Classroom management for a self-contained class of students with various disabilities can be very tricky. Around the middle of last year, I found a system that works well for me. My system relies primarily on the constant giving of positive reinforcement. Students earn gems for everything. Green gems have the lowest value and have to be traded into blue gems in order to be worth anything. If a student is having a rough day, I can simply say "Have a seat in the blue chair" and then give them a green gem when they comply, then "Can you write your name on the paper?" and give another gem. Once they earn 5 green gems they get a blue gem which can be spent on a reward like 5 minutes of reading time or 5 minutes of coloring. They can also save up blue gems in order to get an orange gem. 3 blue gems earns an orange gem which is good for 10 minutes of iPad time, prize box or 10 minutes of playing with magnetic blocks. There is also a special gold gem that can only be earned when they have made a 90 or above on a quiz or test. Students each have a door in my room they keep their gems on until they decide to spend them. Then they put them in the treasure chest on their door for everyone to see how many gems they have earned.
I love this system because it's also easy for general education teachers to do with my students. They give my students gems just like I would to reinforce behavior in their classroom. Then my students take the gems to my room to spend when it is time for them to come back to me.
Questions I often get about my classroom management system:
Q: Where are your consequences?
A: Once students know how the system works and have had multiple opportunities to spend the gems they earn, they will quickly see that if they are not meeting expectations then they are not earning gems. Not earning gems is enough of a consequence for them. I do not take away gems. If a behavior is extreme, I do have a cool down spot in my room where students stand for two minutes if they need to regroup. I also use point sheets and mark inappropriate behaviors on it. It's important that the gem system remains as a positive thing though and doesn't become something that can be taken away from them.
Q: How do you track student behavior data?
A: I primarily use point sheets to track behavior but next year I want to do a better job at collecting data with my reward system. I plan on having a graph where students will mark how many gems they have earned at the end of the week. It will also show if they have earned any special reward gems for grades or being extra helpful.
Q: How many gems do you usually give out a day?
A: It really varies depending on the student. Some students need more constant reinforcement so I may be handing out a green gem to them every couple of minutes. Other students may just need a motivation to complete independent work and they may earn a blue gem every 30 minutes. It may seem like a lot of time handing out gems, but it really is an easy way to help shape behavior.
Q: What rewards do your students like to spend gems on?
A: Most of my students spend their gems on iPad time or the prize box. Occasionally, students will chose to read in our special bean bag area or to play with play dough. We also added a special red gem toward the end of the year where students could save up for and be able to pick a snack from the vending machine in the teachers lounge.
Q: What do you hand out gems for the most?
A: I try as often as I can catching students following our classroom expectations. I will then say "Johnny, I love that you are sitting quietly and on-task, here is a green gem." You will be amazed at how quickly everyone else will start following that same expectation so they too can earn a gem.
Q: How can parents be involved in this reward system?
A: Last year I actually gave some of my parents a bag of gems that they could use however they chose at home. One parent decided to use them to reinforce doing chores and homework and then she had a prize box of her own.
Q: When can students spend their gems?
A: Whenever they want! This is so important to this system working in my classroom. There is not a reward time in my daily schedule. Students are more motivated to following directions and get work done when they know, whenever they have earned enough they can then spend their gems. Some students may decide to spend a blue gem, once an hour. With blue gems, they only have 5 minutes of free time doing a less preferred activity. Most students choose to save till they can get an orange gem to spend on 10 minutes of iPad time or playing with an item from the prize box. Students that like spending orange gems, usually have 2 free times during the school day.
Here is a picture of how students keep up with their gems.