So how does that work in practice?
You need to have access to somewhere where you can write names in two lists. Ideally this will be a whiteboard you can write on, and ideally it will somewhere where all your students can see it.
You draw a smiley face, or a +, on one side of the board. On the other, you draw a sad face, or a -. They must be separated by the majority of the board. You will record the good deeds, effort or work on one side, and the omissions or negatives on the other.
DO NOT GIVE THEM EQUAL SPACE. There should NEVER be a time when the negatives outweigh the positives, because that is not the way a class works. Remember that in 9P 23 out of 30 students are DOING THE RIGHT THING most of the time.
When I meet a class, my board will feature:
~ the LO
~ the date
~ the title
~ smiley face/ plus sign at the top right of board
~ sad face / minus sign at bottom left of board
As the class comes in, I look for the first person to sit down, get out their pencil case and wait quietly. I will ask them their name and I will write it up, narrating why.
“Well done, Sam. First to get ready for learning.”
So now the board has Sam’s name under the smiley face.
I will ask the students to guess why I have added Sam’s name. Several students will start to call out. When Jordan raises a hand and waits quietly to be called upon, I will ask for their name.
“Jordan – excellent. Thanks for waiting to be called upon.” I add Jordan’s name.
Jordan’s name is under Sam’s name on the board.
Jordan explained that Sam has done something good, so Sam’s name is written under the smiley face. I add a tick for Jordan.
“Well done Jordan! You understood that very quickly!”
There is a tick against Jordan’s name.
Now that everyone has settled down, after waiting for silence, I explain to the class how this is going to work.
“I have put the smiley face (or plus sign) at the top here, because I expect to have to use lots of space noting all the great things that you do. The sad face (or minus sign) is set low down here because I will not need to use it much.
Each time you do something which impresses me I will put your name up here. Any other thing will earn you a tick. If your name has two ticks against it, you DEFINITELY get a merit/credit/house point/etc. But sometimes something will be so good that it automatically gets a merit/credit/house point/etc on its own.”
I move across to the other side.
“If anyone does something which stops me from teaching, or stops any member of the class from learning, including yourself, I will put your name here. I will not say your name – it is up to you to notice. That is your warning. If you continue that poor behaviour, I will add a tick. That is the first level sanction. If you continue again, I will add another tick; that is a second level sanction. I am confident we won’t need to do that very often.”
And then in the next few minutes, I will ensure that several students get their name on the positive side of the board. Each time I will narrate the reason WHY their name is going on the board, and this narration must be something specific.
In that first lesson, I will try NOT to get any negative names on the board. At the end of the lesson, the board looks boasts several names on the positive side, some with more than one tick. I will tell the class what reward the named individuals have earned.
The rules will be recapped at the start of all of the next few lessons. Once the class has started to settle down into a routine, I will need to put a name on the negative side of the board without saying the name.
When this happens, the named person will question why their name is on the board, because they have already forgotten the rules. I will always respond the same way.
“I’m not having a conversation about that. See me at the end of the lesson.”
If they query it again, I will add a tick to their name. This is a first level sanction. I will not look at them but will carry on the lesson and as quickly as possible find someone to commend, verbally, while putting their name on the other side of the board.
The message is clear. If you want my attention, do something positive.
In this early lesson if the poor behaviour continues I will specify “I am not interrupting the teaching and learning in my classroom to discuss negatives with you. See me at the end of the lesson.” And I will add a second tick, which indicates a second level sanction.
After a few lessons I won’t do so any more. Students will understand the system. If I have judged it correctly, when there is a buzz of low-level disruption, all I will need to do is move over to the negative side of the board with my pen, take the lid off and look around to see whose name will go up first, and the buzz will magically subside.
When that student stays after class, they are without an audience and, generally, anxious to leave. I will indicate their name on the board and we will agree that I could not have done anything else. They understand the sanction, and also understand how to avoid one next time.
Next time I will greet them warmly and then do my best to find some positive behaviour, effort or work to commend early in the lesson.
Do it properly and it will be like magic. But be aware - this is a technique that takes practice, even after you have mastered the mindset shift of focusing your attention on what's going right and celebrating it, while silently noticing, deferring and dealing swiftly and consistently with what's going wrong.