Do Public Trackers Work? You’ll be Shocked by the Answer…

Has anyone ever told you that public trackers “don’t work?” I’ve heard this plenty, but I’ve seen public tracking work with my own two eyes, for myself and for other teachers. I’ve also seen teachers run their class exceptionally without any trackers, either for behavioral or academic motivation. Frankly, I don’t know how there are hundreds of pages of literature dedicated to this idea that public trackers don’t work, can’t work, will never work when there are so many examples proving that sometimes, they do work! 

A public tracker (whether for behavior or academic tracking) is a tool. And like any tool, it can be used well or it can be used poorly. Think of a hammer. A hammer is a tool that can be used to break things and cause violence and destruction in the wrong hands. But in the hands of an engineer or an inventor or an architect or a carpenter, a hammer can be used to build and create amazing things.

You’re the carpenter in this story! You would never use your public tracker to shame or embarrass kids, so it won’t go wrong! If you teach your students that a public tracker is a tool for them to see what they’ve accomplished and what is still ahead, why would they see it any other way? They won’t! They will see the tracker as a motivator and a metric. When you build the classroom culture around teamwork and encouragement, a public tracker could be the ultimate tool for your kids to take ownership over their education! 

The status-quo is concerned that public trackers can harm kids’ self-esteem.  But self-esteem does come from a bulletin board in your classroom! Self-esteem comes from hard work and effort and your own attitude. Self-esteem is what you think of yourself, not what you think of yourself compared to other people. It certainly has nothing to do with seeing your name or initials up on the wall! The only way kids will think that a tracker can have any effect on how they feel about themselves is if we, as teachers, believe that it can.

If you tell the class, “The tracker helps us learn as a team and challenge ourselves to reach our full potential,” there won’t be any bragging or gloating or shame or embarrassment coming from the tracker. Ironically, rather than creating some cutthroat culture where every student wants to be at the top, the public trackers have the potential to build a much stronger community among students! For example, when some students have all their letters and they have made their way to the end of the tracker, they don’t take this opportunity to puff out their chests. They go back and help the kids who may still be stuck on their first few letters!

What makes kids take this approach? Listen here and get the full story!

In our public tracker, a “Land of I Can” seen above, each student had a fish, a duck, a monkey, an airplane, and a caterpillar that each represented a different content area.

  • Duck (Uppercase Letters) – Traveling to the Pond
  • Fish (Lowercase Letters) – Traveling to the Pond
  • Monkey (Letter Sounds) – Traveling up the Tree
  • Airplane (Number Recognition) – Traveling Cloud to Cloud to the Sun
  • Caterpillar (Count to 100) – Traveling along number line to Flowers

A “Land of I can” gives students a tangible, tactile way to track their progress, but more importantly, it gives them a story.  If a student moves their fish to the pond first, it was never about being first. It wasn’t a race. That’s not the story to tell! Instead, explain to the class that you are a team and you’re all working hard to get to the pond! If you’re first, help your friends!  You don’t want to be the only kid in the swimming pool (pond) when you have a chance to splash around with the entire class!

If this sounds like something you want to do, do it!  Teach what makes you happy.  Build a culture of engagement and encouragement around the public tracker so none of these self-esteem fears are ever realized.

I spend this episode discussing academic trackers, but I want to make a point about behavior trackers as well.  I understand why it’s frowned upon to use a color-coded behavior tracker, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the tracker. These color-coded trackers fail because they don’t provide a good story for kids to tell themselves.  When a student gets their color switched to “red,” what is the story they should tell themselves? It has to be a positive one! If there’s no coming back from getting switched to “red.” that’s not a story that will encourage growth!  If the story is “You’re color switched to Red. You’re bad!” then the tracker will do damage.

But, if the story you tell your students is something like, “You’re color switched to red. This means you’re in danger of losing privileges or being excluded from future fun. I don’t want this to happen so please turn it around! I know you can do it. We will help you! Right, class? Let’s try again, okay?”

I laid it on pretty thick with that example but I want to communicate the point — the more compelling your tracker’s story, the more buy-in you will see from your students! If you use the public tracker to encourage and motivate, that’s what it will do. Our “Land of I Can” and Salary System were both such positive experiences!  When students are learning at their own pace to reach the pond, they have a great story to tell because no matter how long it takes, they have a goal and they have the tools, the resources, and the friends to help them get there. The Salary System also tells an especially great story because at the end, kids get to go shopping with all their hard-earned “money!”

To hear the full story, listen to this week’s episode and download our freebie.

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Thank you so much for joining us this week! Was there anything I missed in this episode that you’d like to hear more about? Would you mind sharing in the comments so all the great teachers can learn from your thoughts? Thank you!

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  • 02:14 – Introduction
  • 08:30 – Mindset Shift
  • 10:59 – Strategies
  • 21:47 – Actionable Next Steps
  • 23:34 – Major Takeaways

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