Effectiveness of Growth Plans in Kindergarten Classrooms

Abstract: 

During the 2009-2010 school year, two teachers from the kindergarten team at McNair Elementary implemented a new behavior modification plan in the hopes that it would allow the students an opportunity to take responsibility for their own behavior. Through the use of growth plans and contracts, the teaching team attempted to modify the behavior of a select few kindergarten students. Prior to the start of the student teacher rotations, the mentor teachers kept a behavior log for each student in their respective classroom. While many students responded to the new plan, there were some that did not appear to understand the concept of internalizing appropriate behavior and remained unaffected by the use of the growth plans.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    Over the past few decades, there have been a multitude of research projects on the growth and development of young children, focusing on their ability to learn and internalize normative disciplined behavior that is appropriate to school settings. Internalization of disciplined behavior is not easy; it is something that must be taught carefully. Realizing this difficulty, two teachers from the kindergarten team at McNair Elementary set out to create a discipline and management plan that would effectively teach their students to begin developing their inner locus of control over their behavior. As both teachers have been in the field for nearly 30 years, they have tested many different management plans for their classrooms. During those years, it was noticed that children were becoming progressively resistant to classroom management and it was brought into question what plan would be most effective overall.

    Implementation of Plan

    Throughout the implementation of the plan, the teachers continually evaluated the effectiveness of the new style of management and made necessary adjustments. In order to assure the continued success of the plan, the classroom teacher modified the plan to reflect the response of the students and what would be deemed most appropriate for the success of the students. After the baseline was collected during Phase I, lasting the duration of the first six-weeks grading period, the children had a lapse in response to the plan, and, thus, it was revamped into Phase II. The second phase brought with it different challenges. Phase II ended up lasting the duration of the second six-weeks grading period. In particular, though the plan now went home to be signed, it began to lose affect on the children. Once Phase III began, with the plan sent home to be completed with parents, the children once again responded with positive results and became more responsible for their behavior. Phase III lasted, after proving to be the most effective method of implementing the growth plan system, until the end of the school year, roughly 20 weeks.

    Goals

    The main goals of this project were to help the students develop their internal locus of control and create a calm and productive classroom environment. In addition to assisting the children in their growth and development, it was a goal to correct inappropriate behavior and maintain appropriate behavior. As a teacher, one of the most important aspects is creating a classroom environment that is supportive and productive for each child. It is a given that in order for each child to be successful, they are given opportunities to correct his or her inappropriate behavior.

    Another highly important goal of the project is to strengthen the connection between home and school. Young children typically view their life at home and at school as two completely separate entities. It is not typical for a child to notice the communication that occurs between parent and teacher. Through the use of having the child take the growth plan home to complete with their parent or guardian, the child is given an opportunity to view his/her home and school as two locations that work in tandem for his/her overall benefit. This goal also provided the children with an opportunity to view both their parent or guardian and their teacher as an authority figure that will take the time to work with them on their behavior. Children are not inherently out of control or bad, they have simply not yet developed the mentality necessary for controlling behavior and understanding how to make positive choices in every situation.

    Intervention

    To facilitate the intervention, the mentor teacher spent the first six-weeks grading period setting up a baseline for the project. During this time, information about the students collected served as a starting point. Understanding how students function in the classroom has much to do with the research done to gather more information about his/her background. This basic knowledge about the students can only benefit the teacher in finding the best course of action to take for the benefit of the child. A large part of the success of this project depends on the comfort level the children exhibit. Children inherently need structure, care, and encouragement. They thrive when their environment is positive and consists of straightforward routines and procedures. Any experienced teacher of young children knows the importance of establishing routines and keeping up with them throughout the year, making slight adjustments as needed. In a classroom, there is a certain amount of time dedicated to setting up and practicing procedures, and this is especially true for younger elementary grades. For kindergarten, this is the first year many of the children have been in school, so this serves as a method of getting them used to how elementary school functions and what expectations their teacher has of them.

    The plan itself consists of a system of colored strips and growth plans that must be completed if the child ends up with a yellow or red strip, indicating bad behavior, by the end of the day. There are several steps in the development of growth plans. The first step was to have the child think about what his or her poor choice entails and how it could be fixed. The job of the teacher was to guide the child in wording their choice on the plan. Finally, the student was responsible for drawing a picture of his or her choice and how it could be fixed. During phase one of the project, the growth plans were completed in the school setting and were not sent home for the parents to sign. This gave the teachers an opportunity to collect a baseline at the beginning of the school year. During this phase, the children saw how their behavior affected the classroom environment and not how their behavior at school would translate into their life outside the classroom. After discussing the effectiveness of the plan being implemented solely in the school setting, Phase II was implemented and consisted of the plans being completed at school, and then sent home at the end of the day to be reviewed by the parent or guardian. The responsibility was placed on the child to both show his/her guardian and return the signed form to school the subsequent day.

    While Phase II showed some improvement from the baseline, the management plan was not yet perfected. Phase III was designed, discussed, and implemented. This final phase consisted of the child working with the teacher to discuss the poor choice that led to a red or yellow strip being given to the child to indicate levels of bad behaviors, drawing the picture, and leaving the solution section blank. Responsibility was given to both the student and the parent or guardian to complete the form together. By strengthening the link between home and school, the child is better able to see how his/her behavior affects their life outside the classroom walls. Younger children typically do not connect the school world to life beyond the school campus. There is a disconnect that occurs with many children and thus, their behavior may become erratic at one location or the other. By involving both the parent and the teacher, the child may begin to see both as authority figures that work in tandem for his/her benefit.

    Results

    Concerning the results of this project, it seemed to be an overall success for the majority of students in the classroom. While most students responded quite positively to the plans and only needed to complete three to five growth plans, there were a few students who seemed to not be developmentally ready to handle such an undertaking. The results show the children range from having zero strips pulled throughout the four six-weeks grading periods to falling into the double-digit category. There are many reasons why this might be so, but the main reason is most likely that those children are not quite developmentally ready to be in complete control of their actions.  From observation, it was obvious two of the three children with large amounts of red and yellow strips wanted to show good behavior, but lacked the impulse control that is important for a calm and cohesive classroom environment.

    The data on the chart in Table 1 shows the amount of red and yellow strips pulled per six weeks and overall, the students are consistent with the amount of strips pulled from their pocket. However, there are some factors that occurred during the fourth six-weeks period that may have had an effect on their classroom behavior. The most obvious reason for the massive jumps two students displayed is because of the presence of the student teacher in the classroom. Though most students responded positively to the addition in their classroom, there were a few students that took the opportunity to push their limits and test the student teacher. What the student teacher and children experienced is something that generally happens at the beginning of the school year when authority is being established in the classroom. However, particularly at such a young age, it is strange for the students to encounter a new authority figure implementing the procedures they had been previously doing with their classroom teacher.

    The data also shows that three students in particular struggled with controlling their behavior. Students J, L, and N pulled a large amount of strips compared to their peers, whose amounts per six weeks ranged from zero to nine. The largest jump for students L and N occurred during the fourth six-weeks grading period, when there were certain events that occurred in their lives outside of school. This combined with the presence of the student teacher is more than likely the catalyst for the jump in erratic behavior. Also, as this is imperative to point out, the students with the least amount of strips pulled have the highest amount of parent involvement in their education. Those few students who pulled larger numbers of strips do not have the parental or guardian involvement or the support at home children so desperately need.

    On the growth plans themselves, upon analyzing them, it was obvious why some students seemed more affected by the plans than others. The plans of the children who are further along in the development of their locus of control are more children centered and developmentally appropriate. The child drew the picture and the parent wrote what the child dictated. On the growth plans that parents had the child write sentences instead of drawing, it is obvious that the process of having a child write a sentence in repetition is not an effective way of handling the situation. For young children, drawing a picture is much more developmentally appropriate, as they hold more power than words at this point in their cognitive development. Another particularly interesting fact is that, of the three students who had the most difficulty, the parents or guardians of the lower socioeconomic status (SES) children were more involved in the plan than the parents of the children from higher statuses. The situation is typically reversed, but while working with the child, it is obvious to see the lack of nurturance received by adult role model. In the case of the two lower SES children, while their guardians are not quite as responsive as their classmates’ parents, it is clear they are receiving at least some nurturing from adults in their young lives. The effect a positive adult role model has on a child’s development is really quite extraordinary.

    Further Recommendations

    The most obvious recommendation is to keep the line of communication between home and school clear and open. Most of the children responded quite positively during Phase III when the growth plans were completed partially in the classroom and finished at home with the parents. Also, the growth plans may have been slightly more effective if they were sent home to be completed with the parents from the beginning. Sending a letter home at the beginning of the school year is an highly effective way to communicate the classroom management plan and to let the parents know what assignments they should expect to see come home if their child had a more challenging day. At the end of the school year, when most children are more adept at communicating through the written word, it might be a good idea to have the children write their poor choice down on paper and a solution on how to fix it on the plan, as well as draw the pictures.

    Overall, the plan is a successful endeavor in an ongoing attempt to understand and cater to the needs of young children. The plan itself helped create a positive and cooperative classroom environment, with each child beginning to take responsibility for his/her actions and handling the consequence of an inappropriate behavior with grace and dignity. The students were never made to feel bad about themselves for their behavior, as the teacher made it very clear it was the choice or behavior that was being dealt with, not the child his/herself. When children are aided in building social skills, they are given the tools for success later on in life when that skill set will be a necessity.

    Table 1: The Amount of Red and Yellow Stripes Pulled During Each Six-Week Grading Period

    Student 1st 6 Weeks 2nd 6 Weeks 3rd 6 Weeks 4th 6 Weeks
    A 0 0 0 1
    B 0 0 0 0
    C 3 2 0 0
    D 9 0 7 7
    E 0 1 1 0
    F 9 1 0 1
    G 0 1 0 0
    H 3 6 5 1
    I 3 4 5 2
    J 9 5 4 19
    K 0 0 0 0
    L 10 9 8 17
    M 0 0 1 0
    N 19 4 14 12
    O N/A N/A N/A 0
    P 0 0 0 0
    Q 0 3 1 1
    R 4 2 4 1