If I could go back in time and give my new teacher self one piece of advice, it would be to simplify. Trust me when I say that I used to overcomplicate everything as a teacher, including my classroom management systems. I thought that I was doing myself and my students a favor by utilizing individual and table group classroom management systems. Every year, I would try something new like clip charts, sticker charts, and even the latest technology only to waste my precious planning time filling out behavior trackers and spending recess managing treasure box prizes. Something had to give, and it wasn’t until I simplified my classroom management to a whole group model that I was able to experience more time, stronger community, and more achievement gains.
What Is Whole Group Classroom Management?
The technical term for whole group classroom management is interdependent group contingency, which basically means that a group of students as a whole are rewarded when every student demonstrates the desired expectation or target behavior. Here are some of the benefits that I have experienced from using a whole group classroom management model:
- Simplicity: This system is seamless and does not break up the flow of learning. If I have to reteach an expectation, we do it quickly and move on. Gone are the days of keeping track of individual charts and prizes.
- Builds Community: All students are working as a team to earn a class reward, and it provides opportunities for students to support those who may need a little encouragement to perform target behaviors. I love watching my students rise to the occasion and help another student or cheer them on.
- Eliminates Labels: Though not intended, individualized classroom management can sometimes place labels on children due to how they behave. When we work as a team, we either win together or learn together.
How Do I Get Started with Whole Group Classroom Management?
There are many different ways to set this up, but I like to treat it as a little bit of a competition between my students and myself. We call our whole group classroom management system Beat the Teacher (also called Wow the Teacher or Teacher vs. Students).
First, you are going to want to decide on a classroom reward that your students will work toward. At the beginning of the school year, you can explain this to the students and then let them start offering suggestions. Display the reward board somewhere visible so your students can see it. Start with a small goal, like 5 or 10 for the first couple of times. Some of the rewards that my students have loved are cookie decorating, making Play-Doh, painting pumpkins, raised salt paintings, ice cream party, popcorn party, and an indoor snowball fight to name a few. It’s fun to make your rewards seasonal each month, but you definitely don’t have to do it that way.
Next, display your “Beat the Teacher” game board so it is visible and near your classroom reward board. I use two ten-frames, one for the teacher and one for the students, to track points throughout the day; but you can simply use tally marks as well.
How Do I Know When to Award Points?
You can use this system to work on one target behavior that your students may need extra practice with, or I like to award points for multiple routines and expectations throughout the day such as: transitions, hallway behavior, on-task behavior, listening during instruction, regaining attention, etc. Teachers earn points when a target behavior is not met by the whole group. You can follow up with a simple reteach, “Uh-oh, we need to transition a little more quickly next time so we don’t waste a second of our precious learning time.” Students earn points when the entire group performs target behaviors as set by the teacher’s expectations (e.g, everyone transitioning to the carpet in 10 seconds).
At the end of the day, if the students have earned more points than I have, they get a token placed on the reward board. If I have earned more points than the students, I never remove an already earned token; but instead, we have a quick class discussion about what we can improve on tomorrow as a team to make sure we earn a reward point.
What If Individual Students Don’t Care to Work as a Team?
My biggest advice with this system is to place a huge emphasis on building classroom community among your students. I remind my students that we never place blame or get frustrated by anyone for the teacher earning a point. We earn points together as a team. I have also noticed that the majority of students that struggle with performing target behaviors will rise to the occasion and want to perform well for their peers.
However, not every classroom management system is perfect or will work for every unique case. I would give this system at least 3 weeks before determining if a student needs to be placed on an independent system in addition to the whole class system. You could even model this same system where the individual student has their own Beat the Teacher board on their desk, or a T-Chart with tallies. The student could have their own punch-pass for the same reward the class is working toward with either the same goal or a modified goal (e.g., if the class goal is 10, maybe the individual goal is 5). If a student needs an independent system, the goal would be to go back to the whole class system at some point in time.
If you have been longing for a more streamlined approach to classroom management, definitely consider implementing this easy-to-use and effective whole group classroom management system in your own classroom.
Katy Hoffman, MEd, has been an elementary teacher for 10 years with experience in rural and large school districts. She is passionate about helping and supporting new teachers to confidently manage classroom behavior and find joy in the profession. For additional reading and to learn more, visit www.katyhoffman.com.