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Students make a game of good behavior

(McMinnville News Register 4/18/17)

CARLTON — As Yamhill-Carlton Elementary School third graders worked on math problem, teacher Kourtney Fjelland watched not only how well they were handling fractions, but also how well they were behaving.

Most were concentrating, cooperating, focusing on their work and staying in their seats. In other words, they were exhibiting the good behaviors students themselves suggested and agreed upon earlier in the year, also as part of the PAX Good Behavior Game.

“Kids self-identified what good behavior looks like,” said Lauren Berg, YCES principal. It’s one of the ways the game encourages student to take ownership of their own behavior, she said.

In Fjelland’s room, big posters list what the class wants to do more of, such as “working together, sharing, walking,” and less of “fighting, running, drawing when we’re not supposed to, banging your pencil on your desk.”

As third-graders finished their math assignment and helped each other put away their markers, slates and cleaning cloths, a girl mentioned another behavior she and her classmates have been working to eliminate.

“Just shouting out to the teacher,” she said, explaining that it’s better to raise your hand and wait to be called. Shouting spontaneously, she said, is called “being a volcano.”

Volcanoes are erupting less frequently now thanks to PAX, which is being used this year not only at YCES, but also at elementary schools in Sheridan and Willamina, across the U.S. and in several other countries.

The program, which can be used for any subject matter, grew out of research at Johns Hopkins University, according to the PAXIS website, http://goodbehaviorgame.org.

The Yamhill Community Care Organization, Yamhill County Public Health and the Oregon Research Institute are partnering with the schools to operate the program here, with the idea that it will improve the learning atmosphere and help youngsters develop self-regulation and other social and emotional skills.

“We want to look holistically at the child,” said Berg, who serves on Community Care’s early learning council. “Our goal is for every child to leave our school system ready to be a successful adult.”

If the teacher notices someone doing something on the other list — the one enumerating behaviors students decided aren’t allowed — she calls out a nonsense word “spleem.” It’s used in the PAX game to describe a behavior mistake.

The unique vocabulary words are intentional, Berg said.

Developers of the game chose words that didn’t have any inherent connotations, she said. That way, a student hears “spleem” and thinks only of improving his or her behavior, rather than feeling bad, angry or diminished.

Spleems give every student in the group, or the room, a chance to reflect on how they’ve been behaving and how they can improve. They aren’t punishment.

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