Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Defense of the Stoplight System

I know I'm opening up a can of worms, but I keep seeing article after article about how horrible the stoplight system is and I decided it's finally time to add my two cents into the conversation. 

Many of the articles that I've read against the stoplight system use the argument that it's humiliating, hurts the child's self-esteem, the same children are always on red, children aren't taught how to act, other children tease students because of them, and more. 

I have to respectfully disagree. I do not think the stoplight system is "bad". I DO think that it can be (and probably often is) misused. Sometimes it becomes a crutch, a threat, an "easy" way to solve a situation and "demand" cooperation. BUT if it is used CORRECTLY, I do not have a problem with it. In fact, I use it myself. 

I DO NOT use it when the child is developmentally unable to meet an expectation. Sometimes students have developmental delays or areas where they are UNABLE to meet the same expectations as their classmates. I put modifications and interventions in place for these students.

I DO NOT put the same child on red day after day. If a child is on red or yellow everyday (or a majority of the time) then this system IS NOT working for them. I come up with a different system to use with them. It might be a daily sheet where we "conference" multiple times during the day to see what kind of choices they made during that specific time. This allows me to celebrate the good choices the child makes, even though they might still have a couple times in the day where they messed up. 

I DO NOT use it as a replacement for discipline or teaching alternative solutions. 

I DO use it when a child is CAPABLE of following the expectation but is intentionally CHOOSING not to follow it. If a child is acting out of character (they're not feeling good, didn't get enough sleep last night, etc) I will conference with them first (I'm not heartless), they'll probably even get a few extra warnings, but in the end even when we're tired or not feeling good we still have to do the "right" thing.

I DO still use natural consequences (you were throwing blocks in the block carpet you are all done in the block center today because you are not making safe choices). So why, you might ask, do I use the stoplight system at all. Well, I don't move their stoplight for EVERY little thing they do. If there's a logical consequence, I use that first. But sometimes they don't care about that consequence or what they did was a "big deal" (such as hitting.) It's also a visual for them. They can see that they are making sad choices. Some may say this visual is not needed, but I've gone with and without the stoplight system and I definitely notice a huge difference. It also gives me an easy way to communicate with parents. I have a calendar in their folder where I mark their color for the day. This encourages parents to either celebrate their good day or opens up a conversation for the parent to talk to the child about how they can do better the next day. 

I DO talk to my students about what choice they could have made instead. What could you have done differently? What words could you have used to solve your problem? Also if I have them move their color, then I'm fairly confident they knew what to do and chose not to make the "happy" choice. They chose the "hurtful" choice instead. But we do still talk about it, because I'm their teacher and I have endless patience (HAHA) and I will talk to them about the different choices they could have made a hundred times if I have to. 

I DO set my students up to be successful. I can count on one hand how many times I had a student on red last year. Overall, I'd say my students are on green 90% of the time. That's 9 out of 10 times (and for many of my students they're on yellow 0-2 times a year) and the students have the biggest smiles on their faces as they tell their parents they had a green day! They make choices that make themselves, their friends, and their teachers feel happy inside. Like I said before, If I notice a child is on red or yellow often and I'm not seeing improvement in their behavior. I take down their stoplight and try a different system. 

Just a couple more points that apply to ANY classroom management system:

  • There will always be teachers who misuse classroom management systems. Who don't take the time to love and nurture their students. Who don't take their students feelings into account. BUT THIS IS NOT ALL TEACHERS.
  • There has to be some form of classroom management. Students must be held accountable for their actions. Every year teachers are more limited on what they are "allowed" to do. Some of these changes are for the better. BUT TEACHERS HAVE TO HAVE SOME WAY TO KEEP STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. In the end, students come to school to learn (this includes learning about appropriate behavior) and when a teacher is spending 90% of their time on the same 3 students, it's a disservice to all the other students in the class. (I was a student once. I know how it feels to be on the other end)
  • Praise does not solve all problems. I have had plenty of students that I could praise to the moon and back and it wouldn't change their behavior. (and for the record their are plenty of articles stating what phrases of praise are bad, or too much praise is to bad, or any praise is bad) And I do praise my students A LOT, which is why I don't have to change their lights very often. 
  • In order to function in life, students have to learn how to abide by rules and expectations (we have laws in our country, rules at our places of employment, etc.)
*Also, in defense of all teachers, when you stick 29 Kindergartners (or any grade) in a classroom with one teacher, don't allow them to use developmentally appropriate practice, and require them to teach way above the children's zone of proximal development . . . well that's a whole nother issue! Makes me so happy that I teach preschool and the state has laws in place to make sure our kiddos are taken care of!!!!

Once again, I want to restate that I UNDERSTAND why so many people have negative feelings about this system. It can be (and often is) misused. I just wanted to offer a different point of view, that the stoplight system, as with any classroom management or discipline technique, it can be misused or used appropriately. I know some people will still disagree and that's okay! Isn't that what we're telling our kids all the time? It's okay to disagree? 

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