Classroom Management and Discipline/Time Outs

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Purpose of Time Out[edit]

Time Out is a punishment that removes the child from something that is reinforcing (being with other students, participating in class). If the child does not find the classroom reinforcing, then time out may not be a punishment at all. If you use time out, you should carefully monitor the change in the child's behavior over time since you began using time out. If the problem behavior escalates, the child may be using time out to get out of school work or your class environment. The intention of Time Out is to remove the student from an environment that he or she would otherwise receive reinforcement. Time Out is a setting or condition in which the student receives no attention, reinforcement or reward.

Time Out is best used as a second line of intervention after giving rewards or praise for correct behavior have been ineffective, or when you think the child's problem behavior is motivated by attention from peers or from you. It is not an instructional tool. If you consult your dictionary you’ll find that discipline, is correctly defined as training, development, or instruction. Remembering this distinction will assist you in knowing when to use it, how to apply it, and how to present it to your students.

Time Out is often incorrectly used as a means of punishing an unruly student and temporarily separating them from the group. This is done by telling a student that they have a Time Out, hoping they’ll go there, not following through to ensure they go should they happen to quit misbehaving (temporarily) in response to your order, or, ignoring them or forgetting about them completely if they do go. This misapplication of time out does teach a student important information. For example:

  • If I act up, I’ll get sent to Time Out, and I won’t have to work.
  • If I shut up when I’m given a time out, I can avoid having to go.
  • If I’m quiet while I’m in time out, the teacher will forget about me (or just be too happy with the silence to bring me out again).
  • If I’m quiet while I’m in time out, I can read this comic I have (or play with this toy I have, or scribble some graffiti on the walls in here) and that’s better than working.
  • If I get bored with that, I can try to make faces or obscene gestures at classmates to pass the time. If I get caught, I’ll blame someone else for starting it, and if I get blamed, what can anyone do about it? I’m already in Time Out.

You could probably make your own additions to this list.

The lessons you want to teach the student might be something more like these.

  • When I disrupt the class and don’t stop when the teacher asks me to, I get sent to Time Out.
  • Even if I start acting nice, or plead or bargain not to go, I have to go to Time Out once I’ve been told to.
  • I’m not allowed to bring any fun stuff with me to Time Out, and if I do bring anything, it gets confiscated… even my pencil.
  • Staff are monitoring me while I’m in here to make sure I don’t misbehave.
  • If I do disrupt in here, they might add more time on.
  • I’d better be ready to talk about what I’ll do differently after my time is up, or else they might make me stay longer to think about what I did wrong and how I’ll change.
  • I’d rather be sitting at my desk than here. This is boring.

A Sample Time Out Procedure[edit]

If a student is not responding to verbal redirection. Give one warning if desired, then assign a base Time Out of 5 minutes.

If the student refuses, warn that refusing will cause additional minutes to be added the 5.

If the student still refuses, start adding minutes. You can decide to add an additional minute for every minute they delay, 1 additional minute per 30 seconds, etc. Tell the student what you’re doing (“For every 15 seconds you refuse, I’ll add another minute of Time Out.” Count out loud for every minute you add.

If the student continues to refuse, tell them that if the number reaches 10, their parent/guardian will be called. If no-one is at home, call the office. Should the same problem occur daily, refer the student to the office directly. It is also an effective deterrent to deduct time spent in time out from activities that the child desires (recess, free time), deduct points that they may be accumulating for "store", reduce their behavior level/privileges, etc. It is important to identify what the student values and provide penalties which are both appropriate to the behavior, and effective.

Never present a student with a consequence that you cannot or do not reinforce. It undermines your authority and your credibility.

If the student accepts the time out and sits down in the proper place, make sure they understand the rules:

Time Out Core Rules[edit]

  • The student cannot bring anything to the cubicle except themselves (no toys, sunglasses, hats, books, pencils, etc.).
  • Staff is in charge of timing the time-out.
  • If the student disrupts the time out by standing, talking out, moving the chair to look at others, etc., the time starts over.
  • Staff will notify the student when time is up, and will notify them when they can return to their seat.

When it’s necessary to start time over, tell the student you’ve done this, and why (the rules, above). After a few reminders, there may not be any use in saying “Time has started over” and it may just make the student angrier. In this case, just make a mental note of the new time their time out is up.

If the student starts wandering the room, begin adding additional minutes again, with a reminder about reaching 10 minutes.

Other staff in the room should be supportive and deferential to the person who set the Time Out, regardless of who initiated it. When it comes to creating uniform discipline, teachers, instructional assistants, interns, volunteers, and counselors should all have the ability to set limits and provide consequences, and have those decisions upheld by the team. If the student tries to engage or bargain with anyone, remind them that they have to do what they were asked to do by the person who gave them the time out, and do not engage them further. Don’t change the terms or modify the time out in any way. It undermines the authority of the staff member who gave the time out, and harms team solidarity.

Success[edit]

If the student completes the Time Out, take a minute to speak with them about what happened, and how they will act differently to avoid the same problem. If it is clear that the student is still angry, in denial, and still demonstrating the same behavior that prompted the Time Out in the first place, point this out to the student, and tell them you’ll check back with them in 5 minutes. Resume the procedure that you’d use for a regular Time Out.

Crisis[edit]

If the Time Out requests are unsuccessful and the student is continuing to resist and disrupt class time, call the office. Once again, NEVER present a student with a consequence that you cannot or do not reinforce.

If the student’s behavior turns destructive, evacuate the room and notify the office from the nearest phone or emergency call button what is happening. Request that the principal call security.

If a student initiates physical violence toward a peer they should be placed in an isolated seat for the rest of the day. Write a referral, consult the office, and proceed with their plan (calling security, suspension, immediate or after-school detention by police, etc.).

Consequences from behavior should always follow the student back to school the next day after an incident in the form of a level change (suggestions: one level demotion per incident of refusing a timeout, automatic demotion to lowest level for initiating physical violence).

Final Thoughts[edit]

Apply this system uniformly to all students. Don’t change or throw out rules without considering why they were added. Don’t show favoritism. Don’t apply it more severely to some than others. Don’t allow your personal like or dislike of students confound your application of Time Out, because [a] you are pointing out and providing consequences for bad behavior, not labeling a student as bad, and [b] allowing a student to persist with anti-social behavior is tacit approval. How a student regards authority and structure in your classroom is the beginning of how they will regard it in society. Use the time you have with them wisely.

If a student prefers being in Time Out to being out, then the monitoring of their behavior is probably inadequate. Watch how they are passing the time. Confiscate anything they have brought with them immediately. Remember the core rules. Consequence continued disruption that occurs while a student is in time out – it’s continuing to harm the order in your classroom. Persistent failure to abide by the reasonable requests of staff in a classroom is called disorderly conduct, and is an arrestable offense.