We’ve been doing a lot of work at Taxonomy Towers on a new topic: The Art of the Consequence. Roughly, it’s how to give a consequence in a way that successfully changes student behavior and avoids a downward spiral where behavior actually gets worse in response to a consequence.
A few rules of thumb. In general consequences work better when they are:
- Quick: The consequence comes as soon after the behavior as possible and last for as little time as possible before you get back to teaching. Delay in giving the consequence only allows recipients to “forget” what caused the response.
- Incremental: Catching behavior early and allocating smaller consequences in increments lets students learn from mistakes at manageable cost. Losing too much too soon can remove the incentive to try.
- Consistent: They should be predictable, given student, time of day or setting so they are about behaviors not people. Consistency will also help students understand reliably where the limits are so they can self-monitor.
- As private as possible (when privacy is possible): Want to make your consequences work better? Drop you voice and whisper them, even if you’re in front of your class. The intimation of privacy suggests you’re trying to keep it between you and the student. That usually helps diffuse it.
- Free of emotion: Anger only focuses attention on the person giving the consequence vs the behavior causing it.
Then there’s the issue we get asked about all the time….what does all of this looks like in HS (as opposed to middle and elementary school). I asked a couple of principals of top schools and basically they said:
We essentially do the same things as the above but:
- Give consequences less frequently and for more significant behaviors/Try to emphasize privacy more and try to make our management systems less visible. Teachers refer to the consequences less frequently and ask for behavior changes instead, assuming the maturity of students; if they don’t get the change they need, they would be more likely to privately tell a student a consequence such as a demerit had been allocated.
- Couch the discussion about productive/non-productive behavior in college readiness/professional readiness terms rather than emphasizing compliance for compliance’s sake.
- Rely more on corrections (rather than consequences) the first time a behavior occurs and save consequence for more persistent or significant issues (ie students who are subversive or dismissive of the rules and/or major behaviors).
- As a consequence of the above, worry less about speed of the consequence, except with students who really don’ get it.
- Emphasize self-monitoring. As Margo Bouchie of Collegiate Academies in New Orleans put it: “We obviously don’t want our seniors reliant on demerits to let them know they are doing something wrong. Connecting their behavior to their grade in the class and how close they are to college is generally the most powerful tool we have.”
I also asked my colleague, ace video analyst John Costello, to test these assumptions by watching video of High School teachers giving consequences. In several cases he was able ot watch the same teacher working with middle and high school students and to compare.
I saw a lot of gradual release of the Management System. Use of it was much less frequent and you almost never saw it publicly and, in particular, I noticed less emphasis on students “behaving correctly because they don’t want demerits” and more on “behaving correctly because it puts them on the path to college.” I think “the path to college” is a particularly useful hybrid of moral motivation, as it functions simultaneously as both an authoritative goal and a personal goal worth striving toward.
John also described a few times when one teacher we all admire immensely, North Star’s Mike Taubman, didn’t give a consequence in his high school classroom but instead used a non-invasive correction but where he (John) thought Mike likely would have used a consequence in middle school.
In the instances where all students are not tracking, Taubman uses Strong Voice, What to Do and a lot of Be Seen Looking techniques without deduction in High School.
[Be Seen Looking is one of our Teach Like a Champion 2.0 techniques; it’s about scanning intentionally and being seen scanning so student know you care (and notice) whether they do what you ask. It’s very subtle and very quick but incredibly effective, especially with older students].
He also relies on their maturity to self-correct after a small reminder. In one clip there’s a moment where he brings up Twitter and the class erupts in laughter/conversation… a little too much. In MS this would probably be met with some sort of reset or Do It Again (“Let’s do that over so we can enjoy something funny but not let it get out of control”), but in HS he just says “come on now, contain that excitement” using assume the best from Positive Framing and they come back to him.
So…. What works for you in giving consequences? And how do you adapt for older studnets so behavior is always productive but studens own it, and their autonomy, in a more appropriate and “adult” way?