If you’re a parent or a teacher, you would have come across a behavior chart at least once in your work with children. Behavior charts are a popular tool to motivate and teach children new skills. In recent years, there has been debate around the behavior chart and people are asking: are they really effective?
What is a behavior chart?
A behavior or reward chart is one of the most commonplace tools that teachers and parents use to motivate and teach children good habits. In its most basic form, children are rewarded for making progress on a skill that they are working on and conversely, it can be used as a form of punishment if rules are broken. Behavior charts can also be used to track the frequency of a certain behavior and can be useful for instilling daily habits and teaching adaptive skills to younger children.
Some common types of behavior charts are:
- Star chart
- Golf course
How to make a behavior chart
Understanding the components required to build a behavior chart is useful for both parents and teachers to customize them to achieve a specific goal. Behavior charts incorporate behavior management strategies to support teachers in helping students understand the importance of rules as well as the rewards and consequences that come with following or breaking them.
Four strategies that go building a behavior chart are:
- Positive reinforcement – Encourages children to perform a behavior by rewarding them for it. This supports learning by doing as good behavior is validated through praise, acknowledgement or winning a prize!
- Negative reinforcement – Motivates children by taking away a negative consequence that is associated with a behavior. A simple example is putting toys away to avoid being reprimanded.
- Positive punishment – Positive in this context means adding a consequence to an action. This is the most traditional way of disciplining a child and recent studies have shown that positive punishment comes at the expense of compromising relationships.
- Negative punishment – Taking something away as the consequence of a behavior. An example of this would be reducing outdoor playtime when a child breaks the rules.
It is important to note that a behavior chart is not a substitute for building a structured learning environment where expectations are clearly set. Children are motivated differently and personalizing behavior charts to suit each group is key to success.
Pros and Cons of Behavior Charts
As with any tool, there is no right or wrong way to use it effectively. In line with advances in research on behavior, there has been quite some discussion around the efficacy of behavior charts as a tool for teaching and parenting.
- Great tool for achieving specific learning objectives and tracking habits.
- Helps maintain order in the classroom (or home) without needing constant verbal reminders – this is especially useful in an active setting with different activities happening at once.
- Gives children a visual indicator of where their progress is in relation to their peers – when used correctly, this can create a supportive peer learning environment.
- For routine and chores, it helps to keep the peer group accountable to each other and serves as a checklist for tasks that need to be completed.
- A behavior chart cannot provide teachers with a holistic overview / tracker for a child’s learning and development.
- The chart itself does not replace the groundwork of relationship building with the peer group in order to cultivate clear rules and expectations.
- Publicly logging a child’s progress in relation to their peers could impact their self-esteem if not monitored properly and as a result it could limit their participation within the group.
- Some children are intrinsically motivated which makes having a visual indicator of their progress ineffective as a tool to encourage them to develop a certain skill. Understanding how each child is motivated should be the first step in making a behavior chart.
Alternatives to the Behavior Chart
Although a behavior chart provides a good visual overview of how children are faring within their peer group, some teachers are moving towards alternative means of encouraging and tracking their class’ learning and development. The most common argument against behavior charts is that they can be reductive and one-dimensional.
Teachers who are advocates for moving away from behavior charts typically champion classroom management styles that are relationship driven and focus on growth mindsets.
Some behavior chart alternatives are:
- Participatory learning – Rather than using a chart as a checklist to mark when skills and routines are completed, teachers can take a more immersive approach by modelling behaviors and practicing them with the peer group. This level of classroom involvement helps to set the expectation for appropriate behavior in different settings and transitions.
- Affirmation and acknowledgement – Instead of simply rewarding children with praise for doing something well, affirming them throughout the process is a good way of breaking down a skill into smaller steps while building up a child’s confidence every step of the way!
- Let them choose – Allowing children to choose their goals is a good way to nurture intrinsic motivation. Personalized goals help children take ownership of their success and become more invested in achieving goals. This makes learning and following the rules a choice instead of a chore or a competition.
- Encouraging self-assessment – Giving children a voice in the learning process can be very revealing for teachers to understand how each child thinks and solves problems. A lot of children can be too hard on themselves to the point of missing out on their own progress, and conversely, some children do not realize when they have not quite met their goal. Rather than focusing just on the outcome, emphasis on checking in and self-assessment is an important skill to teach self-regulation.
Now that we’ve looked at what a behavior chart is, how to build one, the pros and cons as well as alternative strategies to behavior charts, you have all the tools to assess whether this tool has a place in your classroom. What do you think? Are you someone who finds behavior charts useful, or do you have other methods of working with children that we didn’t touch on here? Let us know!