When I meet someone new, they usually react with some combination of reverence, pity, and horror when they find out I teach middle school. In truth, I love my job and this age group. They’re old enough for independence and want to be taken seriously, but they still have childlike curiosity and a sense of fun.
That said, post-pandemic teaching has been challenging. Apathy is huge; things that motivated students pre-pandemic don’t really work anymore. Executive functioning, social, and soft skills seem to be at an all-time low. And student behavior—like it is in over 80% of schools—is a struggle for teachers and administrators to manage. Teaching is different now. I needed a new classroom management system.
In anticipation of a challenging cohort of students, after 23 years of teaching, I decided to try a new classroom management system: the house system.
Here’s what I tried
- For each of my math sections, I divided my students into three houses (teams) and gave each a name.
- I made a tally chart on my whiteboard to keep track of points (see the picture below).
- As I conducted class, I added tally marks to the board for positive behaviors.
- For example, I might say, “I noticed that everyone in the Big House has a charged Chromebook today. Great work! You earned 5 points!” then I would write 5 tallies on the board for that house.
- Conversely, I subtracted tally marks for things that slowed the pace of class or made it harder for students to learn. See the chart below.
|Ways To Earn Points
|Ways To Lose Points
At the end of the month, I counted the total tallies from each day and kept a running count on my board. Then, I let the winning team select a monthly reward using a Google Form. My kids loved a can of soda and homework passes. After that, I rearranged the teams and started fresh. I would also award extra points for areas we needed to focus on. For example, in January, many students were coming to class without their math binders. So I increased the number of tally points for that month.
Here’s how it went
Honestly, it was rough at the very start. But my students got on board with the program after about a month of school. I absolutely saw a positive change in behavior and following our routines. Without a doubt, the kids became a “team” and helped remind each other to be in their seats or stay on task. I also noticed a significant decrease in misbehavior and increased student responsibility. However, when I was absent from class and had a substitute teacher who was unfamiliar with my house point system, there were misbehaviors and issues to deal with upon my return.
But what about …?
- Students who have less control over behavior: As a class, we strive for a culture of acceptance. My students know that I might reward progress over perfection with some students. They also know I might not subtract points in the same way for everyone. For example, I usually have at least one section of co-taught mathematics. Last year, I had a student I’ll call Josiah who has ASD. He sometimes struggled with emotional regulation and impulse control. When this happened, his paraprofessional would quietly take him out of the classroom for a walk or a break. I wouldn’t subtract any points from his house for these kinds of incidents.
- Group punishments feeling unfair: I know some teachers are moving away from reward systems in order to not embarrass students. And that’s important to me too—I am not about public shaming. When we go over norms and routines for the house system as a class, I stress to students that tally subtractions are reminders, not punishments. When I do subtract points, I keep it anonymous and say something like, “As a reminder, please stay focused on your work.” This reminds everyone on the team to help keep each other focused without singling anyone out.
What I will do differently
Next year, I plan to make tallying points at the end of the day a classroom job. This way they can still get done if I’m absent. The house system is also a great way to keep kids accountable for their behavior with a sub.
The bottom line is this system did help my students learn how to “do school” again. It’s important to remember that the pandemic has changed our students dramatically. Even if you’re a veteran teacher, don’t be afraid to try something new. I am definitely a convert to the house points system. Changing and adapting is all part of the game!