Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Detention: making the most of a negative situation

Detention: making the most of a negative situation
Detention – a dull but necessary form of punishment? Or an opportunity to restore relationships with pupils?

Should detention be a punishment?

Writing lines and colouring in squares on a sheet of graph paper may be unproductive and fail to deal with the root cause of a student’s behaviour. Does the student enjoy it? Does the student want to be in this position again?

For some schools, detention is about detaining a student, punishing them for undesirable behaviour – a part of a school’s sanction whereby a negative behaviour is met with a negative experience.

In a recent interview on Teachers TV, Geoff Barton, Head Teacher at King Edward VI School, remarks on his school’s policy, ‘Run on a Friday afternoon, for an hour between 3.45pm and 4.45pm, students sit individually at desks and face the front of the class in which a large clock ticks loudly. It is not a pleasant experience and as a result detentions have gained notoriety among the pupils.’

For Geoff Barton, if a student has been misbehaving or truanting then there should be a sanction that is not simply an opportunity to catch up on homework or coursework.

Should detention be restorative?

For others, detention is an opportunity to talk to students about their work, why they’re not doing homework, why they’re being disruptive ─ creating an open dialogue for them to discuss the issues affecting their performance.

According to proponents of the restorative approach, detention is an opportunity to identify the causes of behavioural problems. Often, a student will produce a great piece of work in detention but perform poorly in the classroom. Begging the question, where are they going wrong?

Poor behaviour and performance could be for a number of reasons: the arrival of a new baby at home, family recently moved, it could be a housing issue, or difficulties of bullying. Whichever it may be, there is an issue affecting their behaviour and mindset that needs to be identified and resolved.

There is no point having a student in detention for half an hour or an hour, without gaining something from that time. Detention in this way becomes restorative, focusing on restoring good behaviour and overcoming the challenges that inhibit a student’s progress.

So a conversation takes place: how did you get here? What are you going to take with you when you leave? How are you going to avoid getting into detention in the future?

Should detention ever be a whole class?

Rarely is it necessary but sometimes as a teacher you do find that there are peaks and troughs in behaviour, particularly among older students.

They may have a very strong work ethic at one point in the year but perform poorly at other times.

For students, a whole-class detention may seem unfair as it is often only a minority of students who are being disruptive or deviant. However, because no one owns up, the entire class is punished.

Detaining a whole class can be a challenge, particularly if the problem occurs at the start of the day, with those who are likely to have caused the problem being the ones that don’t turn up for the detention at the end of the day.

Should detention be centralised?

It’s tempting for a school to centralise detentions. To pass on misbehaving students and punish them together as a group, held by a member of the senior management team. As an NQT or a covering teacher, if there is an opportunity where punishment can be passed up the chain, it often tends to be.

Many schools, however, are moving away from this now and for good reason. While centralising detention may offer convenience, transferring the sanctioning of behaviour onto a select few dilutes the teacher’s perceived control and can limit the respect they demand from their students.

At King Edward VI School, centralised detentions are restricted to issues of attendance only. It is the responsibility of individual teachers to sanction behavioural problems, with the senior management team acting as a support network should they need it.

Student rewards which work
What are the alternatives to detention?

Detentions can be used in a number of ways but there is a shared feeling that as students get older punishing poor behaviour becomes less effective.

For some teachers, punishing bad behaviour is replaced with an effective rewards system: using positive reinforcement to encourage good performance and desirable behaviour.

So, rather than students working to avoid something, they are working to receive.

Rewards and sanctions are an essential part of classroom management strategies – what policies does your school employ?


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