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Good Behavior Pays Off with Decision Dollars

Brooke Ross


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In Brooke Ross's transitional first grade class, it pays to make good decisions! Each week, the Eagleville Elementary students in Norristown, Pennsylvania, are given Decision Dollars. They can earn more dollars -- or lose their dollars -- through their actions each day. On Friday, students go shopping in the Decision Dollars store and choose to spend or save their hard-earned cash.

After experimenting with a red, yellow, and green card behavior management system in her classroom, Ross made her own decision to try something new.

"I couldn't justify what type of action changed a card from green to yellow or yellow to red," she told Education World. "On the positive side, I felt as if a green card wasn't special enough for children who were modeling appropriate behavior consistently. I wanted to praise those students who were setting a good example."


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Ross recalled a student-teaching experience in which a cooperating teacher had used "Beaver Bucks" and designed a similar system -- Decision Dollars -- that focused on making good choices. Each child has a library pocket to hold the dollars attached to his or her desk.

"Every Monday morning, I walk around the classroom and distribute three Decision Dollars to each child," explained Ross. "As I give the students their dollars, I say, 'I trust you to make good decisions this week.' The students reply, 'I promise to make good decisions this week.' As the year progresses, they choose different adjectives, such as excellent, great, and super."

Throughout the week, Ross awards dollars unexpectedly. If she sees a student pick up a random piece of trash and throw it away, she might share a Decision Dollar, although she never gives dollars if students come to her and request them as a reward for helping out.

"Decision Dollars reinforce our three classroom rules -- respect myself, respect others, and respect my environment," Ross said. "If I am ready to start teaching and half the class is seated, I start handing out Decision Dollars to students who are ready. It's amazing how quickly they seem to find their seats!"

Dollars also are taken away when rules are broken. For example, lying brings a swift penalty of one dollar. If students lose all their Decision Dollars in one week, on Friday afternoon they may not shop with their peers in Ross's store, which is stocked with stickers, pencils, and other inexpensive items. If problems continue, Ross places a red card in the library pocket, signaling that she will meet with the student during recess to discuss improved decision making.

"When they visit the store, we work on trading different increments and discuss which bins students can shop in," reported Ross. "I set up bins in increments of $1, $5, $10, $15, $20, $25, $50, and $100. Students have the option to spend or save. I always thank them for making good decisions."

Students also have the opportunity to earn Decision Dollars as a class. They earn those dollars by receiving a compliment in the hall from another teacher, walking quietly and safely into the classroom, being quiet while the teacher is on the phone, and more. After they collect ten dollars, they can choose a class reward, such as extra recess or no homework. Ross uses the group dollars to promote teamwork in the classroom.

"My students love working together to earn dollars for the classroom jar, and they love shopping in the Decision Dollar store," observed Ross. "They love counting their money so much that I had to make a rule that money counting can only take place on Fridays!"

This year, Ross has created file folders with four library pockets inside, each representing a different dollar increment. Students will decorate the folders and keep them inside their desks to hold their Decision Dollars and track their spending. She also has added less tangible rewards to her store, including "lunch with the teacher" and "no homework." For 50 Decision Dollars, Ross even will attend a student's sporting event!

"As the year progresses, my students' language seems to change," Ross added. "The word decision becomes part of their vocabulary. They come in from recess saying, 'Other classes are making bad decisions by ______.' They also say, "Student's name made a good decision by picking my pencil up from the floor and handing it to me.' They like to help one another earn Decision Dollars."

Want to try this project yourself? Get your Decision Dollars here!

Coming Soon...

If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

11/03/2006