A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can’t Live Without

24 Jan

Today I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Michael Linsin with a guest post today.  Michael is the author of the book Dream Class: How To Transform Any Group Of Students Into The Class You’ve Always Wanted, an award-winning book released in June of 2009. He is also the mastermind behind the website and blog Smart Classroom Management.  As an author who I respect a great deal, and even revamped my Classroom Management Plan based upon some of his ideas, I am excited to share with you an EXCLUSIVE post that Michael wrote just for AOE viewers regarding management in the art room. Enjoy! 

dA Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can’t Live Without

by Michael Linsin

I feel your pain.

Having been a PE teacher for eight years, I know all to well the feeling of being at the mercy of classroom teachers.

The greatest challenge for art, music, and PE teachers and others who see their students less than an hour a week is overcoming the bad habits and misbehaviors learned—or tolerated—in regular education classrooms.

When I first became a PE teacher after many years in the classroom, I was surprised to discover that much of what had worked for me before, when I saw my students every day, didn’t work any longer.

If classroom management was less than effective in the regular classroom, I’d spend most of the hour with my students trying in vane to instill basic listening and attending skills and dealing with startling levels of disrespect.

And then a week later I’d find myself doing it all over again—wasting another class period on behavior and then sugarcoating how the class went when speaking afterward with the classroom teacher. “Oh, your students were fine. No major problems.”

So I went on an Indiana Jones-like quest to discover the simplest strategies that did work, that did influence students in such a way that they behaved for me, even as they were hellions in their own classrooms.

I’d like to share with you one of those strategies, which I’ve found to be among the most effective.

Create Competition

 Despite what regular education teachers may tell you in polite staff-room conversation, if you pit them in friendly competition against their grade level colleagues, their pride and desire to win will come roaring out.

You can use this to your advantage by grading each class period on a scale of zero to four, based on how well they behave and follow your directions. You’ll then compile the points earned every week until a winning class is announced and a nominal award is delivered.

By using just this one strategy, the resulting change in behavior can be immediate and drastic.

Here’s how it works.

Create a point system based on the four whole-class behaviors that are most essential to effectively teaching your class.

For example, you might assign one point for walking into class and sitting down quietly, one point for listening to your directions, one point for following your directions, and one point for lining up quietly to leave the classroom.

After each class period, as your students are leaving your classroom, simply let them and their teacher know how many points they earned that day.

The first class to earn the most points beyond 30—or whatever number you choose—wins the title of the best art class in their grade level. You can award a simple trophy if you wish or a poster they can display on their classroom door.

When the competition is over, start again from zero the very next week. This gives the classes that didn’t win a chance to earn the award themselves. It also ensures that the contest continues for the entire school year.

It’s a good idea to create a bulletin board that lists, by grade level, each class you accommodate during the week and how many points they’ve earned so far. The students, as well as the teachers, are then able to track their progress and that of their competition.


In a small but powerful—and visual—way, the point system holds classroom teachers accountable for how prepared their students are when they show up to your art class. And even if they won’t admit it, they’ll love the competition and enjoy needling their grade-level counterparts.

As for the students, it forces them to be accountable and answerable to each other and to their classroom teacher. And because it gives classroom teachers something their students can rally around, it has the potential to help build community and improve behavior in their own classrooms.

And as for you… it gives you the window you need, the opportunity you crave, to teach and instill in your students a love and appreciation of art.

Everybody wins.

It’s important to note that the point system is meant to improve whole-class behavior and is not a strategy for difficult students or specific incidents of misbehavior. You still need a classroom management plan in order to hold individual students accountable.

Your points, therefore, should only reflect how the class did as a whole. Never fail to award a point based on the behavior of only one or two students.

Bragging Rights

The beauty of using competition to motivate your students to behave is that, unlike other incentives, it doesn’t weaken over time. You see, it isn’t the award itself students and teachers care about.

It’s bragging rights. It’s being regarded as the best that motivates them to show up at your door ready to learn…

Which means you can depend on the point system strategy working for you as long as you need it.

30 Responses to “A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can’t Live Without”

  1. rtcteech January 24, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Great Post. I have felt just like this PE teacher on days.. I am looking into this book. thanks for sharing.

  2. Mrs. Euken's Art Mooseum January 24, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    I’m going to try it next week!! I’ll be sharing this with our other “singletons” in our district too! I too taught in a regular classroom setting for many years Michael and when I moved into K-5 art, MOST of my discipline and behavior strategies did not work. Very frustrating!!!! I’m anxious to read your book and get some tips!

  3. Cathy R. January 24, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    I will definitely be trying this one (point system)! My first graders are the toughest out of 8 grade levels. I constantly struggle with classroom management with them. They produce great artwork but by the end of the class I am totally wiped out!

    I may have to try out this book as well….any help in this area is welcomed.

    Cathy R.

    • Anna January 27, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      I hear you! 1st grade at the one elementary school I teach at just exhaust me! I have 4 boys who constantly are creating trouble- 2 are inappropriate and sneaky… and then get the other 2 going. I have created a chart for the whole class to earn a star for that day… needless to say they haven’t earned one yet (I just started this semester). Just this past week I have created an individual star chart which seems to be working much better. I also feel terrible for the rest of the students who do a good job in art and behave so I think this new chart will be much more effective. I hope!

  4. Chris Lincoln January 24, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you Jessica for highlighting this book and one of the strategies. This is by far my weakest area in teaching and I can’t wait to try this strategy and to read the book!

  5. Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Great idea!!!

  6. artprojectgirl January 24, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I love the idea of competition too. . . I did this EXACT system for a few years. But every year I had the same problem. We are on a five day rotation and it seemed that we always have the same day of the week off! So my Monday classes would never win anything. One day off could throw the whole competition! I could never get it to be fair and the teachers really did play along, so I just gave it up. Any solutions on how to fix that part of the competition?

    • Michael Linsin January 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

      If you’re not required to make up holidays and such, then simply inform the classes you do see that week that you’re going to award points as usual, but you’re not going to record them–because it wouldn’t be fair to the classes that missed. I’ve done it this way a zillion times. The students understand, the teachers understand, and the strategy still works.:)

      • artprojectgirl January 24, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

        Okay! That will work. I hadn’t thought of that! I was also thinking now of an average. . . we have missed so many mondays due to power outages and holidays and weather what if I averaged 4 weeks? Classroom teachers might understand that!

      • Jessica Balsley January 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

        Thanks for the reply, Michael. I had not thought of doing it that way, but it’s a good solution!

  7. Aisha January 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    When I clicked on the Amazon link, it says that the book is out of print…did anybody find it elsewhere?

  8. hope knight January 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Sounds like a good plan, and easy to stick to. My dilemma is feeling guilty about not spending enough time with well-behaved kids when there are a few others I have to “sit on” the whole time. So, to help with this, I keep a “good choices” list by my door on a clipboard, and I call out 4 or 5 kids during each session to add their names when they are working quietly/following directions – this lets them know that I noticed their good behavior choices and when their classroom teacher receives the list at the end of each class, they usually reinforce the praise.

    • Anna January 27, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      I completely agree! I feel like I hardly ever get to tell those students who are working hard- good job- but I make sure I do! I too am always sitting or talking to those who are constantly getting in trouble… *sigh*

  9. Novak January 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    I have tried this in the past and while it does work – it can also be frustrating to keep track of who you had when and if you had a sub, if there was a play, or a field trip, a snow day, a PD day — especially if it tends to happen on the same round of kids. I have only seen my Monday kids ONCE this month.

    So take this idea but change it for each class. I do it by table colors – because, well it’s an art room and they sit at table colors. So each table is in charge of earning points throughout class. I don’t have a set number – so if kids are great they get lots of points. If one table is super great they get more than other tables. The table that gets to the top of the chart first – that group of kids gets a small prize — pencil, eraser, sticker…. Start over next class with a new seating chart.

    For older kids take this idea but flip how you give points. Instead of earning points for being good your table gets points when other tables are off task. So if orange table is making swords with their markers ALL the other tables (NOT ORANGE) get a point. Again, I don’t have a set number of points in a class. Sometimes the groups earn 3 sometimes 12 — depends on the day. The group to the top first gets a prize — start over next class.

    The idea of using positive peer pressure is perfect and amazing in the art room. More than once I have seen someone lean over and say, ‘Stop. You are giving other tables points when you do that’.

    • hope knight January 25, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      “making swords with their markers” – haha! perfect example. : )

    • Mindy Hiatt February 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      I tried many of these ideas but they did not work for me. When I gave individual table groups points there was always one table that fell WAY behind in points. When they figured out they could not win, they gave up completely. The lesson they learned is that you should be good in art class only if you can get enough points to win. I want them to learn that they should be good in art class because the arts are important to becoming a well rounded, educated, interesting person. I think intrinsic motivation is the best motivation for behavior. It’s implementing intrinsic motivation instead of behavior charts that is the hard part!

  10. Kathy Z January 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    I am seriously considering trying this. But- I have one or two 4th graders that just can’t be serious much less quiet when they are walking in, or listening. What if they ruin it for all? Or even on purpose?

    • Novak January 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Try it the way I posted above – kids are more responsive to smaller group positive peer pressure… some students are way to impulsive to be responsible to the whole group, but when their peers are sitting at their table — the effect is much more concentrated. Also, its easier for you to keep track of who is making good choices and who isn’t.

      If that doesn’t work have them sit alone and try and earn points on their own….

  11. Anna January 27, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    This is a great discussion and great to see what others are doing to help enforce positive behavior… and that I’m not the only one with some challenging classes:) I teach K-5 Art… most are great classes, just a couple here and there… and it can be great one day and exhausting the next… ho-hum!:)

  12. Bonnie January 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    I picked up a whole second school last year due to the cutting of our classes down to 30 min once a week. The behavior at the new school was rough to say the least. I did this same plan with the classes there. I used a board in the room and posted the individual sticker chart sheets that you can get at any teaching store or even office supply store. I have one for each classroom. They had to earn 30 stickers to get to do the clay project for the year. I used the same 4 point system Michael spoke about. The transitions are the hardest in art class, we have so many in such a short amount of time. I simply marked a dot in the box for each transition they completed following class expectations. Later I go back and put a sticker in the box so the kids can see thier progress from across the room. It is right by the door so the classroom teacher can also see how the class is keeping up. I explained to the kids that if they could earn the points on a normal day I knew they would be responsible enough for something as special as clay. Even my two out of control 6th grade classes of 33 students each got into shape quickly. After the clay lesson some kids did try to get back to their old ways. This year I think I will have them work towards an end of the year reward too.

    I also subscribe to Michael’s news letter and have the book. Wait for it to get in stock, it is worth it. The newsletters he sends out if you subscribe are more helpful than anything. I even require my student teachers to start subscribing to them since most of the problems student teachers encounter are behavior issues.

    Thanks to Michael for linking this blog to his newsletter. Now I have two places I can go when I need inspiration and reassurance.

  13. Mrs. Euken's Art Mooseum January 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Just got my book yesterday! Can’t wait to read it. I also made a chart for the point system you told us about last week and put it into force yesteday. It is already working. The kids are really excited about trying it. I broke it into 4 ways to get points. They are 1: Let’s get Going, (coming in, getting seated and ready) 2: Listen Up (Used when I am passing out their work and giving directions 3: Way to Work, (work time) and 4: “Git Ur Done”, which is cleaning up and lining up. I have made a chart for each grade with each teacher’s name on it. They know that when they come back in the following week, they can look on the chart and see which areas they might need to improve on from last week. The kids are excited and so am I!! Thanks!

    • Jessica Balsley February 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      I need to break my behavior into 4 different sections, and I like your tag lines for each. Nothing is working right now in my 1st grade art classrooms as far as behavior goes but my current plan works great with the other grade levels. Go figure!:)

  14. Daevid February 5, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    I can vouch for this strategy. I have been doing a slight variation since the beginning of the school year and it works beautifully. I have the class rate themselves at the end of each class. They tend to be tougher on themselves than I would have been! They love it!

  15. Rachelle February 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I use a 12 point system that works very well. 1 point for entering quietly, 3 points (ART letters are on the board) for working inside voices, 1 point for being in their seats at the end of clean up, 7 points (1 point per table) for having their workspace clean. The kids tally the points with me and I choose one of them to add and record the points by the door. Each month two “Golden Paintbrushes” are given to the class with the most points. The principal announces the winners (one primary, one intermediate) for all to hear. The teachers hangs the paintbrushes in the hall by our school wide paw pride charts for each class. It takes a while for the classroom teachers to be on board but I have noticed them “coaching” their students to earn a 12, building a team for them and I reap the rewards of good behavior and a clean art room. It is a win win. I also choose an “Artist of the Day” who has made awesome choices. He/she signs a door covered with butcher paper and gets a small certificate that I made on the computer. That student will get to sit in the teacher chair where ever they want next art class. I forgot to mention that the GP winners get free seating for a class. If they get it again they get to watch an art movie and have free seating for a class. The third time they get to have a “free” art day. If there is a tie I decide. If there is a holiday the class will get the exact points they got the week before. I have a conduct book for those few that don’t want to do their best. A note will go home if the student continues to make bad choices. It is an easy system that the students help to manage. I put a box around a student’s name on the seating chart when they are “Artist of the Day.”

  16. Theresa February 12, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Michael -thanks for this post – it couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Let’s just say all the specialists in my building are feeling like the school learning environment has taken a very bad turn over the last few years. The attitude by many homeroom teachers is that once the students leave their classroom they are “off duty” and only delivering the students to us (of course not all – there are some teachers have high expectations in all areas of school). The specialists are then at the mercy of the management style of the homeroom teacher – it doesn’t matter what mix of students we see – some teachers have consistently great classrooms year to year, while others have consistently very difficult to handle classrooms no matter how many teacher tricks we use and high expectations we have ourselves.

    So instead of working in isolation . . . Art, Music, PE and the MRC director are all on board with implementing your management system. We are going to use the same point system you outlined 1st-5th grades that lasts for two weeks with the same 4 criteria in each of our classrooms (we have also created language of what each criteria “looks like” in our own classrooms). At the end of the two weeks, we are adding up all the points and on the following Monday will reveal the best class from each grade level at morning announcements. In addition, we have ordered a large “traveling” trophy that will represent the overall best class in the school for all grade levels. We are very excited to make a positive change in our school.

    However, at the same time that I am excited about making change, I am apprehensive after reading this post on Rewards vs. Relationships  . The article sites the research of Alfie Kohn and refers to “collective reward” as harmful to intrinsic motivation. I would be interested to see if you agree with this article and/or how your management strategy does or does not fit. Thanks!

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