Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Difference Between Punishment and Consequences

After much reading and thought on this issue, I've finally come to the conclusion that punishments and negative consequences are not necessarily synonymous. While punishment might be a consequence of an undesired behavior, a consequence isn't always a punishment. For example, if my child doesn't study for an important test, a possible consequence is that he will make a failing grade. I can take it a step further and decide to punish him by taking away privileges such as games or television.

After reading this article (and quite a few others) about the difference between punishment and consequences, I concluded that a lot of it really is determined by the intent of the teacher and the way the consequence is doled out. I loved the table that showed precisely what the differences between the two are. Consequences teach, are given with empathy, relate directly to the actual behavior, and teach students to take responsibility for their own choices. Isn't this what we all want?! That's what I'm striving for daily, although I must confess that I often miss the mark. Hopefully, I'm not the only one :) Punishments are about controlling behavior and are often arbitrary. They leave students feeling helpless and focus on the actual punishment rather than the student's choices.

The same result could be either a punishment or a consequence depending on how it is delivered. So, in real-life, practical classroom application it would like like this:

Infraction: Child avoids doing work
Punishment: "You're not doing your work again! No break today!"
Consequence: "Are you using your time wisely? You have a choice. It is very important that you finish your work during the allotted class time or it will have to be finished during break."


Infraction: Child blurts out or talks over others
Punishment: "Stop shouting out! That's a conduct mark for you."
Consequence: "It isn't your turn to talk right now. Everyone has the right to learn, and when you shout out answers it disrupts other people's thinking. That shows disrespect to your classmates. Please work on being more respectful." (in this case the consequence is actually a talk from the teacher, but it directs the student to think about others, focusing on his/her behavior.)

While both the punishments and the consequences in the above examples might be considered "negative" depending on the personality of the child, there is a HUGE difference in the thought process behind them and the results of each one.

So, Consequences or Punishment? That depends on what the teacher is trying to teach the child--to have self-control and make good decisions, or to do as he's told or else. I know what I'm striving for.

Punishment or Consequences?

Can rewards exist without punishment? Are punishments synonymous with natural consequences?

I recently commented on a post by Mrs. Pripp (Put Your Name on the Board) that I don't really do a lot of punishment/reward type activities because I haven't seen a significant change in student behavior and it is exhausting to keep up with it all. I do, however, think that sometimes students need to be rewarded (see Mrs. Watson's post, "The Day 'Reward' Became a Bad Word.") and that there should be consequences, whether negative or positive, that directly relate to students' actions.

A recent email from my principal regarding the use of rewards and punishments for Accelerated Reader goals has prompted me to re-evaluate rewards altogether. He maintains that we should reward students who achieve their goals, which is "above the line" behavior. He also stated that we shouldn't punish students who don't achieve their goals (below the line). So as not to take his comments out of context let me say that he was talking about the practice of having students who had not achieved weekly AR goals sit at the silent lunch table and read. But, the comment made me think...does the same concept apply to other situations? It sounded good to me at first, but then I tried to see it from a child's perspective, and wondered what's the difference between not receiving a reward and being punished?

Take the following situation for example:
Each 9 weeks students have AR goals that they are expected to meet with 85% accuracy. In my room there is an abundance of books and ample time to read. Reading is encouraged and expected during the day. At the end of the grading period, those who achieved their goals are rewarded by participating in the AR party. The ones who do not are sent to another teacher's room to read and get a head start on their goal for the next 9 weeks. Seems logical to me...They didn't meet the goal this time, so I'm allowing them extra time to get ahead for the next grading period. That's the way I look at it, but to a child, isn't it the same as being punished? Is there a way to reward the ones who do as they should WITHOUT punishing (in their minds) the ones who didn't?

Another example:
In my area students all have at least 30 minutes of Physical Education every day, so recess is not a common practice within most schools. However, in  my classroom I instituted a "reward break" for 10 minutes at the end of the day for students who behave appropriately, finish class assignments, and move speedily through transitions. It is a well-deserved reward for those who work hard, but an additional work time for those who do not. Everyone would be working during this time anyway, but instituting a reward break allows most students to be recognized each day for doing their best. How do you do this without some students some of the time not participating? Some may consider this "punishment." I consider it a common sense consequence to specific behaviors.

In real life there are positive and negative consequences for our actions depending on the choices we make. If one of the main goals of schooling is to prepare students for the real world, I think the concept of common-sense consequences is just a natural way to do that. Which leads me to ponder this---are consequences the same thing as punishment? Does it really all depend on how one looks at the situation? Is there any real way to reward one group without the appearance of "punishing" the others?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

When "Helping" Hurts

Can helping kids too much actually hurt them? This idea has been rolling around in my head for a few years now. I'm speaking of science and social studies instruction/assessment in elementary school in particular. Here's the situation that prompted this particular post:

Alabama History, Chapter 6 (Reconstruction) is taught by my wonderful student teacher, who covers everything that is on the test quite well. Lessons are interactive, engaging, and meaningful. Students are given a study guide that is already completed. There are 21 items, but as I CUT THE TEST IN HALF, I circled the items that would be tested. Students played a review game the day before the test. Right before the test they had about five minutes to review the study guide. Although the study guide and test were not worded identically, they were pretty close. The test had 11 questions and was OPEN BOOK. The students had 40 minutes to take the test. (Even as I write this I'm thinking, "You did all of that?!"). And of course, the test was read aloud to those students who have that specified as part of their educational plan. The results? A class average of less than 70%.

When I spoke to the children about it and asked them why they struggled on the test, they responded that they just need to study more and pay more attention. It was when I was telling them "I can't think of anything else I can do to make this easier for you..." that I realized maybe that is the problem. Maybe they think they don't have to work hard because it is too easy. Maybe they're not challenged enough so there's no real need to work. Maybe they've been given so many "helps" that they've come to rely (and dare I say, expect?) them.

Of course you must understand that I didn't start out giving students all of these "helps." It has evolved over the years for various reasons. The biggest reason currently is that students have so much less exposure to the content areas before 4th grade than they used to have. They are not nearly as prepared for science and social studies as they were in past years. This is not the fault of their lower grades teachers. The push to teach reading and math for the majority of the day has simply shoved other subjects onto the back burner. I'm even struggling with teaching both subjects in a day myself!

Which brings me back to my issue---am I helping my students so much that in fact I am hurting them? I believe so, but I'm afraid to remove some of the scaffolds I've set up for them. After all, I put them there for a reason! Is anyone else noticing this in their classrooms? What have you done to "fix" the problem?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Above the Line

My principal has started an attitude initiative in our school based on Top 20 Teens, which I think is a fabulous idea! It amazes me that so much of what he has spoken to us about goes right along with the Responsive Classroom approach that I'm currently studying and trying to implement. He has already met with the teachers, explaining the initiative and letting us in on some of the lessons and shared vocabulary.

His first installment with the students was a talk the other day during PE about how important attitude is, and how there is a line between behaviors that the people in the top 20% do verses the people in the bottom 80%. He discussed with them that people who have attitudes that are in the top 20 are more successful because they are positive and they work hard at doing their best.

I LOVE this initiative because now my students and I have a shared language for speaking about attitude and positive behavior! Throughout the day we can discuss if something was above or below the line. Students are starting to see where some of their behaviors and thoughts fall within the 80/20 example. They're even starting to discuss how to bring attitudes and behavior into the top 20. This has been (and I believe will continue to be) a very positive experience for me and my students.

And I must say that my principal did a very "Above the Line" thing by getting this ball rolling. I can't wait for future installments!

One Step Away from Frustration

It almost happened to me today. Today was one of those days where everything was just a little bit off...kids were just a little bit inattentive. They were just a little bit off-task. There was a little too much talking during transitions. They were a little too slow moving from one subject to another. I was just a little less patient than usual. It was as if the class (and myself) as a whole kept tiptoeing across the "acceptable" line. Add up all of those little tiptoes and then picture the last part of my day:

It is about 20 minutes until dismissal time: students cleaning, a vacuum going, two students working on school store items, three students rearranging the carpet squares, two students organizing books, two students lifting the carpet in the back of the room to get rid of the hidden dirt, three students preparing tomorrow's coffee, and me saying "Remember to study for your history test!!!"  Meanwhile we have only a short time left and we still need to do the read aloud! I decided we needed to finish up the cleaning so we could do the read aloud, but the students just couldn't be redirected. The work they were doing was important, and none of us could switch gears and focus. I felt like I was literally one step away from  going crazy!

But this is where the great part comes in. (In years past I would have handled this situation in a total different way and everyone would have left frustrated.) Today, however, I took a deep breath and called everyone to the carpet for an afternoon meeting. It went something like this:

"I know we are all having a difficult time focusing because there are several distractions, and there is nothing wrong with that." (I could tell they thought they were in trouble, so I wanted to reassure them). "Let's all take a minute to breath and focus our minds on one thing: how our day went." We then went on to discuss below the line and above the line attitudes and behaviors and everyone discussed some above the line behaviors that they had participated in or witnessed today. After that we talked about some below the line behaviors (volunteered by students). It was a very non-threatening type of discussion about each person's behavior, including myself. Everyone was responsible for evaluating him or herself. We finished the conversation by stating one thing each one of us could do to make tomorrow a better day. It was so interesting to hear some of their responses! A few said attitude (including yours truly), but several said they wanted to stay on task, make better choices, do better during math, and show more respect to others.

Presto! In that short 10 or so minutes I was able to refocus the students, have a valuable discussion about self-assessment and acceptable behaviors, and have everyone leave on a positive note! I'm so glad I didn't take that last step over to frustration. What a difference the teacher's response and actions can make! 
 

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