Thursday, July 28, 2011

Transition Time Tips and Tricks

My first year of teaching, I had one of those classes. You know, where everyone knew who they were without even seeing me with them. I quickly learned that many of their issues with behavior came up at unstructured time and transitions. We had a marble jar, card system based on Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline, and Battista Bucks, which helped with whole class and individual behavior, but I needed something more. The first thing I did was go back to the lining up system that I had used during student teaching. I had taught and subbed in some pretty dangerous inner city schools and knew that things could get out of control when those kids were not contained within 4 walls.

My cooperating teacher had the students line up in 2 lines, one boy line and one girl line. The lines were parallel and she stood to the side, near the back and middle. She would let one line in first, then the other while standing halfway in the hallway and halfway in the classroom. That way if a fight broke out, only half of the class was in the room. This was a school wide system implemented to decrease violence because sometimes students who really wanted to fight would be hiding inside the classrom, something I found out the hard way while subbing after graduation at another school in the district.
Anyway, my first class was in a fairly regular town and most of the kids were pretty well behaved most of the time. I kept my line leader and door opener at the front and lights and caboose students at the end in those double lines. I'm surprised that most teachers still walk at the front of the line while the kids behind them are pushing each other, running, walking a hundred feet behind, stopping for water, pulling things off of bulletin boards, etc. Kids catch on pretty quickly to how they should be standing and walking on line. I simply tell the line leader where to stop periodically and my line is tight, quiet, and well behaved.
Now actually waiting somewhere can be a challenge. When I worked as a summer camp counselor, my bag of tricks included teaching the kids sign language on the bus so they'd stop punching each other, singing in each others' ears, and all of those other things they loved to do in 90 degree heat. It really worked, and I even got the older kids teaching the younger kids.
Once I did it school, we would get compliments about how patiently and quietly we were waiting, and sometimes how the teacher didn't even know we were waiting to come into their special.  Of course that compliment earned us several marbles in the marble jar!
I was always torn about taking marbles out of the jar for whole group misbehavior, especially with the gasp of horror and tears that sometimes followed. I solved that problem with a tip from another teacher - use a marble balance scale. One side is for positive behavior and the other side is for negative behavior. This allows students to see that they can balance out the negative behavior with positive actions without actually losing anything.

Since that time, I've moved onto the clipchart system, which is based off the card system. I love using clipcharts because they show students that there is room for improvement, I don't just focus my attention on negative behaviors, and the system doesn't just center around loss (aka they start at one color and can only go down for misbehavior and without incentive to improve).

Now when we have fire or lock-down drills and the kids have to remain quiet for a long period of time, I use silent gestures to Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, The Macarena, The Chicken Dance, and sign language to keep them busy! That positive side of the balance scale is always a lot heavier than the negative side and it's a great math lesson too!


  1. I love the idea of teaching the kids sign language to use during those "quiet" times (of course, I would have to learn it first). I also use a clipchart system, but I love the idea of marbles in a balance for whole group rewards! I think I'll steal this idea!

    Teachin' First

  2. The sign language book I posted makes it so easy, you can just look at the picture and teach it to them a second later! I always start with animals because they are easy to remember!