Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Substitute Advice on Consequences

This is a post I found helpful on the A to Z Teacher Stuff forum in a discussion about giving out consequences.  The context was about substitute teaching, but I do think this post applies to any teacher giving out consequences for misbehavior.  

Thanks again for allowing me to post this, EdEd!

One of the biggest secrets I've found is not what the specific consequence is, but how it is structured. For example, all of the consequences you've listed above are "one and done." The behavior happens, you give the consequence, and you are out of ammo - nothing left to do. If the behavior continues, you have to move on to something else because they already have a note going home.

Often, you can get away with much smaller consequences than you'd ever imagine, if structured right. For example, you can take 10 seconds off of a 2nd grader's recess, and they might be devastated! Naturally, that leaves you with a lot of ammo - you can take off a lot of "10 seconds of recess" and still have a lot left over. Likewise, because of the nature of the consequence, you can also add it back on - for example, kids can earn back a portion of their recess if lost.

Also, think more immediately. A lot of the things you've mentioned above are consequences that occur well into the future - note written to the teacher won't be felt until 24 hours, referral won't be read by a parent for a few hours. Think about things in the child's immediate environment that they care about. Here's a little trick - the closer in time the consequence or reward, the smaller it can be. Believe it or not, kids may act up even when they know they will get a playstation for Christmas in 3 weeks. But, if they know they could be moved to the front of the lunch line if they walk quietly in the hall way, they may just shape up. Why? Because they don't have to wait 3 weeks. Extend that out into "adult time." What if I said to you as a sub, "I will pay you $140 tomorrow morning, or $300 in 10 years." Which one would you chose? 

The mental trick to creating these momentary reinforcement/punishment opportunities is to put yourself in the minds of the kids standing in front of you - what would make the next 10 seconds of their lives that much more awesome? For example, an extra 30 seconds of centers might do it, or offering to the class that you will pick one person who is particularly well-lined up to move to the front of the line. Or, 10 minutes before recess, you might say that you'll pick one student who is particularly well-behaved (define what this is to them) carry out the basketball to recess. 

Many of us make our ways through less exciting parts of our own lives like this - we let ourselves eat extra ice cream after we clean up the living room; we let ourselves go to happy hour Friday after working hard to do lesson plans Thursday night; we let ourselves watch 10 minutes of Tivo after grading 10 papers. We give ourselves little treats to keep us alive, interested, and motivated to get through the less interesting parts of day.

Of course, there is something to be said for not encouraging our culture of momentary and immediate reinforcement, but as a sub you probably won't find yourself with opportunities to utterly influence kids' worldviews on reinforcement through your one-day classroom management plans. In addition, even asadults, we need reinforcement. Some things we love to do - for everything else, there's ice cream .

--EdEd, A to Z forum

This gave me something to think about after a bad day a couple of weeks ago, in which I spent most of my time repeating the same reprimands to the same students.  It was particularly aggravating because there was nothing I could really use as "punishment."  There was no recess for that day, and there seemed to be no real classroom discipline policy for me to enforce.  The warnings that I would be reporting their behavior in a note to their teacher fell on deaf ears.  I was, as EdEd described, "out of ammo."

What did that class want "immediately" that I could have used as an incentive?  After reading this post, I was reminded that several of the offending boys tried unsuccessfully to fold paper and draw instead of doing their work.  If I had been proactive, I could have compromised and required 15 minutes of real work to earn 5 minutes of free drawing time, or something to that effect.  Some would disagree with this method, but 15 minutes of productivity is 15 more minutes than they were willing to give me that day.  Anything would have been better than what I was doing!  

Sometimes, it's good to have a reminder.


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