In this week’s blog I am going to expand on the topic of classroom management that I introduced in my first blog.
I have previously discussed classroom management and the fact that the education system is currently using positive and negative reinforcement and punishment in the classroom in an arguably damaging way. Additionally, I noted the importance of using positive reinforcement, such as token economy, in the classroom to reinforce good behavior. I also gave a presentation highlighting the need for positive reinforcement in class; this video can be seen below:
As I noted in my first blog and presentation, positive reinforcement is being used badly in schools. Poorly behaved students are given attention, which acts as a reward for bad behavior so the behavior is reinforced. Instead, rewards should be given for good behavior so that good behavior is reinforced. But what should a teacher do when bad behavior is exhibited? It is this fundamental question that will be considered in this week’s blog and I will argue for the effective use of time-out combined with consistent administration of positive reinforcement.
Arguably the most common method of coping with troublesome students in the classroom is the use of time-out, for example sending the students outside the classroom to calm down. The popularity of this method has been demonstrated in a survey, whereby 86% of teachers surveyed stated that they use time-out (Zabel, 1986). Time-out is a complex method of behavior management mainly due to the different definitions by different professionals. Some researchers, particularly those who are practitioners in the field, view time-out as negative reinforcement, as the removal of attention results in the good behavior being reinforced. However, some view time-out as negative punishment, whereby the removal of attention results in the bad behavior being less likely to occur (Sterling-Turner & Watson, 1999).
Time-out has been found to be effective in a vast array of settings, including homes (Hawkins, Peterson, Schweid, & Bijou, 1966), psychiatric hospitals (Bowers et al., 2010), and nurseries (Firestone, 1976). Additionally time-out is also successful for behavior management of children and adults with aggressive behavior problems (Dodge, 1993; Wahler & Fox, 1980), noncompliant behavior (Rortvedt & Miltenberger, 1994) and self-injurious behavior (Vollmer, Iwata, Zarcone, Smith, & Mazaleski, 1993).
In school settings, the effectiveness of time-out has been demonstrated through research finding that when time-out was used for three emotionally disturbed children in the classroom, undesirable behaviors were reduced (Sachs, 1973). Additionally, Miller and Kratochwill (1979) employed the method of time-out on a 10-year-old girl who was disruptive in the classroom by repeatedly reporting false stomach complaints. Through the time-out methods of removing the girl from adult attention and classroom activities, complaints rapidly decreased. A one-year follow-up study demonstrated no further complaints.
Harris (1985) claims that there are three main types of time-out:
- Exclusion – the child is removed for a certain amount of time from the area of reinforcement. For example, if the child is behaving badly in the playground, he or she should be removed immediately from the activity. During exclusion, the child should not be able to witness the activities that the rest of the class are engaging in, for example they will be stood in a corner facing the other way.
- Nonexclusion – the child is removed for a certain amount of time from the area of reinforcement. Again, if the child is behaving badly in the playground, then he or she should be removed immediately from the activity. However, during nonexclusion, the child will still observe the activities that the rest of the class are engaging in.
- Isolation – the child is removed from the reinforcing environment to an environment where there are no reinforcers. Normally the child will be placed in a room that is completely separate from the rest of the class. However, isolation is often difficult to implement in classroom settings due to the fact that additional supervision is required.
Harris (1985) noted that exclusion and nonexclusion tend to be more effective in classroom settings and that isolation should only be implemented as a last resort. Additionally, Kazin (1980) found that exclusion and nonexclusion are more acceptable forms of time-out than isolation.
Clearly, time-out is an effective tool for managing classroom behavior however, there are some noteworthy issues that should be considered. In the case of the study by Miller and Kratochwill (1979), can we really be entirely sure that the stomach complaints were not real? Although medical examinations concluded that there was nothing wrong with her, hospitals can miss things, or it could have been psychological pain. In this case, in using time-out on the child, she could have just been demonstrating learned helplessness (Seligman, 1972). This is an important ethical consideration that teachers need to take into account when implementing the time-out procedure in the classroom.
Additionally, Zabel (1986) states that there is a lack of information given to teachers on how to implement time-out effectively and that they see it as a restrictive form of behavior management (Barton, Brulle, & Repp, 1987). It has also been argued that it requires supervision of individuals in time-out, which schools may not have the time or resources to implement (Cuenin & Harris, 1986).
Moreover, time-out needs to be implemented carefully due to the fact that it could become negative reinforcement for bad behavior. For example, if a student was demonstrating challenging behavior because they do not want to complete their work, sending them into time-out results in the avoidance of work, thus reinforcing bad behavior. Instead, the child should be taken to a different room to complete the work.
Additionally, often time-out serves as a positive reinforcement for behavior due to the fact that many schools make the error of sending the students into the corridor for time-out. This gives the student the chance to communicate with passersby in the hallway, thus resulting in positive punishment. Instead, the child should be taken into a different room away from potential reinforcers.
In spite of these criticisms, time-out can be extremely effective in classrooms as a way of promoting good behavior (Sterling-Turner & Watson, 1999). An additional point to note is the research investigating the use of time-out and token economy (a form of positive reinforcement that I spoke about in my last blog) together for classroom behavior management. Boone Von Brook and Elliot (1987) found that the implementation of token economy for good behavior and time-out for bad behavior resulted in significantly improved classroom behavior in comparison to just one method.
Overall, I feel that time-out does have a place in classrooms however, it should be combined with positive reinforcement methods such as token economy. Time-out is not currently implemented effectively in schools, for example the negative reinforcement that students get from avoiding work and the positive reinforcement that students get from attention from others passing in the hall. As a result, educators need further training in how to implement time-out effectively in the classroom. If educators use time-out appropriately, classroom behavior will be improved, thus resulting in increased academic achievement, learning, and wellbeing of all of the students in the class.
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Vollmer, T. R., Iwata, B. A., Zarcone, J. R., Smith, R. G., & Mazaleski, J. L. (1993). The role of attention in the treatment of attention-maintained self-injurious behavior: Noncontingent reinforcement and differential reinforcement of other behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 9-21. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1993.26-9
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