This ezine is a reminder of the possible benefits, and also the problems, of using a structured points system when managing student behaviour. It shows how points systems can be effective on a schoolwide basis, for smaller teaching groups and also for individual students

Using points systems in behaviour management
It should be made clear from the start that points systems as discussed here are for those systems used in the school environment which are directly linked to behaviour management. They are not the points systems which may be in place to record academic or sporting achievement. It is important to make that clarification to students when using such systems. Effectiveness and results can be distorted if there is no clarity of focus. High-achieving students may, for example, score highly in a generic or mixed points system, while their overall behaviour is totally unacceptable.

The concept of a reward system that uses points is framed around not simply positive recognition for acceptable behaviour and giving immediate feedback to the student, but also centres on:

  • improving self-esteem
  • motivation and engagement
  • contribution to the group
  • reinforcement of boundaries to target student and others within the teaching environment
  • positive recognition
  • choice and responsibility based on positive rather than negative behaviour.

There will be many variants of points systems already in place within schools and classrooms, which may take the form of:

  • house points
  • stickers
  • ‘marbles in the jar’
  • commendations
  • certificates
  • raffle tickets
  • ‘pure’ points.

All of the above systems should focus on the positive attributes of behaviour and emphasis should be placed on ‘earning’ points which cannot then be taken away due to subsequent unacceptable behaviour. There is a significant danger when using points systems to focus on negative behaviour, resulting in hard-earned points being lost. Better to start the day or week on zero points and then to earn recognition through positive behaviour, rather than being allocated a number of points as a starter and then having points removed when things go wrong. It is all too easy to de-motivate students when they realise that by the end of the day or week they could actually be in an ‘overdraft’ situation, or simply feel that they are incapable of achieving the necessary set targets to gain the linked reward.

In a positive earning system the focus of behaviour choice is shared between student and teacher/adult. The student understands what is required and can make good choices about their behaviour. The teacher/adult focuses on how they can help the student achieve and make good choices. You are in fact looking for the positives and rewarding/motivating, rather than hoping that negative reminders and attention will help to change behaviour.

Practical Tips
Before embarking on a points system, whether it is schoolwide or for a group or individual, it is important to involve all the stakeholders at the planning stage. There needs to be a sense of ownership and responsibility. Linked to that clear understanding, there should also be an emphasis on effectiveness. There is no benefit in introducing a points system in which students do not understand how they will earn the points, no will there be any effectiveness to the system when students do not value the concept of the points. That is not to say points should be linked to concrete rewards, which are difficult to provide, but in the best scenario, they are linked to simple, effective rewards suggested jointly by staff and students. At this stage there is the start of a token economy system. This can be developed as you see fit.

The planning stages should involve the following discussions and agreements:

  • How are points earned? Ensure there is a thorough understanding that points are linked to good behaviour choices and not academic achievement.
  • Who can issue points? This will also include when points can be earned, ie before school or during registration, lessons, breaktimes including lunchtime and so on.
  • How are they recorded? The system must be perceived as fair.
  • What do points mean? This can introduce small, easy to implement rewards as well as larger, long-term activities.
  • How are the points exchanged? Keep records of all points earned as well as running totals showing points left at the end of each day/week.

There are clearly logistical issues about organisation, time, appropriate rewards and fairness, but the benefits outweigh the negatives. A well-run, consistent and fair points system can not only change the behaviour of students, but will also encourage both staff and students to focus on the positive aspects of school life, rather than being weighed down by negative thoughts and challenging behaviours. Develop a culture in your school or classroom that encourages everyone to focus on the positive.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.