Are You Being Helpful or Harmful?

It’s time for change once again.

Yes…change. Again.

Y’all…this year has just been a year of constant change. Change in the structure of our class time. Change in student grouping. Change in staff. Lots of change.

Let me start by saying I have some AH-mazing kiddos. Some of them have….LOTS of energy. And when I say LOTS, I mean like ants in our pants energy.

I just felt like so much information was being lost because many kids just aren’t wired to pay attention for long periods of time without having behavior issues. So what did I do? I went to see Gretchen Bernabei for some tips.


IMG_5453Let me also say that I’ve tried so many different things…and I just felt like I had tried every trick in my hat and was grasping at straws to find something that worked for these kiddos.

Well…Gretchen came to my rescue with a plan she used with her high schoolers who had lots of energy. It’s very simple, but…oh. my. goodness. Last week was my best week so far with my kids.

I had a class roster (4 of them…since I teach 4 classes of writing) already done and printed, so I just used that one. I’ll be creating one that is much nicer, but I wanted to see if it was going to work before putting lots of effort into creating totally new ones.

We started by talking as a class (EVERY class) about how every decision we make in class is either helpful or hurtful/harmful to both you as the individual and to those around you in your classroom community. Then I told them that I would be watching and documenting their choices.

These choices would become a daily grade for the week. They earn up to 20 points a day for a total of 100 by Friday. Basically…if they pay attention, do their work, ask questions, and participate in whole group and small group discussions, they get a 100 in the grade book for the week.

I told them to think of it like a balance. If you have more helpful points (dots) for the day, you get 20 points. If they are equal, you get 10 points. If you ended up with more harmful than helpful, then you get 0 points for the day.

IMG_5436So the kids are totally in control of their grade. But just because they made one or two or even a few bad decisions in class doesn’t mean that it is totally ruined. They have every opportunity to tip the scale back in their favor by getting back on track and making more helpful decisions.

When students participated in small group discussions, they received a dot. When they raised their hand, they received a dot. When they followed directions the first time, they got a dot. ANYTHING they did that I wanted them to do…they got a dot for being helpful.

When students didn’t follow directions the first time or blurted out or started talking while someone else was talking…dun, dun, dun…they received a harmful dot. And they didn’t like it ONE bit!

I layered this with a whole class incentive as well. If all but two students or less in the class receive more helpful than harmful marks, they earn 15 minutes of game time for Friday. They can earn 15 minutes Monday through Thursday, for a total of 60 minutes on Friday, our whole class time.

And wow. Class participation increased significantly. TRYING increased significantly. On-task behaviors increased significantly. And just like that, we had MORE learning, MORE discussion, MORE ownership, and MORE time for fun!


Now these are educational games, of course! But oh man…these kids ate it up! They were SO excited to play a revising and editing game for most of our class time. (We had to finish up a warm-up really quick at the beginning of class…but they didn’t even complain because they knew they got to play games the rest of the time!)

If you’re looking for some revising and editing games, you can find some here.


These girls just melted my heart after their game. They put their hands in and congratulated each other for a good game and answering questions correctly. How sweet is that?!?!

Anyway…last week was awesome. I feel like we are making huge gains. I gave an exit ticket with a question modeled after a STAAR question for combining sentences…and it was NOT easy…and I only had 9 out of 98 get the incorrect answer. I’m calling that a huge win!

And I feel like I owe it to this new system.

It’s not punitive. It’s not complicated. But EVERY student gets recognized for positive choices. They see me smiling and putting down dots when they share with their group for the first time. They know that I see them raising their hand, following directions, and helping out their peers. And they are doing a LOT more learning.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in making sure we cram every single little piece of information into our kids as possible that we don’t stop to notice all the things they ARE doing right. We focus too much on how Johnny didn’t pass his benchmark and Kacey didn’t use her strategies and Bill just doesn’t care…and we just forget about all the good things our kids are or could be doing if we just encouraged more of that and recognized it in some way.

If you’re having trouble with some kids and feel like maybe you could use a “reset,” try this out. You might just be surprised what can happen! I know I was!! 😉

Until next time…




  1. Emily Lemmond says:

    Hi! Is the helpful/hurtful chart just for you to see, or displayed in the class for the kids to see?

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Emily! I will show the kids their points, but they know not to ask about it. I briefly mention how many helpful things I’ve noticed (and I try to give one specific example) as I conference with them. If a student has some harmful dots, I talk with them about it and let them know I’ll be watching very closely to see if they can tip the scales back to the helpful side with purposeful helpful decisions. :)

  2. Alysa Lair says:

    Hi, Kayla! This sounds like such an excellent idea! My only question is this- my admin doesn’t allow participation grades, so do you have any suggestions on how I can implement this amazing new plan without causing an issue with my principal? This really sounds like something I can see myself using, and I can only imagine how much more we could accomplish in a day! Thanks in advance for all your help!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Well…would they work for just games on Friday? My kids LOVE games, and I think that is the main thing motivating them…not the grades. 😂 Even if they worked for 5 or 10 minutes of game time on Fridays…just something they can see in the immediate future and work towards. Then once they experience it, they know what it’s like and will probably strive to do the following weeks. That’s my hope, anyway!

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