, so they’d make a lot of noise when I shake the can.

Now, at the beginning of each period I put this chart on my Elmo and project it on the board. Every so often I go over and take stock of the class. I look at every kid and mark a point or not. I don’t say a word, just mark points and then go back to what I was doing. I do this about four or five times in a block period. I say nothing about it until Friday, the day they hand in their week’s work.

On Friday I put the week’s chart on the Elmo and haul out the can of sticks and shake it as I walk around, looking for who will draw the stick this time. Okay, yeah, a little drama, but they like it. Someone draws a stick and I announce what day’s points will go on their grade this week. I add up the highest number of marks anyone got and that is the total possible. Each mark is worth five points. I add up each student’s points and write it there, large, for all to see, and tell them to write that number under “Participation Points” on their packet cover. I save the original sheet, of course for verification.

It’s interesting to see the results of this one little thing. Ricardo, one of the A earners who loves to cause problems in the class, looked over his grade a couple of weeks ago, wondering why he had a “B” in the class. He spied an assignment where he earned only five points out of twenty and wanted to know how he could make that up, if he could redo the assignment for more points. I told him, “No. That’s on-task points. You can’t make that up. I either catch you doing the right thing or I don’t.”  Interestingly, this week he earned fifteen out of twenty of those points and the class was a little calmer, too.

I’m thinking of other ways to use these points besides grades. I have considered Jolly Ranchers to everyone who gained full points, or some special privilege, just to shake it up. But for now, points on the grade are working very well, so I’m sticking with it!

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3 thoughts on “Keeping Them On Task

  1. lynnjake says:

    Thanks for commenting. It really does work pretty well. I just have to remember to do it! Sometimes I get frustrated by the behavior, and then I go “Duh! Get out the points!” They settle right down!

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