How Can Teachers Improve Classroom Management Using The Color Wheel?

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What classroom management techniques do you use to respond to different behavioral demands of your students?

Enforce uniform group expectations for conduct while also responding flexibly to the differing behavioral demands…

The posting of class-wide rules can help teachers to teach behavioral expectations and prevent problem behaviors. However, a single set of rules lacks flexibility. As students move from large group instruction to cooperative learning groups to less-structured free time (often during the same day and in the same classroom), behavioral expectations shift as well. The teacher who attempts to apply an unchanging set of behavioral rules across a varied range of activities will be forced to suspend, amend, or ignore certain rules at certain times, creating potential uncertainty and confusion among students. For example, the simple rule “To speak, raise hand for teacher permission” is useful in large-group instruction but does not transfer well to discussions in student-led groups.

The Color Wheel & Its Implementation

The Color Wheel is one solution that enforces uniform group expectations for conduct while also responding flexibly to the differing behavioral demands of diverse learning activities. It helps to improve classroom instruction through flexible rules. This class-wide intervention divides all activities into three categories and links each category to a color: green for free time/ low-structure activities; yellow for large or small-group instruction/independent work; and red for brief transitions between activities. Students learn a short list of behavioral rules for each category and, when given a color cue, can switch quickly from one set of rules to another. Following are the five steps for implementing the Color Wheel in the classroom:

1. Define Expectations

The teacher develops a short list of rules summarizing the behavioral expectations for each of the color levels in the Color Wheel.

Green Color: Free Time/Low-Structure Activities.

Yellow Color: Large or Small-Group Instruction/Independent Work.

Red Color: Transitions between Activities.

2. Create Rules Posters

The teacher next creates posters to be publicly posted for this intervention. The instructor copies the rules for each color level in large, legible script onto poster board of a matching color (e.g., green color level rules are copied onto the green poster board, etc.).

3. Create Color Wheel

The teacher assembles the Color Wheel, a simple device for alerting students to the current color condition in effect in the classroom. The simplest way to create a Color Wheel is to cut a large disk (12 inches or greater) from white poster board. The disk is partitioned into thirds with heavy black lines – like a pie divided into 3 large slices. Each of the 3 pie-slices are then colored in with one of the green/yellow/red colors. The teacher then affixes a large poster board arrow in the center of the circle – using a brad (paper fastener) to allow the arrow to rotate.

4. Train Students

The teacher posts the Color Wheel and colored behavior posters in a location visible to all students. The instructor explains the color levels and describes the activities associated with each. Next, the teacher uses the colored posters to review the behavioral expectations associated with each color level. The teacher gives specific descriptions of acceptable behaviors and their boundaries (e.g., “At the red level, when you clear your desks, your materials go into desks, backpacks, and cubbies – you should not stack any materials on the floor.”). The teacher next demonstrates the Color Wheel, showing how the arrow indicator will always point to the color condition currently in effect as a guide to the specific colored rules poster the students will follow.

5. Begin Intervention

The teacher then starts the Color Wheel intervention. To prepare students to adjust quickly to new color conditions, the instructor always gives a 30-second warning when the Color Wheel is about the change. (If students have difficulty with this single reminder, the instructor may want to give both a 2-minute and 30-second warning.) The teacher also regularly praises students for following posted behaviors. For maximum effectiveness, class wide praise should be intermixed with praise to small groups and individuals. Praise should also be ‘labeled’, clearly describing the behaviors that are praiseworthy (e.g., “This reading group transitioned quickly and quietly to the math lesson. Nice work!”).

Additional Considerations

Although the Color Wheel system is fairly easy to implement, teachers should be mindful of certain things. The red condition of the Color Wheel covers transitions between activities – which should always be brief in duration. Teachers should therefore keep students on the red phase only long enough to complete the transition to a new green or yellow activity. Once students are trained to make efficient transitions, three to five minutes should be sufficient to move into and out of a red phase. Consider that the behavioral expectations for the red (transitions) Color Wheel condition are the most restrictive, as students need to be seated, quiet, and focused on the teacher to learn the details of the upcoming activity. However, teachers should never set the classroom color condition to red simply to punish students for misbehavior. Linking the red condition with punishment raises the possibility that students will fail to comply with the red behavioral rules because they are seen as punitive rather than necessary to support an effective learning environment.

Like this article for teachers?

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