There are numerous strategies employed by teachers to help them manage their classrooms effectively. One of these strategies is the use of behavioral contracts.
A behavioral contract is one of the most powerful classroom management techniques used by effective teachers.
This is often used when other strategies fail to perform up to the expectations of the teacher.
For example, it works surprisingly well in instances where students refuse to obey their teachers and perform academic activities as expected of them.
Teachers who don’t use this technique often fail at getting their students to do class activities if they refuse.
In this article, we will go through the process of creating a behavioral contract for your students.
What at all is a Behavioral Contract?
It is a system for managing students’ behavior, where you dispense appropriate consequences according to students’ behavior.
That’s, you issue positive consequences for positive and desired behavior. On the other hand, you offer negative consequences for undesired behavior.
Rewards and punishments play an important role in the use of this strategy.
The technique is founded on the beliefs of behavioral theorists.
It is often prepared and customized for each student if you want to get the best out of it.
It is an extremely flexible technique that gives you the chance to personalize and adapt in any way you want to effectively manage students.
When using a behavioral contract as your strategy for managing students’ behavior, know that technique is perfect.
Read our articles on rewards and punishments for more information on how to use them in your classroom.
What are the Processes Involved in Making the Contract?
The following are some of the steps I found critical when making a behavioral contract for students:
As mentioned earlier, no classroom management technique is perfect. Therefore, you must prepare adequately and appropriately to implement it to reap all the benefits and avoid its drawbacks. In your preparations, try to answer the following questions:
1. What is the age and level of the student?
2. What is the nature of the student?
3. What are his or her family and cultural background?
4. What motivates him or her best?
5. What is the appropriate negative consequence for him or her?
6. What are your expectations of the student?
You may have other questions to answer depending on your context. Remember, the technique is infinitely flexible.
Preparing adequately helps you follow through the process with no or minimal challenges.
Rewards and Incentives
Now, it is time to sit with the student to identify and define appropriate incentives for putting up appropriate behavior.
I recommend you consult the student because it will help you identify what he or she values.
Use privileges as rewards. For example, being first to go for recess, time on the computer, having no homework for a day, etc. These are extremely effective as against physical rewards that are expensive and easily lose their effectiveness.
Also, make sure to get approval from the students’ parents regarding the rewards the student will earn for appropriate behavior. The rewards should be things they will willingly offer to the student if they put up desired behavior at home.
Remember, the incentives will vary depending on the age and level of the student. Dispense appropriate rewards depending on these factors.
It is useful to identify the responsibilities of students alongside the privileges or rewards they will earn for performing each.
Let the student know that these responsibilities must be performed in order to earn the privileges determined in consultation with him/her.
Don’t make it complex at first. They should be simple and small. Start with the daily classroom routines.
Responsibilities must be activities that the student can easily perform. They should be activities you can easily check and enforce.
You can increase and extend responsibilities as the student gets used to the system.
Who to Discharge Rewards and Consequences?
Determine who will be in charge of dispensing rewards and consequences for the behavior of the student.
It is usually the teacher who should be responsible for that. But if you have an assistant, he/she can also be allowed to do that.
In out-of-class settings, other teachers and stakeholders can be made responsible for that job.
Make it clear to the student to avoid arguments with the student in the future about dispensing of privileges he or she has earned.
A Contract is a Private Document
As discussed earlier, the contract should be between you and the student only. No one else should be aware of the conditions in the contract.
In case other students get to know and question you regarding that, don’t disclose the conditions. You can tell them that it is a private matter between you and every other student in the classroom.
Some students might want to have a similar contract with other students. When that happens, give the student the chance and modify his or her contract as such.
Remember, a behavioral contract should be flexible enough to accommodate changes. Even if the entire class wants to have the same contract, give them that opportunity.
During group activities
Problems are likely to occur during group work. So you may try to include responsibilities during group activities in the contract.
If need be, make a behavioral contract for the entire class during group work. This will help you manage inappropriate behaviors as and when they occur.
Extending the Contract
With time, students get used to the system and know what exactly to do in order to earn more privileges.
It is now crucial to extend and expand the contract through extended responsibilities and privileges. Do the following when extending the contract:
1. Expand the responsibilities: Expand the number and type of responsibilities for the student.
Include infrequent tasks in the contract. Mostly these activities are not written in the original contract you had with the student.
Add activities performed on specific days or times in a week in the contract now. Make it clear and specify the privileges that go with its performance.
Here, you can also combine responsibilities into chunks for the student to do to earn, instead of rewarding every small task.
You can now also think of introducing the first-try compliance by Barkley (1997). With this, you offer extra tokens, rewards, or privileges to the student for performing a task appropriately on the first try.
2. Extend the Rewards and/or Privileges: If you expand the responsibilities in the contract, you must also expand the rewards, incentives, and privileges for performing the responsibilities.
You can add new rewards and privileges to the contract if the student requires them. You can collaborate with parents for some rewards if you are not sure you can provide them.
Punishment (Token Costs)
You have used the contract with the student and he/she has gotten used to it. During the expansion of the contract, try to introduce punishment into it.
However, don’t label it as punishment but rather costs as recommended by Kapalka (2006). That is because of the negative connotations that go with the word punishment.
Be sure the behaviors that attract the costs are clear, specific, and simple. This makes it easy for a student to track him/herself.
Be sure that you can observe punishable behaviors on your own without relying on reports of the student’s peers.
Also, make sure that those behaviors are commensurate to the punishments or costs assigned to them.
To conclude, a behavioral contract is a powerful tool that must be utilized to improve behavior in your classroom. In this article, we identified some steps to help you construct a working contract with your students. I hope it will be beneficial to you. Please, share with your colleagues to also benefit from the article. Thank you.