School Behavior

The Daily Report Card: Your Secret Weapon for Better Classroom Behavior

Kids with ADHD don’t tolerate ambiguity. They need clear expectations, plus consistent rewards and consequences to keep them moving in the right direction. This is exactly what a Daily Report Card provides, when used correctly at school and at home. Learn how here.

Use a daily report card to coordinate and cooperate with your child's school teacher on behavior and academics
Use a daily report card to coordinate and cooperate with your child's school teacher on behavior and academics

A daily report card (DRC) can provide much-needed consistency for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. A DRC allows teachers and parents to take aim at the problem behaviors that interfere with a child’s academic success and measure important improvements, to better classroom behavior.

DRCs work this way: each day, the teacher monitors and records the student’s ability to meet select positive behavioral goals and marks them on the report card. The child then brings the report card home for his parents to sign. Often, when a child reaches a predetermined level of success, he is rewarded for his improved behavior.

This technique has been shown to be very effective in shaping behavior. In a landmark study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, the children who combined medication and behavioral treatments were shown to have better controlled ADHD symptoms than those who just used medication alone.

For some children, behavioral techniques alone are sufficient to produce significant change. Others may need additional strategies to help control the ADHD symptoms that get in the way of learning. These include: designing a student/teacher contract that specifies goals and rewards, or using a token system, in which a child earns points that can be traded in for rewards.

Read on to find out how to set up your own DRC system.

Step 1: Set Goals

A DRC should contain three to eight clearly defined behavioral goals, chosen in collaboration with your child’s teachers. These goals may pertain to academic work (completes and returns homework), conduct (follows classroom rules), peer relationships (doesn’t boss other children), or other areas in need of improvement.

To ensure that each goal is attainable, make it possible for your child to make a few slips and still receive credit, such as: “Follows directions with three or fewer repetitions.” A good criterion is one that your child can meet at least 75 percent of the time.

Step 2: Set Up a Rewards System

There’s no getting around it: Your child’s efforts to meet her daily report card goals will be driven by the incentives and rewards you provide. To ensure her interest in meeting the goals, let her create the menu of rewards (with your approval) from which she can choose. Rewards can consist of privileges — such as playing a video game — that previously were provided without contingencies. Now she’ll have to earn them with good marks on her DRC.

Try grouping rewards so that the most desirable are earned by the highest level of performance — achieving 90 to 100 percent of the possible “Yes” marks on the DRC. Achieving 75 to 89 percent “Yeses” will allow your child to choose from a prize of lesser value, while 50 to 74 percent gains her access to lowest (but still good) group of rewards.

Alternatively, if all the rewards are of equal value, let your child choose three prizes if she achieves the highest level of performance, two prizes if her marks fall in the medium range, and one prize if she scores in the lowest success range.

To acknowledge consistently good behavior, offer your child a larger, weekly reward as well. This reward should be based on the average number of positive marks over the course of the week. Use the same three-tier system of performance and reward levels so that the prizes reflect the week’s overall performance.

Weekly rewards might include a trip to the movies or having a friend spend the night. It could also feature progress toward a big prize. For example, if the big prize is a new bicycle, cut a picture of a bike into pieces and give your child a chance to earn a piece each week. When he collects all the pieces, take a trip to the bicycle store.

Younger children may need more immediate rewards in addition to the rewards at home. If your child isn’t motivated by the after-school prize, arrange for her teacher to offer a choice of school-based rewards when she meets her goals.

Step 3: Tweak the Targets

As your child responds to the program, he should be able to meet behavior targets more consistently. When that happens, raise the bar. Instead of requiring him to follow class rules with three or fewer violations, for example, make it two or fewer violations.

Eventually, the behavior will become second nature to him, and it can be dropped from the DRC. If he regularly fails to meet a goal, you’ll need to make the criterion easier.

Be generous with your praise for good days and good efforts, and offer encouragement when targets are missed. And, since those with ADHD are known for losing things, help your child find a way to remember to bring the DRC home. A large note posted inside her locker might do the trick.

Sample Rewards

Daily rewards:
— Dessert after dinner
— Computer games for 15 minutes
— Staying up 30 minutes later

Weekly rewards:
— Renting a video
— Special activity with mom or dad
— Day off from chores

School-based rewards:
— Care for class animals
— Bring message to office
— Take positive note home

Adapted with permission from materials developed at the Center for Children and Families, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. To learn more about the DRC, go to the Center for Children and Families’ site or download the DRC Packet.

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