top ten rationales for using the stoplight (or flipcard) system

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In the past four months, through emails, comments, tweets, pins, and shares, many rationales for using the stoplight or flipcard system have emerged.  Here’s a list of the ten most common reasons teachers have cited for using these systems, with ways to deconstruct them as viable rationales for the practice:

 1. I’m required to use it.  

If your supervisor/school/district is requiring stoplight systems, why not start a conversation about change?  Use emerging research about shame and/or social emotional learning, and support it with material on classroom community.

2. It gives children a visual reminder.  

This is true, but so would anything visual.  There are alternative visuals.  The Choice Wheel is also a visual. It encourages students to broaden and develop ways to handle tricky feelings and situations without shaming them.

3. It’s not the stoplight that’s the problem, it’s how it’s implemented.  

I think there is some merit to this one because some of the collateral damage from a system like the stoplight could be mitigated by the teacher implementing it.  However, at it’s core, it is a public shaming system.

4. The children don’t care when their names are moved.  

If children don’t care when their names are moved, then why use it?

5. My students are urban/in poverty/young/have special needs.  

Students in these categories tend to be especially vulnerable, particularly in schooling environments.  Having a pro-social, problem-solving, empathetic response to classroom behavior issues is especially critical for them.

 6. My class size is large.

Smaller class sizes are definitely ideal for many reasons, but in large classrooms, having meaningful problem solving in place can make an enormous difference in how large groups of children learn to get along.

7. Everyone uses it.

Ok, we all know why this isn’t a strong rationale for a teaching method, but it’s often the one given for this particular practice.  Sometimes it’s due to a school-wide implementation, but more often, it’s an unspoken “this is what we do here.”  Rethinking helps keeps our teaching relevant.  

8. I’ve been using it for a long time.

The stoplight has indeed been around for quite awhile by now, but like any practice falling into that category, taking a fresh look helps us as educators.  Especially if that fresh look is taken from the perspective/experience of the students in the classroom.

9. It works.

Let’s deconstruct this one a bit.  What does that mean, it works?  For whom does it work?  At what cost?  Would something more compassionate and meaningful work as well?  Maybe even work better?

10. It prepares them for the real world.  

Yes, in the real world, if you break a law, you might get arrested or go to jail.  And your name could be in the paper or on the internet.  But rarely in the real world is every single mistake you make publicly broadcasted to all of your peers.  And in the real world, you are an adult, not a five/six/seven year old child who is just learning the ropes of school.  There’s plenty of time for kids to learn about the ‘real world’.  In school, children should feel confident that when they make mistakes, the classroom community will compassionately develop their understanding about how to do better next time.

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