January 18, 2016

Behavior System for Middle School Students

Picture yourself back in middle school.  You are talking to your friend as your teacher is trying to get class started.  As you glance around the room, you notice most other students are doing the same.  Your teacher could say, "[Insert name] stop talking right now!" or she could say, "Anyone who has their voice at a level one right now, please give themselves a tally."

How does option one make you feel versus option two?  What is the classroom result from option one versus option two.  From past experience as a teacher using something similar to option one, the result is sometimes hurt student feelings, students rebelling even further because they've been singled out, or the a brief silence before other students in the classroom begin talking, not even phased by the teacher signaling out another students for the same behavior.  This year, after devoting my classroom language to option two, I would say the result is students quieting down and students reminding other students to quiet down without me having to say another word.

Why is that?  Because we are human beings!  Our students are human beings as well (newsflash)!  Human beings, by nature, love being recognized for positive behavior.  Since the first day of school, I have taken a different approach to classroom management than I have in the past.  The result?  The most well-behaved classroom of students I have ever taught.

So how does it work?

*Disclaimer: This behavior system works best when routines and expectations for all instructional contexts are explicitly modeled and explained to students.  The behavior system I am about to lay out then becomes a reinforcement to the routines and expectations of the classroom.

1.  Each student has a behavior tally sheet like the one pictured below.  They get a new sheet at the beginning of each week.

2.  The teacher gives opportunities throughout the class period for students to earn tallies.  The tallies that are offered should be for the students who are following the routines and expectations for the class.

Here are a few examples of what you might say to offer tallies in a balanced literacy classroom.  For other content areas, what you offer tallies for will be impacted by your classroom content:

  • Anyone who currently has their voice at a volume one, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who is giving me eye contact right now, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who has the correct materials on their desk right now and everything else put away, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who has already started to write the minilesson statement down, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who is on task and ready to apply the minilesson, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who volunteered to share during interactive edit, give themselves a tally.
  • Anyone who stayed on topic during the turn and talk, give themselves a tally.
  • If you stayed on task while I was meeting with today's guided reading group, give yourself a tally.
3.  Resist the urge to point out the negative except for severe situations.  A huge part of the success of this behavior system is to flip the language that naturally would come out of your mouth.  If you notice a lot of students who haven't started independently reading, offer up a tally to anyone who has already started to read.  If several students are talking, offer a tally to anyone who has their voice at a level one.  If students are out of their seats at the beginning of class, offer tallies to those who are seated and ready to go.  I pinky promise you that the result you get from recognizing the positive will be so much more effective than running around your room putting out fire after fire for negative behavior.

4.  Have students total up their tallies daily and weekly.  It's completely up to you how you'd like to deal with the tallies.  Here are a few ideas below:

  • Students exceeding a certain amount of tallies for the week can select a reward off of a reward menu.
  • The student scoring the highest amount of tallies for the week receives a reward off of a reward menu.
  • In our school, students have what we call "The Warrior Way Cards," and I use a cut score from the daily tallies to sign students' cards which they turn into the office and receive rewards for throughout the school year.
  • You could do nothing.  Believe it or not, recognizing the behavior might be all your students want or need.  Do the tallies and then have students submit their tally sheet weekly.  Conference with students who receive a low amount of tallies and ask why.
5.  Teach students to be reflective.  The question I always get when I bring this up to other teachers is, "What if students give themselves tallies when they're not doing the behavior I'm reinforcing?"  Consistently seeing the same student giving himself or herself a tally when they are not doing what they're supposed to be doing is a red flag for me to conference with this student.  It's obvious that this student is either a. being dishonest or b. doesn't have the self-awareness to recognize his or her own behavior.  Either way it causes a great conversation between the teacher and the student.  Also, you'll find that other students will look at the student who gives himself or herself a tally when he or she is not supposed to and say, "Why are you giving yourself a tally?  You were talking when she said give yourself a tally is your voice is at a level one."  It will all shake itself out.

Because this blog post is different from my normal literacy blog posts, I wanted to conclude it with my favorite classroom management tips to accompany this behavior system:

1.  Don't add in new routines until your basic routines are established.  I would rather have my students do a few things well than being confused over too many expectations and rules.

2.  If you have a classroom voice amplification system, use it.  It will prevent your from overly projecting your voice and raising your voice when you're frustrated.  Students respond best to a calm, confident voice.

3.  Don't continuously signal one student out for negative behavior.  Pretty soon that student has received all of your attention, and other students will start acting out because they want that attention too.  Keep it positive so that students who tend to have negative behavior are seeking your attention for the positive things they're doing in your classroom.

4.  Greet students at the door as they're coming into class, and say good-bye at the door as they're leaving.  It's so tempting to be doing last minute preparations before class or clean-up after class, but those few minutes you spend positively interacting with students will make up for any amount of time.

5.  Ace independent work time.  While students are independently reading and writing, it needs to be quiet.  That's the bottom line if you are going to have students doing the work they need to do as readers and writers.  For some students, this will be easy, and for others, this will be nearly impossible.  Invest your time with students who are struggling so that they can be involved in the work everyone else is doing as readers and writers.  Be persistent with them until they are able to work independently.  This is key if you're going to incorporate one-on-one conferring or small group guided reading/writing into your routine.

6.  Have a strong opening routine.  I start every class period with a 5 minute Word Study followed by an Interactive Read Aloud.  Students know to open their Word Study notebooks and begin the activity on the Smartboard right away.  After being in many classrooms through my role as literacy coach, I would argue that the first five minutes of class are incredibly telling for how the remaining class period will go.

7. Solve your problems yourself whenever possible.  The student who you send to the office is going to be back in your classroom tomorrow doing the same thing.  That student needs to see you as a person worth respecting, so if you can, work it out with that student.

8.  Show respect to all students.  This seems like such an obvious tip, but I believe if you truly enforce common expectations for all students, leave pre-conceived notions about a student at the door, and work to develop a rapport with all students, you will achieve success.

9.  Show passion for your content.  The greatest way to avoid discipline issues is to be passionate about what you're teaching and prepare engaging lessons that students want to be a part of.

10.  Take time for routines.  It's not time wasted.  It's like making your grocery list so you can cruise through the grocery store or not taking the time to make the list and wandering down every aisle and back again.  Take the time to do it right.

What I have described above can easily be implemented in your classroom by giving your students a sticky note on Mondays to record tallies throughout the week.  However, if you would like to download an entire classroom management system with this idea and tons more, you can purchase it today in my TpT store by clicking here.

Remember that it's never too late in the school year to pause, reflect, and try a new approach.


  1. You have truly the best advice for any educator! You would be an awesome administrator someday!

    1. That is so sweet! I appreciate your kind words so much! Thank you so much for reading my blog.

  2. This is perfect timing. I am in the process of changing some things up to help with some behaviors. Great advice and thank you for the freebie.

    1. I'm so glad you were able to find this in the process of switching up some classroom routines. You are so welcome for the freebie! Let me know how it goes in your classroom!

  3. What an awesome idea. This reminds me of a video of a special education teacher than began each day by complimenting each student. He said it changed the dynamics of how they talked to one another, helped with their academic success, and classroom expectations improved. Seeing that video and this tally sheet was like a "duh!" moment for me. Thank you for sharing! www.rafikey.blogspot.com

    1. I have seen that video and love it! It just makes sense that recognizing the positive WORKS!

  4. I love your blog Kasey. Thank you once again for sharing your genius.

  5. I so appreciate you comment! Thank you very much for reading my blog!

  6. Kasey, I went to download your "Free" behavior tally sheet and it's now $6.00. Is it possible to still get a free copy? I'd love to incorporate this tomorrow at school. Thank you for considering! =)

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I sincerely apologize for the misinformation. As I started to think through this system, I added many other classroom management resources to the tally sheet and decided to make it a product instead of a freebie. It was an oversight on my part not to update the blog post to reflect that. The good news for you is that the behavior tally sheet can easily be replicated by having students use a sticky note and writing the days of the week down the side. It would serve the same purpose and still allow you to use this philosophy in your classroom. Thanks so much for contacting me to let me know this and for reading my blog!


  7. Wow, i am a new teacher, like never taught a day in my life and my classroom their are engaging students and those who are not. I want all to do well in my class and well I've had to signal out some. Reading this made me feel so much better and i want to apply it to my classroom. Thank you so much. This was truly God-Sent. I work in an Adventist school and it is important for me to show Gods love and character to the students. And I think this will help to a very huge extent. Once again thank you! I really appreciate this.

    1. I am so happy that you found this blog post and that you're able to take ideas from it that will be applicable to you now in your classroom. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I hope your first school year continues with success!


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