Using Positive Reinforcement as a Classroom Management Tool at the Secondary Level

August 01, 2016

Stop negative behavior in your classroom before it starts by reinforcing your expectations and recognizing positive student behaviors. With two simple tools, I successfully managed student behavior at the secondary level. A ticket system and "shout outs" are little to no cost, require little work for you as the teacher, and will encourage on task, positive behavior from your middle school and high school students.
Before becoming a certified teacher, I worked for three years with schools and literacy organizations in Philadelphia. I then taught high school English, primarily ninth grade, for six years, also in Philadelphia. Last year I worked as an intervention specialist with grades 3-8 in a small charter school, still in Philadelphia. This year I'll be back at the same school, but in a different role. In my new position as a literacy coach I'll still be providing literacy interventions to students, but I'll also be working with teachers on best practices.

My six years as a high school English teacher were spent in some of the most challenging schools in the district, the kind of schools that made other teachers in the district shudder and say, "I don't know how you can work there." Despite the negative view of outsiders and the actual difficulties of teaching within those schools, my classroom was usually a safe, positive environment in which rigorous learning took place. This was not to say that there was never any misbehavior from students, but by reinforcing my expectations and recognizing students' positive behaviors, misconduct rarely occurred.

Using a Ticket System to Reinforce Expectations
My expectations for my class were fairly simple:
1. Be kind and respectful
2. Be on time and prepared
3. Ask permission to leave your seat
4. Raise your hand and wait to be called on
5. Follow all directions the first time they are given

To get students to meet these expectations, I implemented a simple ticket system in which students received tickets for doing what I expected. On time to class? You get a ticket. Have your notebook and writing utensil out? You get a ticket. Hand raised to participate in discussion? You get a ticket. Quiet when I call the class to attention? You get a ticket. These tickets were collected in a jar and at the end of each month I pulled out one ticket per class period and that student received a reward. Depending on the school's policies, sometimes that prize was a $5 gift card other times I bought lunch for the students. If you are looking for a no cost prize, give students a homework pass, extra points to be used on a quiz or test of choice, or a free period.

This is a beautiful system in so many ways.
1. Tickets can be given out whenever you see fit, so there is no real commitment. Some days you may give out lots, some less, some not at all. The surprise factor is part of its appeal. If you forget to give them out one day, no harm done. You can even elect a student to give them out if you have classroom jobs.
2. Tickets don't cost anything, or are very low cost. You can buy real tickets from Staples, etc. or make a sheet of your own and make copies.
3. Meeting expectations becomes contagious. Give out one ticket for being on point and suddenly everyone is getting with it. When explaining this reward system, you may want to emphasize that if you ask for a ticket, you absolutely will not receive a ticket. 
4. There is both short and long term gratification on the part of the students. They are immediately rewarded for doing the right thing by receiving the ticket and at the end of the month, they may be rewarded again if their name is drawn. When explaining this reward system, I am always sure to point out that the greater the number of tickets they have in the jar, the greater their chance of winning.

Using "Shout Outs" to Recognize Positive Behaviors
Stop negative behavior in your classroom before it starts by reinforcing your expectations and recognizing positive student behaviors. With two simple tools, I successfully managed student behavior at the secondary level. A ticket system and "shout outs" are little to no cost, require little work for you as the teacher, and will encourage on task, positive behavior from your middle school and high school students.
While I use my ticket system to reward students for doing what I expect, I use "shout outs" for students who go above and beyond that. These “shout outs” are little notes that can be awarded to students as praise or positive reinforcement for excelling academically and/or behaviorally. If you are focused on a growth mindset in your classroom, you can give out “shout outs” for improvement and progress toward student goals.

“Shout outs” can be given to students to take home or displayed in the classroom. They are a quick and easy way to praise students, but a written note is so much more meaningful than just telling the student. You may want to announce "shout outs" at the start or end of class, at the start or end of the week, or just slip the student the note (not everyone enjoys being recognized publicly). You can also allow students to write “shout outs” to each other to help build a positive community in your classroom.

You can find free printable "shout outs" here as well as a Google Form submission form which can be shared with students so they can recommend peers for shout outs. You can create a bit.ly (a custom URL) for the form to make it easy for students to access or put a link on your class website.


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4 comments

  1. Your ticket system is a great idea, and I really like the rule of "If you ask for a ticket, you won't get a ticket." It seems like this would solve a lot of problems. Thanks so much for another quality blog post!

    Best,
    -Danielle @ Nouvelle ELA

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  2. I love your shout outs. I have a shout out board, too, and these look like they'll work perfectly with what I have in place.

    Great minds must think alike because I've used the ticket system, too. Thanks for reminding me of what a great management tool it is. I think I'll have to bring it back for the upcoming year.

    Enjoy your new role this year,

    Melissa

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  3. You know I love tickets! And now, thanks to you, I have found a great new addition to the tickets - shout outs! Thanks so much!!

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  4. These shout outs are amazing! Thank you for sharing!

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