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IMPORTANT: In order for time out to work, you must first understand the function of the student’s behavior. If his behavior is to avoid work, then time out is giving him what he wants. Make sure he has the skill to perform the task and try to motivate the student.
- The location of your time out should be in an area you can easily supervise and is not in view of other students. Some students are embarrassed and need privacy to recover. Some will enjoy disrupting others and try to create a power and control battle with you. I always made my time out spot with a sturdy shelf (would not turn over) against a wall with room for a beanbag, or file cabinet and beanbag, or 3-sided wall partition and a bean bag. This is NOT an isolated time out room. There are specific laws about isolation rooms and, frankly, I don’t believe they belong in school.
- My rules were:
- I don’t hear you.
- I don’t see you (means student stays in time out spot).
- Time out is 2 minutes.
These rules are unusual in that they are negative and go against the “dead man rule” (if a dead man can do it, it’s not a good rule). However, I did not care if the student was rolling on the floor, hiding under the beanbag (happened often), was trying to stand on his head, or was lying on his back with feet in the air. I did not want to engage in a power struggle on how to sit in time out. I just want him to stay in the time out spot and to be quiet in order to not disrupt the rest of the class. That’s all. The general rule for minutes in time out is 1 minute per age of the child. I found two minutes was usually enough. If a child was calm and compliant in two minutes, why wait another 6 minutes just because he was 8 years old? If a child was not compliant in two minutes, I waited until he was compliant. Sometimes that would take several minutes, but I would check on him every two minutes. It sounds time consuming but it is not. Takes seconds.
- On a desk or shelf outside the time out spot is a basket with Time Out Notes and pencils.
- When the child is ready to follow directions, he steps out to get one Time Out Note and a pencil. He goes back into the time out area to fill out the note. The first line, “I chose time out when,” helps the child understand he had a choice and it was his behavior that led to time out. The next line, “next time I will,” helps him choose a replacement behavior. The next line, “I need to apologize to,” helps the child understand his behavior affected someone else and he needs to correct that. Some adults feel a child should only apologize if the apology is sincere. I think it is good practice to apologize whether it’s sincere or not. When a student is still agitated, he may yell out for help or complain he doesn’t understand the Time Out Note. This is another sign he is not yet compliant. Calmly tell him you will help when he is in time out quietly for 2 minutes.
- The student does not choose when to come out of time out. The teacher invites the student to return by giving the student a request, “Sam, come talk to me, please.” DO NOT ASK “Are you ready to follow directions?” or “Are you ready to come out of time out?” Some of your toughest kids will be ready to come out of time out but are not ready to be compliant. When I request a student to come talk to me, I am observing if he is being resistant or compliant. I often will also give a quick request as he is walking towards me (“Please push in that chair”, “Please bring me that book,” “Please throw that paper in the garbage”). This is to give the student practice following my directions. I can immediately assess if he is going to be complaint by doing that. If he is not compliant, I simply tell him it seems he is not ready and send him back to time out. Sometimes you will have a student who refuses to come out of time out. That’s ok. He’s just trying to get in a power struggle. Don’t play. Just tell him you will check on him in a couple of minutes…then ignore him. He eventually will get tired of being in time out and will be willing to be compliant.
- After you and the child quickly review the Time Out Note together, politely tell the child what he needs to do to get back engaged in class. For example, “Joe, after you apologize to Bob, join the blue group for this science project.” You want to make sure you help the student be successful.
- Some students need time out often. That’s ok. Four 2-minute time outs are better learning experiences than one 20-minute time out. I remember when I sent a student to time out for the fifth time, he yelled, “I’m sick of time out!” I calmly responded, “Then simply follow directions.” That was his last visit to time out.
- There is absolutely no justification for a teacher to be angry when putting a student in time out. Nor should a teacher feel like she “got him”. Time out is not a matter of the teacher winning and the student losing. If you have these feelings, you are misusing time out. Time out is an absence of reinforcement. It is an opportunity for the student to recover and change his behavior. So, when a student returns to the class, he has a clean slate.
- File the Time Out Note. This data can be graphed for analysis.
There’s a reason for every student’s behavior! Jack has not “lost his mind”. Jill is not “trying to drive you crazy”. He or she is trying to get something or avoid something. Now you have to be the detective and figure out what it is. Many teachers overlook this detective step and skip to a quick fix.
Imagine if you went to the doctor and complained of pain in your arm and the doctor just said to take some ibuprofen. Well, if your arm is broken, that ibuprofen will not work. This is the same thing for student behavior. If a student is not doing his school work, you may send him to time out. If he is avoiding doing school work because he doesn’t understand it, your discipline will not fix the problem. It is actually helping the student avoid work.
I call this a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment because it just takes a few minutes to do. This is not a formal assessment many specialists prefer. It’s for the classroom teacher who has to deal with tough behaviors all the time.
One of my favorite encounters with a 3rd grade teacher was when she stopped me in the hallway and explained a problem she was having with a student. Before I could say a thing, she went on to quickly analyze his behavior. She specifically described his behavior, said he acted out at specific times, she thought he was doing it because ____, and thought she could take care of the problem by ____. She then thanked me for the help! I said, “You’re welcome!” and smiled all the way to my classroom. She did a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment right there in the hallway in less than 5 minutes!
In the next few days, I will show you how to use this Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment and turn it into a behavior intervention plan.
See you soon, LuAnne